Denver’s working on new rules for businesses that invite off-leash dogs to sit, stay

Here’s how rules about dogs in businesses are getting made — and how you can get involved in the city’s rules for dogs, if you’re interested.

Bailey, the dog who walks herself, and her human, Mercedes Devitt. Washington Park, Jan. 19, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Bailey, the dog who walks herself, and her human, Mercedes Devitt. Washington Park, Jan. 19, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Allan Tellis. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Dog-friendly restaurants  are pretty new to the Denver scene, and while the city tries to figure out what to do with them, there are a couple more opportunities for you to influence the guidelines that will eventually govern private businesses that want to allow off-leash dogs on their premises.

In Denver, off-leash dogs are illegal everywhere except for public dog parks and private residences. That leaves businesses that host dogs — like dog-friendly restaurants, and doggy daycares — in an uncertain position, as they technically are operating illegally.

Denver Animal Protection, part of the city’s public health and environment department, is working on new proposed rules to govern dogs in these areas, according to Alice Nightengale, director of Denver Animal Protection.

“We’re trying to create a mechanism by which the dogs can be off-leash in enclosures in establishments that are interested in having them,” Nightengale said.

They also want to use the additional time to get community feedback.

DAP set up several meetings to talk with community members about off-leash dogs in a variety of settings. A meeting on Wednesday night specifically dealt with how the new regulations would impact restaurants, and that’s when things got, let’s just say, intense.

The proposal included language that would ban food and beverage in private establishments with off-leash dogs, which led to significant pushback from concerned dog owners in the crowd.

“We say no food in the enclosure because when dogs are off-leash, they can be food aggressive,” Nightengale said.

One major theme among those concerned about the regulations was a fear of an overreach of oversight by a government agency in the affairs of private businesses.

“Every other thing you mentioned seems to be unnecessary,” said Larry Chisvin a long time Denver resident and dog owner. “I would urge you to make it as loose as possible because you’re dealing with a private establishment and people don’t have to go there.”

Others were concerned that by not allowing things like food and beverage they were taking away people’s ability to continue to create and use businesses that they said there is a clear demand for.

“I think this type of establishment, of the off-leash mixed with food and beverage, is the type of business people want, right,” said Desiree Blank, also a Denver resident and dog owner.

Chisvin also reiterated that even without an abundance of regulations businesses that did not behave well would be eliminated by market forces. Attendees argued that people would simply not go to establishments that did not maintain orderly facilities, sanitized and with a staff equipped to handle any misbehaving pups.

“In a sense, you’re saying you’re going to make a law that is smarter than a bunch of individuals taking their own dogs to a place. If it’s dirty, if it’s dangerous they’re not going to go there,” said Chisvin. “Make the fence so they can’t go out and everything else ought to be as minimal as possible and leave it up to the establishment.”

Every member of the crowd said those positive features like having a well trained staff and clean surroundings were features held by the only restaurant that would be immediately impacted by these looming proposals, the Watering Bowl.

Justin Henry, owner, and founder of Watering Bowl has been vocally and adamantly opposed to these new regulations and is worried that if implemented they would effectively close his business. “The food and drink on patio, if they have strict enforcement of the rules. that will close the Watering Bowl. 98 percent of our business is from that patio, if they adopt these regulations it will close us and keep in mind that is with almost a spotless performance record. No attacks, no insurance claims, why are you attacking us?” said Henry.

Two more meetings happened on this subject.

The final two meetings, which took place last Thursday, dealt with homeowner associations and rental companies and how they could perceive off-leash dog enclosures affecting their businesses. The meetings were significantly smaller than the meeting about restaurants and was mainly focused on how property owners could operate within the new code and give themselves the opportunity to have these enclosures.

According to Nightengale, the timeline for the implementation of these regulations is quite a ways away and in fact, she doesn’t anticipate a proposal being presented to their board for at least 2 to 3 months down the road. They will take some time to reach out to some stakeholders that might have missed out on these meetings and continue to accept comment as they look to solidify the guidelines they will submit to their board.

If you want to get involved …

Here’s what to know and what to expect at this kind of meeting, as well as how to make your voice heard in the process.

In attendance at this meeting: There was a relatively small crowd, about 15 strong, who appeared to be mainly filled with young adult dog owners.

Length of this meeting: The meeting was scheduled for just an hour and the DAP hired a professional moderator to make sure things run smoothly and in a timely manner.

Format of this meeting: The meeting began with a short presentation by Nightengale and other representatives from the city and DAP, then the floor was opened to community feedback and questions for the remainder of the hour.

An example of feedback organizers say has made a difference is: Nightengale says the suggestions that stood out the most to her weren’t grand sweeping changes, but rather subtle, even mundane things like adding automatic closures to the entry gates and adding a step in the application process for the grandfathered enclosures.

You can find out more about this subject: More information can be found here. Also, concerned parties can contact Denver Animal Protection at 720-913-1311 to voice their thoughts about what the regulations should look like going forward.

Other meetings or subjects you might be interested in: If you’re interested in this you might also be interested in Denver Parks and Recreations updates to the dog park master plan which includes a survey about land use that you can find here.

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