Off-leash Dogs, Irresponsible Dog Owners Wreak Havoc in Parks

A rash of attacks by off-leash dogs in San Francisco parks has led to renewed calls for leash law enforcement—a safe, effective way to keep people, our pets, wildlife, and all park animals safe.

For example, in San Francisco’s Glen Park—one of the few places where coyotes are found in the City, and where it is illegal to run dogs off-leash at any time—a small off-leash dog was recently killed when it got too close to a known coyote denning area. San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control responded to this incident by stepping-up leash law enforcement, in hopes of keeping dogs and coyotes safe. But irresponsible dog owners responded by challenging the citations. “When I walk into that park, I understand I’m taking a risk. And I’m okay with that,” said one thoughtless dog walker. We suspect neither his dog, nor the coyotes, would agree.

At the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Crissy Field, which contains one of the last habitats in San Francisco for the threatened Western Snowy Plover, an off-leash dog recently attacked a Park Police horse. The horse bucked its rider, and was then chased back to its stables. Eventually Animal Care and Control’s Vicious and Dangerous Dog Division captured the dog, and the dog owner was imprisoned. The horse and the park police rider are recovering from their injuries.

Astonishingly, this is not the first time either of these incidents occurred in San Francisco. In 2007, two coyotes were killed in Golden Gate Park after they defended their den from Rhodesian ridgebacks. Ridgebacks were bred to hunt lions and are about twice the size of a coyote: the breed cannot be seriously harmed by coyotes. Yet Animal Care and Control had the coyotes killed, rather than enforce the leash law.

And in 2003, a San Francisco police horse was attacked by a pit bull owned by an SFPCA dog trainer. The trainer was kicked in the head by the horse, the dog was shot by the police, and the police horse was so shaken that it never worked again. All because an SFPCA dog trainer wanted to test ‘voice control’ over her dog in an area where leashes are required.

These incidents fall on the heels of many other attacks: all of which could have been prevented by responsible dog ownership. As the SF Weekly summarized: in May a Concord toddler and a Castro Valley toddler were each mauled by off-leash dogs; in a separate incident that month, an off-leash dog mauled an on-leash dog so severely it was euthanized; a dog killed a pregnant Pacifica woman in April; a Fairfax police officer was attacked in March.

2012 has shown—once and for all—that San Francisco’s laissez-faire experiment with pet management has failed. People, our pets, wildlife—all of us are put at unnecessary risk by unsafe off-leash dog play areas and the lack of leash law enforcement everywhere else.

It is time for the National Park Service, San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department, and Animal Care and Control to enforce leash laws and contain off-leash activity to fully-enclosed, safe off-leash dog play areas. People and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth deserve nothing less.

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