Pet registry may reveal more than we think about local communities
La Plata County residents love their dogs. But each owner has their own preferences – Labrador retrievers or Chihuahuas, small dogs versus large dogs, male versus female.
The Plata County Humane Society keeps a database of all licensed dogs in the county. That data reveals pet popularity trends in the area: Labrador retrievers and pit bulls are by far the favorite breeds and about half of dogs are male and half female. Trends shift from town to town, but many of the dogs in La Plata County are medium to large sized and energetic.
“La Plata County is one of the friendliest and most welcoming pet communities,” said Emily Phillips, marketing and development manager for La Plata County Humane Society. “This whole community is full of pet lovers. We see that we have a day-to-day basis.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 38.4% or about 48 million households own dogs in the US
Humane Society data lists 629 dogs up-to-date on their license registration as of March, though that figure is likely an undercount, Phillips said.
“There’s a lot more animals. The thing with licensing is not a lot of people know,” she said.
Of the 629 dogs in the county, their distribution is what one might expect. About 60 live in Hesperus, 80 in Bayfield, 22 in Ignacio and 470 in Durango.
Across La Plata County, Labrador retrievers, pit bulls, shepherd mixes and smooth-coated Chihuahuas are the four most popular breeds, according to Humane Society data, though the breeds shift by town.
In Bayfield, pet owners prefer pit bulls and smooth-coated Chihuahuas. Residents of Ignacio love their smooth-coated Chihuahuas and American blue heelers, while in Durango, Labrador retrievers and pit bulls reign.
Australian shepherds round out the top three breeds that visit Pet Haus pet store in Durango, said Cresa Peterson, a Pet Haus employee.
Hesperus has perhaps the strangest breed statistics. Alaskan huskies overwhelmingly comprised the dogs registered, accounting for more than 30% of those in the area, a fact that is likely because of Hesperus’ Durango Dog Ranch, which leads dog sled tours with Alaskan huskies.
The Plata County Humane Society’s database paints a picture of dog owners attracted to athletic, energetic and outdoorsy medium and large breeds.
“There’s something with the outdoors and the pets here,” Phillips said. “People love to take their pets out and you can go on all these beautiful hikes and trails.”
Australian cattle dogs and shepherds, German shepherds, border collies, Alaskan huskies and American blue heelers are all popular breeds in La Plata County, though only one of these breeds – the Australian shepherd – made the top 20 of the American Kennel Club’s most popular breeds in 2021.
The dogs in La Plata County reflect the people drawn to Southwest Colorado, said Susan Riches, who sits on the board of the Durango Kennel Club and serves as president of the La Plata County Humane Society.
“We have a lot of very energetic outdoor people,” she said. “The fact that we advertise so much of an outdoor lifestyle and we attract so many people who are interested in skiing, hiking and fishing affects the type of dogs that are the most common here.”
While present, La Plata County has noticeably few French bulldogs, bulldogs, beagles and dachshunds, according to Humane Society data. Each ranked in the American Kennel Club’s top 10 breeds nationally for 2021.
Still, the Humane Society sees more demand for smaller breeds than the medium and large dogs it usually houses in its shelter.
“We get a lot of adopters and people who call and request small dogs,” Phillips said. “When we do get them in, sometimes they’re adopted before they even go on the website. People want them and love them and we just don’t see that many.”
A number of small dogs participate in Durango Kennel Club events, Riches said.
“Goldens and Labradors are very popular, but we also see many more small dogs,” she said. “We see more French bulldogs, for instance. … It’s sometimes a surprise as to what we do see.”
A majority of the dogs in La Plata County and the Humane Society’s shelter are mixes, according to Phillips and Riches, which is reflected in the data. Only about 40 of the 629 dogs in the Humane Society license registry are pure breeds.
“We have people who come in who really want to adopt a golden retriever or German shepherd, and we are very honest and say we do get a lot of mixed breeds and we don’t know a lot of the breeds,” Phillips said. “We don’t really get a lot of purebreds at all. It has happened and those go quickly.”
La Plata County requires all residents to license their dogs with the Humane Society once they are 3 months or older if they live in the county more than 30 days annually. New residents must register their dogs within 30 days of moving.
“We try to do our part to inform the community that La Plata County pets legally need to be licensed, but it’s not a very known thing,” Phillips said. “There’s a lot more pets that need to be licensed.”
A license costs $10 per year for a spayed or neutered dog, $25 for county residents who choose not to neuter or spay their pet and $55 for city residents who choose to leave their dog intact.
Licenses serve as an important safeguard for pets and can save pet owners money.
The Humane Society uses the license tag and information collected during the license process to return dogs to their owners if they ever escape or are picked up by Animal Protection.
“It reunites lost pets and their families,” Phillips said. “…It’s another way to get them home.”
If Animal Protection picks up a dog, the owner pays a $40 impound fee for a licensed animal, $20 less than an unlicensed dog. However, if an owner registers their pet within 60 days, Animal Protection will drop the citation, she said.
The money from licenses also goes directly to the Humane Society to sustain the organization’s work.
“It’s a way to support our mission and give back,” Phillips said.
What makes La Plata County a great place to own a dog?
“There is so much outdoor space where you can take dogs,” Riches said. “I don’t know what it is, (but) people come in and they say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get a dog.’”
For Phillips, it’s La Plata County’s supportive and animal-friendly community.
“People are really happy to see pets,” she said. “It’s just a warm, friendly vibe and a very nice place to own pets.”