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GGNRA Public Meeting No. 2: The Dog-Leash Dogfight Continues

| March 8, 2011
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Photo: Amanda Stupi

Yesterday, Golden Gate National Recreation Area held a second of four public meetings to discuss its draft proposal on expanding leash-only areas for dogs within the U.S. National Recreation Area.

And as at the first meeting in Marin, pro-dog protesters were out in force.

KQED’s Rachel Dornhelm has a report:


Some off-leash advocates have complained about the way the GGNRA is conducting its public meetings. Last week, Angela Gardner, a representative of the San Francisco Professional Dogwalkers Association, said protests were necessary because the GGNRA isn’t providing an open mic:

Angela Gardner: There’s no way to publicly comment orally

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

One professional dogwalker I know, Hank Mooney, sent me this email concerning last night’s meeting at Fort Mason:

This was a sham. Advertised as a public meeting, it was no such thing.

Physically, it was set up like a trade show, with a series of tables, each containing printed info about various parts of the GGNRA (Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, etc.) and how that part will be affected by the proposed changes.

Each table was personed by a smiling, brown-uniformed park ranger. Comments were ‘welcomed’ in the form of written notes that you could drop in a box.

The printed information available did not include a single thing that you couldn’t have gotten on the Web.

These meetings are clearly for show only. If legal stuff hits the air conditioner in the future, they can claim they had ‘public meetings’ where ‘comments were accepted’.

I wasted no time telling any brown uniformed person who would listen that I was very disappointed, having expected a real meeting at which a public dialogue between the GGNRA management and those who use the trails could take place.

Another attendee told me she was at the meetings ten years ago, and they were quite lively. Obviously, the Powers at the Park don’t want any unruly public discussions to get in their way this time around.

I think the dog community should put pressure on the GGNRA to actually force them to hold a *real* public meeting at which comments would be made by the public and representatives of the GGNRA would have to respond to them in real time…

We’ve been seeing a lot of comments on this entire issue whenever we cover it. This discussion board from the Forum radio program, for example, attracted 132 responses the day the show aired. We’ve also received hundreds of replies to our query on the KQED Public Insight Network.

Below are some comments, both pro and anti-leash.

I am a passionate bird watcher and my experience with off-leash dogs is entirely negative. Just having off leash dogs running around me and coming up to sniff me is upsetting. I love dogs in neighborhood parks but I go to GGNRA to relax and commune with nature; the dogs prevent that. And seeing dogs chasing birds upsets me so much I leave the Park more uptight than when I arrived. It completely ruins the experience for me.

I gave five years of my spare time (and then some) to help implement the Crissy Field plan with understanding the dogs would be kept away from the whole west end of Promenade to prevent their entering the Wildlife Protection Area (WPA) but not only do dogs run off leash on whole sweep of Promenade but they run off leash through the WPA itself. That is, the WPA does NOT protect wildlife and wildlife habitat was an important component of the Crissy Field project.

I have also seen dogs swimming in the tidal marsh itself which was also suppose to be prohibited to protect nesting birds and migratory waterfowl. I can’t even write this now without getting teary and angry.

I watched an off-leash dog snapping at two fledgling Caspian Tern while the adult bird frantically dove at the dog. The owner was gazing out at the scene the whole time and completely oblivious (to the) sad situation; I ran at the dog and chased it off. I probably never walk Ocean Beach without encountering offleash dogs chasing shorebirds along the surf line…

There is no where in San Francisco, Nowhere, that I can walk without being perturbed by off leash dogs…The Arboretum use to be dog free but even there there are dogs now. It is a most miserable experience as outdoor recreation is important to human health and wellbeing, studies prove.
–Arlene Gemmill, San Francisco

My dogs play Frisbee on the beach and do not disturb anyone. Can’t play Frisbee on a leash.
–San Francisco resident

I decided not to move to Chicago last year because they have no area like the off leash area of the Presidio.
–Michael Rasmussen, San Francisco

Dogs are sometimes poorly controlled, charging or even jumping at me. Most often, it diminishes my experience because I see see them chasing birds, sometimes with the encouragement of their owners. Also, I witness the damage that is done to the terrain by these dogs going where they are not meant to be…

They run into areas where the habitat is fragile, disrupting it. Usually this is when they are not leashed. They are more likely to run, causing more erosion…

Dog owners are quite rude when these above (illegal) behaviors are pointed out to them. Even asking them to read the signs will elicit some rough words. It never seems to raise the awareness of dog owners to the negative impact of their pet. I would say they don’t care. They are chiefly using the park for their dog’s benefit. They do not seem to see the natural gift we have and the importance of respecting and preserving it. I don’t want dogs off-leash in GGNRA.
–Eugenie Marek, San Francisco

My dogs, like all dogs, need off-leash activities like playing chase and retrieving balls, so I take them where I know they can run free under my close supervision. Crissy Field has been our daily (and first) choice for walking for the past 10 years. (It’s gophers that are harming the vegetation.) Can’t someone reign THEM in.
–Julie Doherty, San Francisco

I am a physically disabled person who is aging. Off-leash dogs threaten my balance–and therefore restrict areas where I might safely and comfortably travel within GGNRA. Where there are dogs off-leash, it is imperative for me to STAY AWAY, as a self-defense measure. Dog owners / guardians say “their” dogs are well-behaved; but when in a pack, dogs lose some of their trained-in judgment.

