Going to the Dogs

Okay. So maybe Sean McGuire is a lawyer with too much time on his hands. Or maybe he's really a man of convictions, fighting his own criminal conviction.

But then again, maybe this is just a story about a man and his dog.

"Come on, Roscoe," McGuire says. "Now, stay with me."

It's a crisp, beautiful weekday morning. McGuire leads his plump dust mop of a Scottish terrier along the grassy southwestern edge of Washington Park. A jogger wheezes by. A squirrel scurries up a tree. A duck crash-lands in the lake.

McGuire slows to a stop.

"Sit!" he says.

Roscoe sits.

McGuire looks to the left, he looks to the right, he looks all the way around, and then he bends over and detaches Roscoe's red leash.

"According to the city," he says, "I just broke the law."

Section 8-16 of the Denver Municipal Code, to be exact. According to Section 8-16, "it shall be unlawful for any owner, possessor or person who keeps any dog, to permit the same dog to run at large." And under that same section, "at large" translates to "not on the premises of the owner" and "not controlled through the use of a leash, cord or chain."

"Ask an animal-control officer," McGuire continues, "and he'll say Roscoe is running at large."

But ask McGuire, and he'll say this: Although Roscoe is not wearing a leash, he's neither running nor at large. He is simply sitting a foot away from his master, sniffing the breeze, thumping his tail, staring quizzically up at McGuire and wondering what the hell is going on.

Roscoe is under control, McGuire says, just as he learned to be in obedience school. Just as he has been on hundreds of walks through central Denver. Just as he was at 7 a.m. on July 9, 1998, when two animal-control officers swooped down on this very spot and slapped McGuire with a $50 ticket for being in violation of Section 8-16.

"What they did to me," he says, "is just an incredible amount of silliness."

Which is why, McGuire concludes as he re-attaches Roscoe's leash, a walk in the park has led all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.

"Roscoe," McGuire says, back at his home now. "It's a great name."

It belonged to a character on the TV series 77 Sunset Strip. When McGuire was presented with a scruffy black puppy about eight years ago as a gift for passing the Colorado bar, he knew exactly what to call him.

"Roscoe," McGuire says. "With an 'e.'"

Upon hearing the magic word, Roscoe with an "e" trots over from his post at the front door and deposits a tennis ball at his master's feet.

His master rolls the ball across the floor, and Roscoe skitters after it, then plops down before the open front door.

McGuire has owned Scotties since he was a kid. Over the years, four different pooches have skittered across the wooden floors of his modest home in the Cory-Merrill neighborhood. Not one of them has had behavioral problems. Certainly not Roscoe.

"I feel completely comfortable with him," says McGuire, a mustachioed, salt-and-pepper-haired 47-year-old. "He can walk through a flock of geese and ducks without bothering them. He even stops three feet before the curb on very busy streets and sits down at the light pole."

Roscoe isn't perfect, however. He's got "a mind of his own at times," McGuire says, and harbors murderous thoughts about the squirrels raiding the trash can in the backyard. But he did graduate from the Terroux Training Kennels obedience program. And usually it takes only one brusque command to bring him in line.

"Heel. Sit. Stay," McGuire says.

It's true that on the morning McGuire was ticketed for violating Section 8-16, Roscoe wasn't wearing a leash. But McGuire had one in his pocket, and when the animal-control officers asked him to harness Roscoe, he did. On his report, an officer even noted that Roscoe was "friendly" and that McGuire was "very cooperative."

But McGuire still was cited.

Afterward, he drove downtown, thumbed through the city's Municipal Code and discovered that violating the leash law is a criminal offense.

"If I were convicted, it could be up to a year in jail or a $999 fine," McGuire says. "If I were convicted, that criminal offense would go on my record."

And the last thing McGuire wanted was a criminal violation on his record. He'd served four and a half years as a state trooper before becoming a lawyer, then worked as a prosecutor in Denver, Arapahoe and Grand counties for three; he's done criminal defense and family law in private practice. McGuire is also a certified public accountant, and now he's pursuing a master's degree in tax law. Being the lawyer that he is, instead of mailing in the $50, McGuire decided to negotiate a deal.

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Harrison Fletcher

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