Alta, Utah Beyond The Bond?

Darlene Arden discusses a less than acceptable situation taking place in the ski town Alta, Utah.

Darlene Arden, the author of "Small Dogs, Big Hearts," e-mailed me an article that revealed a human-animal bond dilemma in one of my favorite ski towns, Alta, Utah. She writes:

Dear Alice:

I don't know why they haven't voted to overturn this, but is there something that the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians can do to turn this ugly situation around? It made me sick.

The Associated Press article published in the New York Times on Dec. 31 was titled "A Ski Town with 42 Dogs and Many Lonely Dog Lovers."

The article said that a city ordinance limits the number of dogs to 12 percent of the human population in an effort to protect the city's alpine watershed.

The article said that, "No canine visitors are allowed, even inside cars, and violators can go to jail. Alta occupies four square miles inside a national forest where an act of Congress left Salt Lake City in charge of the water supply. City and county officers police the canyons, keeping out nonresident and unlicensed dogs to curb bacterial contamination of streams and protect Salt Lake's drinking water."

The city limits the number of dog licenses to 42 and, according to the article, the mayor of Alta said that it is the "worst issue" he deals with.

The article also said that, "Property owners who live in Alta for at least six months of the year get first dibs on the licenses. Any left over are distributed at drawings conducted by a town marshal.

"A deputy town marshal, Tom Bolen, said he had heard practically every excuse from visitors caught smuggling dogs. They claimed not to have seen the warning signs or thought they referred to a leash law or believed the ban was only for vicious dogs."

If I were the mayor of Alta, I would remain committed to the protection of the watershed quality. This is extremely important for downstream consumers. There is a lot to learn about how animal waste is carried downstream and how it can pollute rivers, lakes and the sea.

One definition of the human-animal bond is the relationship between people, animals and their environment. As members of the global society, we individually must do what we can to protect the environment and we must do what we can to minimize organic pollution and global warming.

Forty percent of the dog population in the U.S. is small dogs. So I might propose that pet lovers consider adopting small dogs that weigh less than 20 pounds when full grown. Small dogs can easily be trained to use litter pans both indoors and outdoors.

If the large dog owners of Alta adopted new lifestyles and etiquette habits when supervising their pets' eliminations, they might succeed in making more room for the human-animal bond to thrive even in an area that is as sensitive as Alta.

The city council could designate specific dog urinals and dog parks for residents to walk and exercise dogs of all sizes. These special dog facilities could be engineered with more filtration to protect the alpine watershed.

If I were the mayor of Alta, I would form an environmentally-oriented dog owner's club. This companion-animal community organization could serve as a think tank to help preserve the watershed. As they implemented their plans in Alta's beautiful canyon, they might be able to help the human-animal bond go beyond the limits of 42 dog licenses.

The American Assn. of Human Animal Bond Veterinarians has a mission to provide education, resources and support to enhance the ability of veterinarians to create a positive and ethical relationship between people, animals and their environment. The AAHABV as an organization does not take up individual causes; however, it is always rewarding to offer ideas.

Dr. Villalobos is a member of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is on the editorial review board of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics. She may be contacted at

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