As well, dogs respond to crutches and walkers as objects to bark at and intimidate from entering their territory; so, dogs tend to run at and cluster around anyone using these mobility devices.
–Bob Planthold, San Francisco

(Off-leash access) makes for a happy household. Our doggies get to run and socialize with other dogs, while my hubby gets in exercise by walking in fresh ocean air. Tired doggies are happy healthy compliant doggies :))). Don’t punish the dogs. Educate dog owners. There are plenty of places non-doggie lovers can go.
–Sandra Roddy-Adams, San Francisco

It’s great for our dog (exercise) to be able to run off leash. I could walk her on a leash but any vet will tell you it’s not the same. .. I bring my young children on the weekends. It allows our whole family to take a walk and enjoy the space…If there is an area that needs protection (birds nesting for example) it should be fenced off and/or a huge fine imposed on those who do NOT follow the rules. The dog owners I see would agree with this. The park should be open to all.
–Mary Kane, San Francisco

Individual off-leash dogs have never hindered my experience, as most owners are very responsible and in control of their dogs. My only concern has been professional dog walkers that have more dogs than they can handle or control.
–Jayne Brodie, San Francisco

I have not witnessed dogs harming animals, including birds. A small minority of dog owners are not as respectful of the fenced-off “native vegetation” areas as they should be. However, the dogs do no visible harm to the plants; for example, they don’t dig…San Francisco needs a large off-leash area like the GGNRA. There are exceedingly few off-leash parks in SF neighborhoods, and they tend to be awful. One example, Walter Haas Park, is the worst off-leash park I’ve ever seen. It’s extremely small without a twig of vegetation. It resembles a prison exercise yard.
–Matthew Barnhart, San Francisco

–Dogs were not meant to be on a leash in open spaces. Dogs on leashes don’t bother people, they have plenty of exit space. The leash can introduce aggression b/c the dog feels confined
–Nicole Nannery, Novato

I always have my dog on leash. Its just simply not safe for my dog, people or the wildlife, particularly the amazing Snowy Plover. I think we need to really ask ourselves is SF really for Plovers as the slogan goes?…

I just dont understand why there cant be an enclosed /fenced area for off leash dogs. This would solve the problem for all reasonable people…

My dog is shy. She gets overwhelmed. I also enjoy watching the wildlife. I do not enjoy watching the wildlife getting chased away by the dogs.

I’ve seen dogs chasing birds every single time there are dogs and birds together. Its not rocket science — dogs chase birds.
–Rose Braz, Oakland

I have been attacked twice by packs of off-leash dogs. I watch with dismay as dogs chase wintering birds such as Snowy Plovers and dig up sensitive native plantings. I do not appreciate being approached and investigated by dogs.

I have seen dogs digging at native plants and chasing shore birds and nesting swallows. Dogs are rarely leashed. They go into off limit areas and their owners are oblivious.

I am outraged that dog owners feel their right to run dogs off leash takes precedence over the rights of humans to enjoy parks without harassment and intimidation and the need to protect native endangered species. It is also shameful that they attempt to find so called experts to challenge the findings of legitimate scientists that off leash dogs are a threat to plovers and swallows. They are taking a page from the global warming deniers.
–Ed Walsh

The times I have witnessed dogs causing harm to the GGNRA are too many to list but here are a few: Dogs are constantly disturbing Snowy Plovers on Ocean Beach. I am a photographer and carefully approach the Plovers to avoid disturbing them, I can be photographing the birds with a camera on a tripod with a long telephoto lens with the birds 35 feet away and people will let their dogs run through and chase the birds. This is not done accidentally.

I have had dog owners be very aggressive toward me when I mention that their dog should be on a leash, I only ask people to leash their dogs if the dog is bothering wildlife. When I am walking in wooded areas I sometimes encounter off-leash dogs with no owner in sight. All too often these dogs bark and growl at me, I have no way of knowing if this dog is “friendly.”

I have been documenting all the tennis balls I have been finding in the park and other places. I have about 500 at this point, most of these balls were balls that were thrown to dogs and then just left by the owner if the dog does not return with the ball. I guess a tennis ball in a wetland or other natural area is not considered litter by dogwalkers.

Professional dog walkers are a problem, nobody should have to encounter 10 off leash dogs in the park that are being tended by only one person. These outfits should not be able to use our parks for their profit. I take classes of middle school children for walks in one of our city parks, frequently we encounter these large groups of off leash dog walker dogs, because my kids are kids, the dogs get excited and get away from the walker and run around the kids.

