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8 Things You Might Not Know About Pet Ownership in Colorado

You know which breweries have Fido-friendly patios. And you probably have a vet who just looooves Miss Fluffy Fluffikins. That’s why we dug into eight things about companion animals in the Centennial State that might actually surprise you—and help you better care for them.

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#1: Local shelters would rather you not adopt than take home a pet you’re not ready for.

Before you meet any residents of the Dumb Friends League, the 109-year-old Denver animal shelter prefers you sit down with a human—specifically, an adoptions counselor such as Jasmine McCormick. “Just because this is the breed or animal you’re drawn to doesn’t necessarily mean it matches what you’re looking for,” says McCormick, who asks potential adopters about their living situations, activity levels, and expectations to try to make sure the animals don’t just find their next homes, but their forever homes. Considering getting a pet? Pick the prompts that best fit your scenario for some thought-starting suggestions.

If this sounds like you: “I work long days, but my children won’t stop nagging me about getting a pet. Maybe having to care for one will teach them some responsibility.”
Consider: A plant. Not everyone is ready to be a guardian. If you have an unstable living situation; if you’re just getting dog because your kids have worn you down; or if you have a busy schedule, if might not be the right. time for you to commit to an animal.

If this sounds like you: “Our family is ready to bring home a pet the kids can interact with—but I’m not sure I want to commit to the level of care required by a dog or cat.”
Consider: A rat. Despite their popularity as starter pets for children, hamsters don’t love being handled. Rats, however, enjoy interaction with people; are highly trainable (they can be taught to shake and to come when called); and are relatively cheap and easy to care for. They generally live two to three years.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

If this sounds like you: “I’m just looking for a Netflix cuddle buddy.”
Consider: A chill cat. Especially if you have kids, consider a calm cat that doesn’t mind being manhandled. Anecdotally, McCormick says, some of the best flop-in-your-arms candidates are previously stray males with feline immunodeficiency virus (which just means you’ll need to keep them indoors and address signs of illness right away).

If this sounds like you: “I could watch kitty videos on the internet all day long. Also, #adventurecats rule!”
Consider: A playful cat. If you can respect a feline that doles out affection on her terms and are willing to help release big-cat energy, ask about a “high-arousal” kitty. (Tip: Stock up on scratching posts and fishing pole toys.) Plus, contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained to sit, come, fetch, and walk on a leash.

If this sounds like you: “I want a partner for all my adventures—from the taproom to the backcountry—and I’m prepared to make adjustments to my lifestyle.”
Consider: A young, energetic dog. While exercise isn’t the only key to integrating a young pooch into your home, it definitely helps, as does having time and patience for training. If you can provide those things—or if you can pay someone to help—a juvenile can become a wonderful longtime companion.

If this sounds like you: “I love doggos—but having to start from scratch with training one sounds like a lot.”
Consider: An older, mellower dog. Not only are adult or senior dogs’ activity less demanding, but they often already have basic training. Plus, since many shelter dogs are surrendered by their previous owners, you’ll generally know more about the animal’s history, such as if they’re OK with kids.

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(Read More: A Dog-Lover’s Guide to the Mile High City)


#2: These are the locally designed pet adventure products you never knew you needed.

For keeping dry
You wouldn’t head up a fourteener without a wind- and water-resistant layer for yourself, so why wouldn’t you pack one for your four-legged hiking partner? Boulder’s MountainMuttDogCoats’ Powershield Raincoat will help regulate your pup’s temperature and keep his core dry when you inevitably get caught in an afternoon shower. From $145

Photo courtesy of Tamra Nettagog

For the smelly cargo
It never fails: You’re halfway through your hike when your animal pal decides to take a bathroom break. Enter Hoot & Co.’s Combo bag holder. The Thornton-made waxed canvas pouches are lined with ripstop nylon for easy cleaning and odor control, and a carabiner makes it easy to attach the whole thing to your pack. $28

For keeping afloat
Sure, the “dog paddle” is named after pups’ seemingly instinctive reaction upon hitting the water—but it’s still better to be safe, especially if you’re stand-up paddleboarding in the middle of a large alpine lake or kayaking in a fast-moving river. Denver-based Outward Hound’s Dawson Swim life jacket has neoprene side panels that will keep your canine skipper afloat and warm. From $40

Photo courtesy of Outward Hound

#3: The USDA licenses breeding facilities that look a lot like what most of us would call puppy mills—and those dogs often have emotional and physical damage as a result.

