Ann Johnson was dropping off mail near her pocket park when an off-leash dog came out of nowhere and began to lunge at her. It jumped high enough to knock her in the jaw.
Last summer, a few guys were playing with their puggle who was off-leash at the F-15 pool. The dog ran across the street to where Kim Petersen was pushing her infant in a stroller. The dog tried to jump into the stroller and looked like it was going to bite the baby. The owners ran over and claimed it was the dog’s way of a friendly hello.
Kids were throwing a tennis ball for an off-leash puppy on the sidewalk outside their home. The ball went into the street and the puppy chased it. A car slammed on its brakes just in time to avoid hitting it.
Dogs running off leash is a regular occurrence throughout Stapleton. Some of these situations end in injury for the dog and/or owner. Many cause fear and anger. In the grand scheme of crime in Denver, dogs off leash may seem trivial. But Stapleton residents are growing concerned at the frequency of this problem.
To gauge residents’ thoughts about dogs running off leash, the Front Porch posted on NextDoor, a social media site for individual neighborhoods. What resulted was a slew of concerned comments and emails.
“So disappointed in owners who refuse to use a leash. Their dogs come charging at me on my bike and risk hurting both of us.”
“Our dog is most definitely not friendly toward other dogs and has attacked other dogs. We have worked with trainers and a behaviorist on this. We were given tools to use to work with our dog—we take her for a run almost daily, and we do everything in our power to avoid other dogs. However, if an unleashed dog were to approach us, that dog would end up being attacked by my dog.”
“I abide by the leash laws because this is a high-density community with a lot of young kids and dogs.”
Denver’s leash law requires dogs to be on a leash and under control of their owner at all times, unless in a specified off-leash area.
Most Stapleton homes have small backyards so residents seek areas to let dogs run off leash, so pocket parks, Central Park, or even sidewalks duel as dog parks.
Central Park, in particular, is described by residents as “filthy” and “scary” due to the amount of dog waste and number of dogs off leash. Several residents say they avoid the park altogether.
Stapleton resident Carrie McConnell sees off-leash dogs daily, including two during the interview for this story. “I think not feeling safe in Central Park, that is alarming. And I think it’s a bummer because the pocket parks, which are so unique to Stapleton, are used as a dog park,” McConnell says.
McConnell recalls a recent day when her son and a friend were swinging golf clubs in the pocket park. An off-leash dog kept coming up to smell them. The owner told the kids to stop swinging golf clubs because they may hit the dog. It begs the question, do dogs rule in Stapleton?
Dogs off leash can be a point of contention among neighbors. Stapleton resident Wendi Kispert is more primarily bothered by owners of off-leash dogs. Her dog does not like dogs running up off leash and often growls or barks. “What makes it worse is that the owner(s) of the dog(s) act like my dog and I are in the wrong when she goes crazy. I have had to pick her up and start running (thank goodness she is small) from the dogs, and the owner(s) just look at me and don’t call in their dogs.”
Shelley Sandel, veterinarian at Northfield Veterinarian Hospital, says even the friendliest dogs may be set off by a certain dog or situation and try to attack. “I’ve been a vet for 22 years and even the very best dog I don’t trust 100 percent.”
Older dogs can be particularly bothered by puppies, according to Sandel. Last year, a one-year-old labradoodle puppy was tragically attacked and killed at Westerly Creek Park by two large dogs. The dogs were leashed around the owner’s waist, but not under control. Under control is defined as the dog can be restrained if needed. A child holding a leash or an owner wearing an extended leash around the waist would not be considered under control.
While Sandel sympathizes wanting to let dogs run, leash laws are the law—people who do not abide are subject to fines. “Keeping dogs leashed is safer for everyone,” she says.
To report a dog bite, attack, violations or problems, call the Denver Division of Animal Control at 303.698.0076. For an emergency, call 911.