Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Service Animals in SF: Why is the Problem So Acute in the City of St. Francis?

Joe Eskenazi's article in the SF Weekly about abuse of the ADA in registering non-trained animals as service dogs raises more questions than answers.

It seems obvious that the common perception of a disabled individual is too limiting, and we must adjust the ADA in ways that can accommodate those with non-physical limitations.

But it also seems obvious that we must require stringent regulations on the animal--not the person--to prove that the animal is trained to provide some service without impacting others unduly. Even if that service is simply to sit there and look cute in a calming, reassuring way. Absent this regulation, we will impose on society more than we need to for this service, and people who already have a reason to not want dogs around--because they are allergic, or they are fearful, or just mean--will take action to limit access to all service animals.

But what isn't addressed at all, and is less obvious, is why in San Francisco, compared to all other cities mentioned in the article, has such a problem with abuse of the ADA registration process. According to Eskenazi:
San Francisco's tally of 500 service tags issued in 2008 dwarfs other California totals: San Diego, with nearly three times the inhabitants, issued only 352; Los Angeles, almost four times bigger, a scant 96.
So why is it in San Francisco we have so many service tags issued? Perhaps we have more people who are deserving of these tags, as the Bay Area is the birthplace of the disability rights movement. Perhaps our dogs are better trained--although this is belied by the statements from guide dog users in Eskenazi's article.

It seems likely it is a cultural issue around dogs, not the disabled. The SFSPCA, SF DOG, and the other self-appointed leaders of dog advocacy in San Francisco always take the self-centered approach to their dogs. After all, it is their right, as dog guardians, to do whatever they wish with the animal, wherever they please, or the dog's well being will suffer: or so the philosophy goes. Because of their general policy against any restrictions on dog access anywhere, they have perpetuated a culture where it is acceptable to game the disabled access system so we can have fido dine with us in Farallon.

We need to scrutinize and reject these philosophies. They undermine our ability to treat our animal charges with the respect they deserve, and ultimately denigrate the human-animal bond in the collective mind of our great City.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dog Hypocrisy Highlighted by Board of Supervisors

Sally Stephens is the self-appointed leader of San Francisco Dog Owners Group. She's well known for being less than candid with the truth, and even aligned herself with dog owners who spray painted "KKK" on a local proprietor's establishment.

What remained of Ms. Stephen's credibility was destroyed at the Board of Supervisors last month when she testified at a hearing about San Francisco's golf courses. You see, in 2007 Ms. Stephens wrote not one, but two op-ed pieces arguing for San Francisco's golf courses to be reevaluated and converted to different uses. A reasonable enough argument, and supported by many in the dog community.

But then when the Board of Supervisors actually proposed to change existing uses at Sharp Park Golf Course and create an area where we could walk our dogs and enjoy a restored visitor center and open space, she came out swinging: AGAINST the proposal.

You see, Sharp Park is in fact one of the most important natural areas in San Francisco, and restoring it would not only benefit diverse recreational users, but also two endangered species. Sally Stephens, who has converted San Francisco Dog Owners Group from a pro-dog group to an anti-wildlife group, would rather see endangered species die than her own group's agenda succeed. Among her great lines: "Frog habitat is also mosquito habitat!" Never mind that frogs eat more mosquitoes for breakfast than mosquito control kills in a year.

But this is just another day in the life of dog owners in San Francisco: our self-appointed leaders keep taking outrageous and hypocritical positions, which makes all dog owners seem unstable. Ultimately, the safety of our dogs suffers for it.

And by the way: the Board of Supervisors proposal passed, over Ms. Stephens objections, unanimously.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Brian O'Neill Passes Away, Irresponsible Dog Owners Show Their True Colors

Brian O'Neill, the long-time Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, died last week from complications from heart surgery. Brian was beloved by thousands, in part because his primary mission at the park was "friendraising": he tried everyday to build new friendships for the park, and he was very successful at it. He will be sorely missed by many.