When Denver-based journalist Rory Kress bought her wheaten terrier, Izzie, she accepted the pet shop’s assurances that because the pup had come from a U.S. Department of Agriculture–licensed breeder, she wasn’t a puppy mill dog. But the more Kress dug into what that actually meant, the more disturbed she became. Her reporting—which took her from a legal yet distressing breeding facility (wire mesh cages, no outdoor access) in Arkansas to an animal behavioral scientist’s lab near Philadelphia—is artfully presented in The Doggie in the Window, a 2019 Colorado Book Award winner. We sat down with Kress to discuss the sad truth about where America’s puppies often come from.

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Rory Kress and her dog, Izzie. Photo courtesy of Andrea Flanagan.

5280: What does USDA licensing actually mean?
Rory Kress: Nothing. And less now than when I wrote the book, because 15 days after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, he pulled all the USDA inspection reports offline. The original purpose of my book was to say, Hey, the USDA inspects these places, and their reports are misleading. Now there’s nothing without a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request.

Photo courtesy of Sourcebooks

People often want puppies because they think they’re a blank slate, right?
Right—but every animal is going to come with its experiences imprinted on it. Izzie loves kids, but if your cell phone goes off, she would go bananas. Why? She was separated from her mom at eight weeks, shipped in an 18-wheeler cross-country to a pet shop, and stuck there for four weeks. If you talk to veterinarians, scientists—they’ll tell you it’s almost a guarantee that that animal will be scarred. But her trajectory from birth to my home is basically perfectly all right by the USDA. She was probably damaged before she was even born because of epigenetic stress—and who knows, maybe her sire and dam were littermates. There’s nothing in the law to stop genetic issues.

If someone is set on buying a puppy from a breeder, what should they do?
Go in person. Meeting the breeder is not the same thing; a common trick is they’ll meet you in a parking lot. Oh, my God, I live out in the sticks; you don’t want to come all the way to me. Don’t do that. People will say, Oh, I saw pictures of the facility. I’m like, Haven’t you online dated? The bigger question is, should we be buying dogs at all; should we be breeding dogs at all? I don’t have the answer to that. You have to wrestle with your own conscience.


#4: Releasing the hound where it’s not allowed isn’t a victimless crime.

We get it: Your lab mix has been stuck in your apartment all day. You hit Cheesman Park for a quick walk before your dinner date—but he’s itching to run. There’s plenty of open space, and he reliably comes back, so you think, What’s the harm in letting him chase the tennis ball a few times? Among other things, says Sam Gannon, a Denver park ranger supervisor, “it’s the way the park is perceived. There are folks who are less able than others, who aren’t going to feel comfortable getting away from a dog.” Other affected parties: young children who could be injured by even the friendliest canine and people walking leash-aggressive dogs who can’t avoid an approaching off-leash pup. “People are impacted greatly, and we hear from them on a daily basis,” Gannon says, noting it’s by far the number one issue the parks department gets complaints about. Rangers use most interactions for education rather than citations—but may we suggest visiting one of Denver’s 12 lovely dog parks instead?

Off-Leash Offenses
3,740: People approached by Denver Parks and Recreation staff in 2019 (as of mid-September) for having a dog off-leash.
298: Written warnings given out (Parks and Recreation staff take your info and enter it into a database to track repeat offenders).
160: Citations issued (the fine for first offenders is $100).