This is highly disturbing for the class, many of my students are frightened by dogs. I have had the dog walker blame the children for causing the dogs to run away from the walker. I guess our parks are for dogs and not for children to play in.
–Alan Hopkins

(Off-leash dogs) make many of my visits very negative. They chase birds I’m watching and every now and then accost me.

Off-leash dogs have totally changed my use of GGNRA. As a birder, a field trip leader, an author and a citizen scientist, I have birded in GGNRA since it’s beginning. I birded Fort Funston and put it on the map as a major birding destination during the 1970s. It was an incredible spot for migratory land birds during the fall and spring. It had a viable population of nesting birds as well. In fact California Quail were common there before dogs and their owners took over.

Now they are extirpated there and everywhere else in SF except for a couple of areas around the museums in Golden Gate Park. Jack rabbits were once common at Fort Funston, but after dogs started running wild they too were extirpated.

I’ve witnessed both quail and rabbits being chased by dogs, but I’ve never seen them caught. My thought is dogs seldom catch wildlife, but repeated daily attacks prevent wildlife from feeding and reproducing. Now they’re gone and GGNRA is much the less for it…

When I was at the beach last week I observed 10 dogs off leash and none leashed in 65 minutes. Today I saw 17 off-leash dogs and only 5 dogs on leash during a period of 90 minutes. Typically I see about about 70% to 75% of the dogs on the beach off leash.

Today an off leash dog was digging a huge hole in a dune at about Quintera Street. As stated above I observed virtually all of the birds feeding on the tide line being chased by dogs. I’ve seen dogs running up and down the steepest bluffs at Fort Funston and cause erosion that would have been a major incident at any other National Park unit in the country.

The destructive impact of dogs on wildlife is constant and ongoing for over 2 decades. It’s hard to say what the worst of it is… 70% and 75% of the dogs at Ocean Beach are off leash and they are the ones that most often chase birds. I have seen leashed dogs with their owners disturb birds and put them to flight. That too is common.

Why will GGNRA absolutely not enforce laws and regulations designed to protect wildlife and geographic resources at this National Park? The fact they fail to do so is now being felt in other parks. I’ve seen off leash dogs on many trails at Lassen Volcanic National Park and I’ve seen no enforcement there either. It is as if they is becoming a trend that the Park Service is only enforcing laws that are easily enforced and ignoring others.
–Dan Murphy

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  • Anna

    The real problem is that people are becoming too emotional on both sides. The poor people that have to deal with people yelling about their dogs rights to be off leash and on the other side people complaining that it is outrageous to even think about allowing dogs at all in the parks. Unfortunately the only people being rational are the park rangers and the people making the dog management plans.

  • adam perry

    The REAL problem is that San Francisco Bay area has a high population, and very limited public green space. Figuring out the priorities for all the needs of residents of these areas is a significant challenge.

    A few things that you can’t argue: Healthy dogs need unleashed space. There is a significant population of dog owners (there are over 20,000 licensed dogs in the City of San Francisco alone). Finally dog behavior varies wildly from dog to dog, and owner to owner (and prof. walker to prof. walker).

    One way to deal with the issue is to throw money at it. Have a fee for dog owners – like a license – and use the revenue to make sure that dog “rights” are respected. Oh wait! There is already a $50 a year fee to licence your dog. But there could be increased fees, as well as fee’s to become a licenced dog walker, etc. This would reduce the number of overall dogs (if owning a dogs becomes too costly, then fewer would chose to become dog owners)

    Another way is to have clearly marked areas that are explicitly for dogs – and in fact this is what we have today. Many of the areas identified in the current proposal are just such sites. Either more space is needed, or new sites need to be developed… or both as there are certainly green spaces that have a NO DOG policy and it is respected. Yerba Buena garden in SOMA, is an example. Restricting space is moving in the wrong direction. What does the GGNRA expect will happen? The dogs will just vanish? It is more likely that the laws will be broken and more enforecement will be needed than is warranted by the original problem.

    The last suggestion is for better conflict resolution and tolerance. Some of the arguments for the proposed changes little sense. Who does the most damage to environment: Is it dogs, or humans? Maybe would should ban human use from from all the green and outdoor space? Some folks are afraid of dogs? What if some folks are afraid of birds? Should we ban birds as well? We live in a big diverse city, and that’s part of the attraction. There are things we should learn to accept if we want to be to be part of such a city. And that goes for dog owners too. Obnoxious behaviors need to be brought to their attention, because they aren’t perfect either.

    I have been VERY impressed with the amount of tolerance I have seen in this city – Alta Plaza park is a great example of being able to offer both space for dogs, and space where dogs do not belong. I feel sure that this model can be repeated in other area. The current legislation, sadly, simply does not fit that model.