Saturday, December 30, 2006

SF SPCA: Ignorance, Lies, and Denial - San Francisco's Dog Blog

It should be no surprise to readers of San Francisco's Dog Blog that the editors here take a critical eye to the SF SPCA. Over several years of observation, it has become apparent to us that the group no longer relies on science or ethics to guide its decisions about protecting animals in San Francisco, and instead tries to remake the world's events to be consistent with the group's philosophy and agenda. Imagine Orwell's Ministry of Truth--only focused exclusively on issues pertaining to San Francisco's cats, dogs, and wildlife--and you will begin to understand the danger the SF SPCA's activities pose to the well being of our animals.

A recent example of the SF SPCA's deceptive public relations deals with the negotiated rulemaking process at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is designed to reach consensus on pet management issues at the park. The SF SPCA recently issued a "message" by its "Acting President"--as noted previously here, SF SPCA President Daniel Crain was fired this summer--regarding this process; the message was reported on in January's Fetch the Paper, one of our favorite reads.

In his message, Acting President Richard E. Dirickson--a man who has never attended a single negotiated rulemaking meeting and, other than apparently being wealthy, has no qualifications to lead any humane organization--makes two alarming but false claims.

First, Mr. Dirickson claims that the SF SPCA "has been committed to the GGNRA negotiated rulemaking process from the beginning . . . ." Now, because the GGNRA plays such a large role in the lives of our dogs, we here at San Francisco's Dog Blog have taken a great interest in the negotiated rulemaking process and the SF SPCA's role in it. The fact is that the SF SPCA's primary representative in these negotiations, the group's only representative given a vote in this consensus based process, HAS NEVER ATTENDED A SINGLE NEGOTIATED RULEMAKING MEETING in the ten months that this process has been ongoing. Not one meeting. And therefore the SF SPCA has not cast a single vote on any issue of relevance to our dogs at the GGNRA.

War is Peace. Indifference is Commitment.

Second, and perhaps highlighting Mr. Dirickson's complete lack of qualifications for this job, Mr. Dirickson claims that publications describing how off-leash activities can lead to leash aggression in dogs are "totally without merit," and even disputes the studies' very existence, claiming that they were "anonymous" publications and only "allegedly published."

Well, perhaps if Mr. Dirickson had attended a negotiated rulemaking meeting--or as the big boss, at least required his voting representative to attend--he would have gotten his hands on these publications, because they were written by Trish King, the Marin Humane Society's Director of Behavior and Training. The Marin Humane Society also happens to be a member of the negotiated rulemaking team--but Marin Humane shows up and votes, while the SF SPCA sits on the sidelines.

But let's put aside for now Mr. Dirickson's and the SF SPCA's surprising failure to remain apraised of local, current, basic canine behavior research, and lets focus on the research's content. What did Ms. King publish that put her in Mr. Dirickson's doghouse?

Ms. King has stated repeatedly, most recently in an article published in the Marin Independent Journal on August 12, 2006, that a dog's experiences in off-leash dog play areas are often the cause of leash aggression in dogs:

Ms. King has published similar articles in the Marin Independent Journal before, as well as in publications by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. So why is it that the SF SPCA is attacking Ms. King, one of the Bay Area's most respected and widely published authors on dog behavior?

Because War is Peace. Indifference is Commitment. The SF SPCA has always been at war with Eurasia, it has never been at war with Eurasia.

That is, because the SF SPCA has built an ideology around dogs that is inconsistent with recent studies of dog behavior in off-leash dog parks, the group attacks the scientists and dog behavior experts that present the information, rather than letting down its ideological guard and trying to use this evidence to do right by our animals. Furthermore, the Marine Humane Society also happens to be the SF SPCA's fiercest local competitor for donations and funding--and may be wining the competition in areas where the SF SPCA's failings have become evident--which may be why Mr. Dirickson is trying to discredit Ms. King and by extension the group she works for.