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#5: You can’t own a pit bull, but you can bash in someone’s car window to save an overheating bulldog—and other unique laws and programs that affect pet ownership in Denver.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

You can’t: own a pit bull

Denver’s breed-specific legislation, adopted in 1989, bans pit bull breeds (American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, or Staffordshire bull terriers), which are defined as “any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing (physical) characteristics.” Enforcement is generally complaint-based. If your dog is impounded and determined to be a pit bull breed, you’ll be required to relocate it to a municipality that does not have a ban.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

You can: temporarily surrender your companion animal

Denver Animal Protection’s Safe Haven program, launched in 2013, provides up to four weeks of shelter for pets whose families are, perhaps unexpectedly, unable to keep them. (Owners get their pets back once they’re able to safely house them again.) The service is also available for people experiencing homelessness when the temperature drops below 15 degrees, since dogs aren’t generally allowed in shelters and many guardians will risk exposure rather than leave them behind.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

You can’t: declaw your cat

In November 2017, Denver City Council unanimously passed a ban on declawing procedures—widely believed to cause behavioral issues on top of being very painful—becoming the first U.S. municipality outside of California to do so. (There are exemptions for cases of medical necessity, and veterinarians outside of the Mile High City’s limits do still offer the elective procedure.)

You can: rescue a pet from a hot car

Although a 2017 Good Samaritan law gives you legal immunity, it comes with criteria: You need to believe the animal is in “imminent danger” of death or serious injury. You must make a “reasonable effort” to find the owner. You need to call 311 and file a report with police, the fire department, or Denver Animal Protection. And ahead of shattering any glass, check that the vehicle is locked—you can’t use more force than necessary. Then, remain with the animal until the authorities arrive.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

#6: You have options when it’s time to say goodbye.

We’d agreed that when we thought Taj’s suffering outweighed his joy, it would be time, and that time came in late May 2018. Our nearly 13-year-old husky was struggling to do the basics—sleeping, eating, and walking from the deck to our backyard, where he loved sunbathing in the grass. His mysterious lower back ailment just kept getting worse. But I couldn’t comprehend the logistics of what I thought had to happen next: lifting his aching 60-pound frame into the back of our Jeep, where he’d be anxious as we drove 15 minutes to our vet’s office; dragging him into some sterile room; and then….

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Not knowing if such a thing existed—and certain it would be too expensive even if it did—I plugged “Denver in-home dog euthanasia” into Google. The number of results surprised me, as did the cost when I called Dr. Christine Daigler, whose practice, A Peaceful Passage, exists solely to provide traveling end-of-life and hospice care for pets. Her fee was similar to what our vet had quoted us and included transportation and cremation. We scheduled an appointment for the following day at 11 a.m.

5280 Managing Editor Jessica LaRusso and her dog Taj.

We spent the morning in the yard, stroking Taj’s sun-bleached fur and hand-feeding him steak and eggs. When Daigler arrived, Taj didn’t have the energy to greet her, but her gentle demeanor calmed him, as it did us. She explained every step of the process as we coaxed him onto a blanket atop the lawn. The first medication put Taj into a deep sleep; the next painlessly sent him from his favorite place in this world to whatever comes next.

While we said goodbye, Daigler pressed Taj’s paw into soft clay that hardened into a keepsake. My husband helped the vet carry his body to her vehicle, where a cushy dog bed waited. It was a kind touch that mattered to us, even though Taj no longer needed the comfort. We were inconsolably sad, but I am so grateful to Daigler for allowing us to see Taj off in such a serene, dignified fashion—a small thanks for all the happiness he brought to our lives.


#7: Pigs can be great pets—but one particular resident of a Deer Trail–based rescue organization wants you to know what you’re getting into before you bring her home.

Bonnie the potbellied pig. Photo courtesy of Hog Haven Farm.

