Helena considers possible enforcement changes for dogs on open lands

Helena Open Lands Leashes
Posted at 10:09 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 00:09:15-04

HELENA — On Wednesday, the Helena City Commission discussed a proposed plan that could lead to stricter enforcement for dogs on the city’s open lands.

During an administrative meeting, city staff said there has been an increasing number of complaints about uncontrolled dogs on trails, and they are already working on possible ways to address it.

Currently, dogs can generally be off-leash on open land, as long as they’re 100 yards away from trailheads and their owners have them “under voice control.”

The city has proposed a phased plan that could eventually lead to a more restrictive system. They have already begun developing an educational video laying out the requirements and etiquette for dogs on public lands. In the second phase, starting in 2023 or 2024, the city could make a quiz on that video part of the requirement for getting a city dog license.

After that, depending on the success of the first two phases, city staff says they could begin implementing more restrictive rules – possibly including no longer allowing dogs off-leash.

Another possible option is that city animal control officers could do additional enforcement and ticket dog owners who aren’t following the existing leash and voice control rules.

Commissioner Sean Logan said he’s heard from a number of residents concerned about interactions they’ve had with uncontrolled dogs, and that he’s seen many himself while on the trails. He supports moving forward with some type of tighter enforcement.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that some people do have difficulties with dogs and them being unrestricted or not being controlled in our open lands,” he said.

However, he also admitted that the majority of residents he’s talked to haven’t been in favor of changing the rules.

Commissioner Andres Haladay said the educational video is a good step, but if the city is going to consider any stricter regulations, it’s going to be important to get extensive public input.

“Greater restrictions on dogs is something that’s going to – we’ve already seen it inflame passions, even if we’re talking three years out,” he said.

Commissioners called for groups like the Helena Open Lands Management Advisory Committee, or HOLMAC, to be included as the city moves forward.

Several members of the public testified during Wednesday’s meeting. All of them said they haven’t experienced issues with uncontrolled dogs on the trails.

City staff said this issue hadn’t been on their radar until recently. They believe it emerged because more people have been using local trails during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is just the beginning of our conversations,” said city manager Rachel Harlow-Schalk.