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A red squirrel sits in a tree as it holds a walnut in Frankfurt A red squirrel sits in a tree as it holds a walnut in Frankfurt's city centre April 19, 2013. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner (GERMANY - Tags: SOCIETY ANIMALS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTXYRYT  

Boulder pol wants legal protection for dogs to chase squirrels

Boulder city councilman Macon Cowles worried that dogs would be unfairly penalized for chasing squirrels under the city’s off-leash program and asked that they be given special consideration in a round of proposed changes.

Even though Boulder is known for meddling in the most granular details of its residents’ lives, the request was too much for a member of the city’s Open Space Board, who openly mocked the request as a pointless waste of time in an email.

The odd request came as the city council considered changes to a program that allows dog owners — or “guardians” in Boulder parlance — to let their pets run off-leash on city-owned open space. Dogs that pass a voice-command test are given green tags that allow them to run free, but the tags can be revoked if dogs are deemed to be out of control.

“We have heard from so many dog guardians that they fear chasing a squirrel up a tree would cause them to lose privileges for their pet,” Cowles wrote in an email to city staff. “Can staff draft an exception for chasing a squirrel up a tree?”

This type of minutia is typical of Boulder lawmaking. Years ago, the council debated endlessly – including by consulting meteorologists — about how to determine when a snow storm has ended in order to calculate when residents would be susceptible to a fine for not clearing their sidewalks.

This time, Cowles’ request earned a response that pointedly satirized Boulder’s uniquely ponderous lawmaking process.

“Because this will be a very time-consuming effort, more direction would be useful,” wrote Allyn Feinberg, a member of the Open Space Board of Trustees. “Would it be OK to chase Abert’s squirrels (one of our important keystone species) until they find a tree to run up? Or is it only OK to chase our common brown squirrels? Will dogs be taught to recognize the difference between these two types of squirrels, or will we depend on their guardians to inform them and make them return to control if the dog is focused on the wrong target? Why are squirrels so special? What about mice? There are a lot of those and only a few people are particularly attached to them as a species. What if the dog doesn’t realize it is chasing a Preble’s Jumping Mouse, an endangered species? Would this require some special training for the dog?”

“Seriously,” she continued, “the implications for staff time are significant just to respond to this one line request by one council member. The Green Tag Program has been the subject of years of analysis, evaluation, complaints and revisions.”

Cowles seemed to have gotten the message. On Friday, he rescinded his request for a “squirrels up a tree” exemption.

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