So once again, the SF SPCA's ideological agenda attempts to cover up the oh-so-inconvenient facts, and in the process denigrates the lives of our dogs. We here at San Francisco's Dog Blog realize that it is unlikely the SF SPCA will ever return to reality given its recent leadership, but perhaps next time Mr. Dirickson will not deceptively label his statements as a "message" but as a"two-minute hate," which they truly are.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

If You Love Dogs, Leash Your Dog - San Francisco's Dog Blog

San Francisco has more off-leash dog play areas per square mile than any other city in the United States. We are blessed to have a large number of these essential recreation spaces distributed throughout the City.

Which is why it is so confounding that so many of our City's dog owners refuse to leash their dogs OUTSIDE of legal DPAs.

After all, we are not the same city we were six years ago. Back then there were hardly any official places to take your dog off-leash in San Francisco. Today we have 28 DPAs within the City's boundaries, providing a wide variety of off-leash recreational opportunities. Per square mile, that's more places to run dogs than any other city in the country, maybe the world.

We have also suffered major public relations fiascoes in the past few years: the highly publicized dog-mauling deaths of Nicholas Faibish and Dianne Whipple. In both cases, the dogs who killed were "off-leash dogs," with Rex and Ella regularly seen in the Faibish's neighborhood unleashed, and Bane and Hera allowed to run off-leash in Alta Plaza Park, occasionally with violent consequences.

In spite of our changed circumstances, self-appointed canine advocates continue to claim that there aren't enough off-leash spaces for dogs in San Francisco, and that therefore leash laws in the City should not be enforced. For example, a group calling itself "San Francisco Dog Owners Group" has created a "Pet Policy" that states leash laws shall not be enforced "until (and unless) adequate space is designated for off-leash recreation . . . in every neighborhood." Of course, the group's Pet Policy does not define "adequate" or "neighborhood," so there is no objective way to tell if these criteria will ever be met to the group's satisfaction.

Perhaps seven years ago such a Pet Policy could conceivably be thought of as advancing the welfare of our dogs. But today, when we have more off-leash dog play areas per square mile than any other city in the United States, the policy seems like an anachronism. Yet the San Francisco Dog Owners Group continues to claim that San Francisco has inadequate off-leash space, and fights leash law enforcement at every opportunity. In the view of those of us here at San Francisco's Dog Blog, it is clear that the small group of individuals pushing for ever more off-leash dog space cannot be considered pro-dog anymore, only anti-leash.

Unfortunately for responsible dog owners and the rest of the City, it appears that the San Francisco Dog Owner Group's anti-leash philosophy has a sympathizer in Carl Friedman, director of Animal Care and Control. Indeed, at the October 10, 2006 Dog Advisory Commission meeting, Mr. Friedman, the person charged by taxpayers with enforcing animal welfare and control laws, stated that there is no possibility of leash law enforcement in city parks, period. Apparently company policy is to wait until something bad happens--a dog is attacked, a person is bitten, a pet is lost, etc.--and then issue a post-hac rationalization/citation. As a result, it is essentially impossible to take a dog anywhere in San Francisco without being confronted with off-leash dogs.

The adverse consequences of Mr. Friedman's abdication of his responsibilities is borne out in many ways, but perhaps those who are harmed the most are those of us who work tirelessly to rehabilitate aggressive, dangerous, or unbalanced dogs in the City. To understand why, lets take an example from this month's Whole Dog Journal (subscription required), a local publication with national renown:

The Real World

A friend, a very knowledgeable pet owner, with a shy/reactive dog, e-mailed me about a setback she and her dog experienced recently. She wrote, "I keep getting caught up in the fact that I can't control the environment." Well, none of us can, though we can do what we can to prepare.

My friend's dog is about eight years old. It is only in the past year he has been able to stay calm enough to accept food treats when he is outside, even with no dogs or other animals in sight. She's done tremendous work with him, and her patience and dedication are impressive. She has recently begun walking the dog on leash in a state park. When she saw other people with dogs approaching, she would move off the trail with her dog--thus increasing the distance between her dog and a potential trigger--and click and treat (using peanut butter in a squeeze tube).

