SALT LAKE CITY — When Salt Lake County Animal Services officer Sam Smith confronts dog owners who are letting their dogs run loose in a park, they almost always respond the same way.
“What we found as we’ve talked to people isn’t that they are purposely trying to do something wrong, but they’re just not aware,” said Smith. “They really think that some of these parks are off-leash because they see so many off-leash dogs. And so they’re not trying to do anything wrong; they believe that it’s an off-leash park.”
And like a lot of things, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem.
“With the pandemic, we’ve noticed an increase in people out in the parks now,” Smith said, as he prepared to help with the county’s new Good Dog awareness campaign Monday in Sugar House Park.
“Everybody’s getting a little bit of cabin fever and wants to get out, as well as the animals. ... They’ve been cooped up ... with their owners who aren’t necessarily going to work anymore. And so everybody’s been antsy and getting out and letting their dogs run loose. And so we’ve had some increase in calls for that — and animals being hurt, and people being hurt as well.”
The Good Dog campaign is a public awareness program that will run through the end of summer. Officers posted signs in three of the busiest parks, including Memory Grove, Sugar House Park and Big Cottonwood Regional Park, that remind those enjoying some fun in the sun that they need to do two things if they bring their canine companions — keep them on a leash and pick up their waste.
While most plead ignorance about Utah’s leash laws, Smith said picking up after one’s pet is simply an act of neglect.
“As far as cleaning up, I would say that most people know you’re supposed to clean up after your pet,” he said with a smile. “It’s the leash law that a lot of folks don’t know about, and where it’s OK to have them off and where they need to be on leash.”
Our friends at @SLCoAnimals are kicking off the GOOD DOG Campaign tomorrow to reward good pet owners! Pups and their humans are encouraged to participate throughout Salt Lake County, visit their blog for details! 🐾https://t.co/5GZNuHot91#slcogooddog#slcopic.twitter.com/0VcA1gx7kF— SLCO Parks & Rec (@SLCOParksandRec) July 26, 2020
Smith said loose dogs don’t just scare other people, they are more likely to be hit by a car, bite people or other animals and get into fights with other dogs.
“I tell people, you don’t like everyone, and your dog might not like everyone,” he said. And maybe more important, everyone may not want to play with your dog — no matter how friendly he is.
Smith said they’re simply hoping that by educating the public, including many people who may be new dog owners, everyone can safely enjoy these beautiful public spaces.
The campaign has some benefits for those who want to play along.
There are signs in these three parks that let patrons know about the Good Dog campaign. Find a sign at the park, then take a photo of your dog next to the sign and tag officers on Facebook or Instagram — @SaltLakeCountyAnimalServices. Make sure to use the hashtag #SLCOGoodDog.
County officials will use these posts to enter dog owners into a drawing for a basket full of treats for their pup. If dog owners can’t find a sign, they can still play along. Just take a picture of your dog on a leash, and tag county officials, and you’ll be entered to win the basket of goodies. County officials said they’re hoping donors step forward with more prizes so they can continue the program indefinitely.
The public can report off-leash animals through Salt Lake County Animal Services dispatch, but Smith said it doesn’t hurt to offer a friendly reminder in most cases.
“If you feel safe enough, say something to them nicely,” he said. “And you can even use Animal Services and say, ‘You know, Animal Services patrols this park quite often, and they’ll give you a ticket if they see it.’ But you have to do what you feel like is safe, and you may not always feel safe to approach somebody.”
The county is dependent on responsible pet owners because Salt Lake County has 120 parks and just 16 full-time animal control officers.
“If you’re not obeying the leash law, what I’ve seen is that you greatly increase your chances of your animal being injured,” he said. “And sometimes when animals are trying to work things out between themselves, humans may want to get involved, and then they end up getting hurt. ... The best thing is just to keep them on a leash, except for where it’s allowed to be off leash.”