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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! My dog is undersocialized and in training for leash reactivity. We had a huge setback today when an off-leash dog in an on-leash area rushed us and started barking in my dog's face. No physical contact, luckily. But the dog's owners had no leash on them at all, and they were so absorbed in conversation they couldn't even be bothered to come get their dog!! I had to kick at it to get it to go away -- something I really hated to do, but there weren't many other options.

The people you describe in the post are like me -- special needs and just need a safe place to walk and train. I don't understand why some other dog owners are so offended by that. I like your point that a lot of people in this city aren't necessarily pro-dog, they're just anti-leash.