The tactic worked well. At least until recently, on a walk in the state park, an off-leash dog ran up as she and her dog waited off the trail, dashing right into her dog's face in an attempt to take his treat! It only took a moment for the off-leash dog to close the space between them, and not surprisingly, a fight broke out. Skin was broken. It was a nasty setback for her work with her dog. For a time, she despaired of the idea of ever taking her dog out on the trails again. she lost sight of their huge progress, and fixated on all that might be lost.

The article goes on to explain that the dog owner eventually got the gumption to start again, but now she is forced to find ways to keep her dog in controlled environments, that is, not in our public parks where off-leash dogs illegally roam.

For now, put aside arguments about the equity of this de facto exclusion of this woman and her dog from public parks. Instead, imagine you are this "friend," this "very knowledgeable pet owner," and you live in San Francisco. You've spent 7 years trying to rehabilitate your sweet but anxious dog so it can simply enjoy some treats in the out-of-doors. You look for some place in the city to continue your dog's training and socialization process, without the risk of being approached by an off-leash dog, a known trigger. According to Carl Friedman, the place you are looking for simply doesn't exist: he can't be bothered to enforce leash laws, even in on-leash only areas in city parks, so you simply cannot take your dog anywhere in San Francisco to continue the dog's rehabilitation process.

If stunting animal rehabilitation efforts was simply an unintended consequence of Mr. Friedman and San Francisco Dog Owner Group's anti-leash philosophy, perhaps this problem could be overlooked or corrected. Unfortunately, this isn't unintended: San Francisco Dog Owner Group believes it is proper to reserve our public spaces for the exclusive use of certain dogs and their owners, at the expense of those dog owners who are actually attempting to rehabilitate dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.

Need proof? Take a look at this excerpt from an "open letter" sent by Kassie Maxwell, the self-described "webdog" of the San Francisco Dog Owner Group, to the guardian of an adopted disabled dog who asked the Police commission to enforce leash laws in on-leash only areas so he would have a safe place to take his disabled pet outdoors:

Also, because [NAME REMOVED FOR PRIVACY] has adopted a dog with a disability, it is up to him to protect and exercise this dog is [SIC] areas where it is safe to do so. This can sometimes require some creativity on his part, but it is his responsibility - not everyone's [SIC] else's, and public policy should not revolve around his own personal situation . . . . If I were down at the Police Commission meetings complaining about other people's dogs when mine was the one with the problem, that would have been an incredibly selfish and imbalanced reaction to the situation.

Well, there you have it: a person who adopts a disabled dog, a dog that likely would have faced certain death if the person hadn't adopted it, is "incredibly selfish and imbalanced" for requesting a safe, on-leash area in San Francisco to take the dog outside.

At least we can be thankful that the San Francisco Dog Owner Group has made it quite clear that it's anti-leash agenda is more important to the group than the well being of disabled and rehabilitated pets. For the rest of us who strive to be responsible dog owners and would like to share city parks with dogs of all stripes (and number of legs), show your love of dogs by leashing your dogs in our on-leash only open spaces.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Commercial Dog Walkers Put Profit Before Dogs - San Francisco's Dog Blog

Commercial dog walking is big business in San Francisco. On-leash or off, with other dogs or without, you can find almost an infinite number of commercial dog walkers willing to give your dog some exercise while you are away from home. This is a great and needed service in San Francisco, where our residences are small, the hours we work long, and the number of large dogs needing exercise quite high.

Unfortunately, commercial dog walkers are almost entirely unregulated in the City. If you do choose to hire a commercial dog walker, Animal Care and Control has just two words for you: caveat emptor. Furthermore, commercial dog walkers almost always take their charges out to romp in publicly owned spaces--sometimes within dog play areas, sometimes not, but always without paying a commercial licensing fee--creating friction with dog owners who don't like their DPA overcrowded with commercial play dates.

We here at San Francisco's Dog Blog suspect that if you asked San Francisco's dogs, they'd tell you that they wish Animal Care and Control would implement regulations governing commercial dog walkers. Requiring safe transport of our dogs in regularly inspected vehicles, ensuring good ventilation for our dogs during transport, requiring that all dogs walked together be up on their vaccinations, and requiring commercial dog walkers to comply with leash laws and all other applicable parkland regulations would be a good start, they'd likely say.