Except the irresponsible dog owners. Almost immediately they began posting negative, disgusting comments on his obituary, and now have created their own offensive and tasteless statement on Brian's passing:


This disgusting act of hatred is why dog owners are given a bad name in San Francisco. They should be forced to apologize not only for Brian's legacy, but also for what they've done to set back the hard work we've done to keep our dogs safe in the City.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dogs and Shorebirds: Pacifica Tribune

Pacifica Tribune Feb 25 2009

Dogs and Shorebirds

Editor: The group of birds known as shorebirds is comprised of the sandpipers, plovers and related birds that forage along our beaches, mudflats and rocky shores. Some species, like Western Snowy Plovers, Black Oystercatchers and Spotted Sandpipers, nest in our area, but most shorebirds are only winter visitors to the California coast, nesting elsewhere to the east and north. Many species of shorebirds travel north all the way to the tundra to lay their eggs and raise their young.

Unfortunately, the populations of many species of shorebirds, like those of so many other North American birds, are in decline. Some shorebird populations have dropped dramatically. Sanderlings, the little whitish sandpipers that chase the waves back and forth on sandy beaches, have experienced an 80% decline in their numbers since the early 1970s.

There are at least several reasons for these declines in shorebird numbers - habitat loss, toxic pollution, global warming. In the case of some shorebirds, those that utilize sandy beaches, disturbance by humans and dogs has become a significant factor. The decline in Sanderling is almost certainly due to disturbance on sandy beaches during winter and migration periods.

Many of California's sandy beaches, particularly those close to large urban areas, are heavily used by people and their dogs. As someone who spends countless hours watching shorebirds through binoculars, I am keenly aware of how easily shorebirds can be disturbed. Studies have shown that time spent by shorebirds foraging along beaches decreases in response to increasing and chronic disturbance from human activity. Other studies have shown that as pedestrian traffic increases on a beach, shorebird occurrence decreases.

While shorebirds may be disturbed by people in their habitat, they are REALLY disturbed by dogs. This is easy to observe on any day of the week. Sanderlings or Willets, another species regularly found on our beaches, may allow a string of walkers, joggers and surfers to pass by within 15 feet or so without showing undue alarm. However, as soon as a dog appears within a hundred yards of the birds, they freeze in their tracks, crane their necks up for a better view, and stand there waiting to see what the dog is going to do next.

Shorebirds can't tell if a dog is off-leash or not. If there is any indication that the dog is moving towards them, they're gone in a flash of wings. The real threat to the shorebirds from dogs is not that the dogs are going to catch and kill them. Dogs are way too slow to capture anything other than sick or injured shorebirds. The danger is in how the dogs affect the energy balance of the birds. Shorebirds, like most wild creatures, exist on a fairly tight energy budget. There is a small amount of slack built into the system, but not a lot.

Anything that negatively impacts that energy balance threatens their physiological well-being.
Shorebirds eat mostly small invertebrates, up to and including mole crabs. Anyone who has spent much time walking along sandy beaches knows that the intertidal zone there is not exactly teeming with invertebrate life. Small creatures are there, to be sure, but they are mostly buried in the sand and difficult to find. Shorebirds need plenty of undisturbed time to locate these prey items they require to meet their energy needs.

All dogs on beaches disturb shorebirds. It has been well-documented scientifically that their mere presence is enough to stress the birds and impair their foraging efficiency. Beyond that, off-leash dogs that actually chase the birds are considerably worse. Not only do these dogs interrupt the foraging and resting time of the shorebirds, but in flying around to escape dogs, the birds burn off calories and expend large amounts of energy they can't afford to spare.

Consequently, the populations of these shorebirds eventually suffer because the winter survival rate drops due to the poorer physiological condition of the birds. Beyond that, the nesting success of the birds in summer is negatively impacted by their poorer physiological condition through the previous winter. While dog owners may delight in watching their pet chasing shorebirds up and down the beach, they are doing considerable harm to these vulnerable birds.

Pacifica State Beach/Linda Mar Beach is a beach well used by shorebirds through the winter. It is regularly frequented by the endangered Western Snowy Plover as well as by several other species - Sanderling, Willet, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, and Black Oystercatcher. There is a leash law in effect for the beach which would help to protect these birds, but the Pacifica police are apparently either unwilling or unable to enforce this law. Walk the beach any time of the day, any day of the week, and you'll see 10 or 20 off-leash dogs.

If you care about the survival of the beautiful and vulnerable shorebirds along our beaches, I urge you to keep your pet on a leash and, when possible, to avoid disturbing flocks of shorebirds you may encounter on your walks.

Paul Donahue
Linda Mar