An Aspen judge Friday said a woman accused of failing to pick up after her dog on Smuggler Mountain was not guilty because the defendant instructed her husband to dispose of the pet’s poop.
Marion Lansburgh and her husband, Leonard, both of Aspen, appeared in Pitkin County Court to fight the $100 misdemeanor ticket she got from an open space and trails ranger.
There was some confusion during the hour-long trial about what exactly ranger John Armstrong had cited her for, and he acknowledged making an error writing the ticket.
The caca saga happened around 11:30 a.m. on March 13. Armstrong said he watched Lansburgh as she spoke on her cell phone at the bottom of the popular hiking area as her dog sniffed around nearby.
Armstrong initially asked Lansburgh if she had seen her 8-year-old goldendoodle, Stella, do her business, according to testimony. Lansburgh told Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely that she did not see it and that she immediately instructed Leonard to pick it up.
“Good husband,” Ely said.
Armstrong, however, then said he would cite her for failing to obey the Smuggler Mountain management plan, which dictates that dog owners can have their pets off-leash but that the pets must be in sight and under voice command.
But on the ticket issued, the violation was for the failure to remove dog waste while the warning was for the dog-out-of-sight issue.
Deputy District Attorney Richard Nedlin said the error happened because Armstrong didn’t press hard enough with his pen in writing the summons and that the third carbon copy given to Lansburgh was inaccurate. Armstrong told the judge it was an oversight on his part and that he had meant to cite Lansburgh for the sight infraction and not the dog-waste issue.
Ely ruled that the trial would go forward on the latter alleged infraction, for which the citation was actually written.
Lansburgh told Ely that Stella must have excreted behind a large rock near the bottom of Smuggler Mountain Road as she was fetching a dog bag. She said open space rangers have done a fantastic job improving the aesthetics of the road, which she said “used to be a toilet.” And Lansburgh said she has helped to do her part and always carries bags with her and cleans up Stella’s leavings.
Armstrong helpfully pointed out the excrement for Leonard Lansburgh to pick up, and Marion Lansburgh said that was why she was so surprised she was still getting a ticket.
“I made good on it,” she said.
But Armstrong said the county has adopted a take-no-crap attitude when it comes to canines: Every failure to pick up dog waste is a zero-tolerance offense and automatically garners a ticket, he said.
He agreed with Lansburgh that Smuggler Mountain Road once was “absolutely disgusting,” which is what led to stricter enforcement in the past few years. Signs on a kiosk at the bottom of the road spelling out the area’s dog policy “is the warning,” Armstrong said.
He told Ely that there is a gray area in the county statute about exactly when dog waste must be picked up. When does the failure to remove the waste occur? Is it immediate, a few minutes, the next day? he said, asking Ely to make a ruling that closes the potential loophole in the law.
“I think Ms. Lansburgh has a point,” Armstrong testified. “The law has some vagary.”
He said that while open space rangers “don’t want to be draconian, we also don’t want people walking in a corridor of dog feces.” The Lansburghs are not terrible pet owners, he said, but added that he felt the four or so minutes he watched Marion Lansburgh as she failed to pick up after Stella sufficed to issue the ticket.
But Lansburgh disputed that it took her that long to get the dog bag. Armstrong never gave her or her husband the chance to pick it up, though she also said had the ranger not been there they would not have seen it and not picked it up.
Ely mused that perhaps the statute should be changed so that all dogs are leashed for the first 10 minutes upon arriving at the area. The judge, the ranger and the defendant all agreed that the vast majority of dogs do their business within that time frame.
“There’s just too many smells,” Ely laughed.
Armstrong, though, said enforcement would be problematic.
Lansburgh said she learned she can’t retrieve a dog bag and watch Stella at the same time, and that she should have had her pet leashed.
Ely ruled that the county statute is indeed vague on the time frame for removal of dog waste. But because Stella’s former dog chow was ultimately removed, her owner was not guilty, she ruled.
“I do think it’s hard to enforce this type of ordinance,” Ely said, adding that she hopes the county will address it when it next tweaks the law.