Hi! My name is Bonnie.

I’m six years old. When my first family got me, my breeder told them I’d stay under 40 pounds—an insulting falsehood commonly spread about potbellies like me, marketed as “teacup” or “mini.” (I’m a pig, not a pug!) So boy were they surprised when I reached 200. Since I was no longer the right, ahem, fit for that home, they had to give me up. Luckily Erin Brinkley-Burgardt and Andrew Burgardt, who run Hog Haven Farm on the plains east of Denver, took me in. Now on a proper diet, I’ve slimmed down to a svelte 150 pounds. I’ve also been watching my neighbors: Pumba, a certified therapy pig, gets to go visit seniors, and Bentley sits for treats. Personally, I’m not that impressed. I could pick up some tricks too, if incentivized with apples and grapes. Heck, I’m sure I could learn to use a litter box or even a dog door—although, because we communicate different differently than canines (and those misunderstandings often lead to vicious fights), we should never be left alone with them. Anyway, I like it here, but I’d love to find some humans to snuggle—forever. Please, please check your city regulations first, though; a lot of my friends ended up here because their owners didn’t realize pigs are banned in suburban parts of Aurora. Also, in Lakewood and Commerce City, we must be under 70 pounds (puh-lease). Some homeowners associations aren’t big on pigs, either. Why? I have no idea. Give me a little “rooting” space (a patch of dirt I’m allowed to dig in) and a kiddie pool, and I’m happy. I may be a little stubborn and too smart for my own good—Erin compares us to toddlers, thanks to our penchant for figuring out how to open cabinets—but I’m clean, I’m friendly, and let’s face it, I’m freaking adorable.
XOXO, Bonnie

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P.S. Not ready to rescue?

You can help in other ways, like sponsoring a pig ($35 per month); volunteering at the farm; or doing downward dog with a cuddly hog during fundraisers at Diebolt Brewing Company (year round) and Seedstock Brewery (in the summer).


#8: Coming clean to your vet about your shortcomings as an owner means she can actually help you (and alleviate your guilt!).

Dr. Beth Spencer takes transparency seriously at her new clinic—3,600-square-foot Goodheart Animal Health Center, slated to open in Baker at the end of this month—where clients will be sent home with their pets’ entire medical records, including staff notes. She’s also taking it literally, via windows into the treatment rooms. “Someone always says, ‘I’m going to take your pet to the back,’ ” Spencer says. “At my hospital, you can see what that means.” She hopes all that openness will encourage her clients to feel more comfortable being honest about their struggles with their pets. In that spirit, we told her four things we’ve been too embarrassed to admit to our own vet.

Dr. Beth Spencer and her dog Mobi. Photo courtesy of Jansen Photography.

Confession: I can’t afford to buy my dog fancy food.
Spencer’s Take: More expensive doesn’t mean better—and the Food & Drug Administration’s investigation into a potential link between grain-free foods (often on boutiques’ top shelves) and reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy is ongoing. Talk to your vet about your pet’s specific needs.

Confession: I don’t play with my cat very often.
Spencer’s Take: An easy way to satisfy your cat’s need to engage in stalking, predatory behaviors (ideally, felines do this for up to four hours a day) is to feed him exclusively via a feeder puzzle, which allows him to hunt for his kibble.

Confession: I never brush my pet’s teeth. Like, ever.
Spencer’s Take: You’re not alone! Try using pet-specific toothpaste as a treat; once your animal digs that, introduce a finger brush or toothbrush. But if you can’t (or won’t) brush, you should have an oral evaluation, X-rays, and a full dental cleaning done under anesthesia annually to slow disease.

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Confession: I’m not sure how to tell if my animal is sick enough to merit making a vet appointment.
Spencer’s Take: First, call your vet and describe her symptoms; the staff should be willing to assist you in triaging. Help them by checking the color of your animal’s gums (for most pets, pink is good; a pale or white hue is concerning).

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