This past summer San Francisco's Commission on Animal Control and Welfare took the first step towards putting some regulations on the books. However, in a classic example of a regulated industry capturing the very agency charged with its regulation, the Commission on Animal Control and Welfare is proposing to allow commercial dog walkers to walk between 8-10 dogs AT ONE TIME.

Gentle readers, right now you are probably thinking, so what? Well we'll tell you what: responsible dog owners and animal welfare groups have been saying for many years that the number of dogs any person can walk at once while ensuring the dogs' safety is between 3-6. Whether you ask the East Bay Regional Park System, U.C. Davis' Center for Animals in Society, the experts at Whole Dog Journal, or even the SF SPCA, you will discover that a limit of 8-10 dogs is a recipe for lost and injured dogs. Not to mention less individualized attention for your mutt.

So what is driving this extension to 8-10 dogs? Profit, and nothing else. There has never been a single study (or even objective opinion) suggesting that a single commercial dog walker can effectively ensure the safety and well being of 8-10 dogs, particularly when the dogs are allowed off-lead. This is simply a money grab by commercial dog walkers, who want to make more dough per walk at the expense of Fido's health and well being. Jeff Hunt, a self-professed commercial dog walker, said as much in his comments to the Commission, saying that in his view a limit on the number of dogs walked at one time was simply a limitation on his income, refusing to recognize that the dogs he is walking are not widgets but wonderful beings that he is paid to care for.

Commercial dog walkers in our City are likely to argue that they are somehow more enlightened and therefore able or entitled to walk more dogs than most folks would consider safe. But lets take one example here: K9 Safari, run by two seemingly wonderful people who clearly love dogs, but have not always kept their charges from getting lost.

If you look closely at this promotional photo entitled "K9 Safari in action" on Flickr, you'll note that there are 8 dogs in the shot. Now imagine doubling the number of dogs in the photo. That's what the Commission is proposing as an appropriate number of dog walkers to dogs. At any rate, this past spring, K9 Safari lost at least one of their charges at Fort Funston while walking the dog off-leash, and then helped another company find a second dog that was lost at Yerba Buena Park. The dog at Fort Funston fell off a cliff and was stranded over night in the rain, and Park Rangers had to rappel down the cliff to rescue it.

According to posts placed by one of K9 Safari's proprietors on nearly every dog e-mail list remotely connected to the Bay Area, the second dog was lost for over 11 days after it was spooked by a large disturbance ran away from its dog walker:

Posted by: k9safari
Sun Nov 5, 2006

Hello All,I am sending this plea to the dog community to help look for Jacko, a friendly 5 yr old Akita/Shepherd mix last seen at Buena Vista Park on Thursday 11/2/06 around 1:30 p.m. He is large and white with brindle spots all over him. A huge branch fell from a tree and spooked him while he was with his dog walker, which resulted him to flee toward the Castro. He had a collar with tags and a red raincoat on. Please contact Tiffany at 415-225-xxxx or Dave at 713-xxxx with ANY information. Also, please pass this on to anyone you know in the dog community. Many Thanks

Jocko has returned home!!!!
Posted by: k9safari
Tue Nov 14, 2006

Hello Dog Lovers-I just wanted to let you all know that the Akita/Shepard mix named Jocko has been found after 11 days of being missing. He was hiding in the shrubs at Portola and Clipper! Thankfully, besides being hungry, he is safe and back at home getting lots of love from his family! Everyone involved is so grateful for your concern and compassion during such a scary and LOOOOONG time of stress! HURRAY!

Can you imagine losing your pup for 11 days? We're all for rejoicing in happy endings, but we need to prevent dogs from being lost in the first place.

Which brings us back to the Commission on Animal Control and Welfare. If it was truly interested in helping San Franciscan's maintain safe environments for our dogs and ensuring that those who would service our dogs are adequately prepared for the job, why on Earth would they propose allowing commercial dog walkers to take out 8-10 of our dogs at one time? It is because the Commission has been captured by the very groups it is designed to regulate. The Commission no longer does the bidding of our dogs, it does the bidding of those who would profit off of them.

Monday, December 25, 2006

SF SPCA uses Funds for Housing Animals to House the Group's Insiders - San Francisco's Dog Blog

Of the many disappointing aspects of our dog's lives in San Francisco, perhaps nothing is more disappointing than the SF SPCA. The seemingly venerable institution has brought discredit to the humane movement in many ways, from its politicized views of dog behavior to its uncanny ability to alienate animal welfare groups from the Marin Humane Society to Golden Gate Audubon Society.

But it isn't only the SF SPCA's politics that puts the group in San Francisco Dog Blog's dog house. It's also the group's financial management. Perhaps the most egregious example of its financial schenanegans is the sweetheart deal the SF SPCA has historically given to its presidents.

For example, a review of the SF SPCA's tax records show that in his last years as the SF SPCA's President, Ed Sayers received over $200,000 in salary and benefits. An extraordinary amount for the leader of any non-profit group.

But the compensation package didn't end there: the SF SPCA also gave Mr. Sayers a $400,000 interest-only loan from the group's non-profit funds so Mr. Sayers could buy a house. That's nearly half-a-million dollars that the SF SPCA spent on housing the agency's insiders, rather than on San Francisco's homeless cats and dogs.

Shortly after this loan was disclosed on the SF SPCA's IRS forms, Mr. Sayers abruptly left the organization and paid the balance of the loan back. It isn't clear if his departure is related to this insider loan; presumably the SF SPCA didn't realize the loan failed the smell test and didn't send Sayers packing on this ground alone.

Which raises an interesting question: what will the SF SPCA do with your donation now that it is searching for a new president? Just a few weeks ago, the SF SPCA apparently fired Daniel Crain, the group's most recent president, for undisclosed reasons. The sudden firing, just days before Mr. Crain was to deliver an address at the national feral cat summit hosted in San Francisco, was really a wipe out: there isn't a reference to Mr. Crain left on the SF SPCA's website.

So the group is in the market for a new president. Will it keep spending your donations on housing its insiders, or will it wisen up and spend the money where we thought it was going, to house homeless cats and dogs?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Let's Share the Beaches

San Francisco is not one of the world's best cities for dogs. It's not even the best dog city in the United States. Our businesses don't accommodate dogs well, our public transit maintains arbitrary and difficult rules for our animals, our dog parks resemble Beirut in the Summer of 2006, and we've been the fatal locale of the two most gruesome and publicized dog attacks of this century.

By any measure, we have a lot of work to do. Which is why when photos like this hit the internet-with an unleashed dog relieving itself within yards of several federally protected snowy plovers-we here at San Francisco's Dog Blog just shake our heads in disappointment. We have real issues to tackle in this City, yet irresponsible dog owners who can't be bothered to share beaches with other people-let alone other species-prevent us from making progress on issues that would actually make lives better for our dogs.

To be fair, it isn't clear that this dog is far from its owner, and we don't know for sure where this photo was taken. But letting a dog off-lead this close to protected species, to do what it's doing here, is not a good way to start a conversation about making San Francisco more accessible to dogs.

Our dogs mean the world to us. But that does not mean that the world belongs to our dogs. This dog couldn't possibly be expected to know that what it sees as a defecation zone is important habitat for these small birds, but its guardian should. Lets show some respect for the snowy plovers and move on to making our city a more accessible place for our dogs.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Making San Francisco Safe and Fun for Dogs - San Francisco's Dog Blog

Welcome to San Francisco's "Dog Blog," where we hope to inspire a new era of dog-centric living in our great City. San Francisco goes with dogs the way peanut butter goes with kongs. But a dog's life isn't always grand in the City:
Over 60% of San Francisco residents are renters, yet almost all rental units preclude renters from owning dogs.
Not enough restaurants, cafes, and businesses accommodate dogs.
Our dog parks aren't safe, and Animal Care and Control won't help until after your dog is lost, bitten, or killed.
Public transit is hardly dog friendly: dogs pay the full fare on MUNI and they can't ride during commute hours.
We know San Francisco can do better. On the Dog Blog, we will bring these basic issues to light and help make San Francisco more accessible to our dogs.