Dog owners and residents are growling about leash laws after a small pack of off-leash dogs at Huntington Park in Nob Hill left a woman with a 10-inch gash in her leg.
A debate has ensued in the neighborhood about whether there should be a crackdown in the park, where dogs are technically required to be on a leash.
The dust-up began when Marion Cope, 73, a well-known neighborhood resident, had just stepped into the park with her leashed Irish terrier to throw a bag of her dog’s droppings in the trash, said San Francisco Police Officer John Denny of the vicious and dangerous dog unit.
She was soon swarmed by unleashed black, white and other-colored dogs that went after her Irish terrier, Denny said.
"She thought her dog was in serious trouble. She tried to save it. She tripped over the tile, fell into the bushes and she got that 10-inch gash," he said. "The doctor had to call a plastic surgeon because it’s such a big chunk that’s missing."
The November incident is a perfect example of why the on-leash regulation in the park should be properly enforced, according to the North Beach Merchants Association, which said it also represents 700 residents. The group has asked the Recreation and Park Department to help resolve the issue.
Some dog owners, however, disagree.
The leader of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group said she believes the clash has been blown out of proportion and it is unfair to crack down based on one incident.
"There’s been a lot of people who have been walking their dogs off-leash at Huntington for years. They’re a community," group leader Sally Stephens said. "The next closest off-leash area is Lafayette Park, and that’s too far for some of these people to get to."
Stephens estimated about one-third of The City’s population has a dog and only about
20 parks among The City’s 220 open spaces allow dogs to run off-leash.
The incident has increased the monitoring of the leash laws at the park, according to Park officials. Rec and Park has 13 park patrol officers and usually at any given time two are monitoring the entire city, Rec and Park spokeswoman Lisa Seitz-Gruwell said.
The vicious and dangerous dogs unit with the San Francisco Police Department also has little time to spare. Denny said a lot of his time has been consumed since the November incident, trying to figure out which dog may have bitten Cope’s leg.
"I look for dogs all around The City and I just wouldn’t have time to sit up there citing people for off-leash dogs," Denny said.
Rec and Park policing of incidents in debate
Dog-related incidents in parks have residents wondering why there isn’t more oversight by the Recreation and Park Department.
Rec and Park commissioners two years ago had a Dog Advisory Committee that acted as a liaison between the dog community and the commissioners, providing them with recommendations, reports and surveys.
However they stopped meeting in 2007, a year after the committee had secured money to provide a report about which parks might serve well without leash regulations.
The committee at that time also imposed a moratorium on any new off-leash areas until the report was complete, but the committee stopped meeting and the moratorium still exists.
Rec and Park spokeswoman Lisa Seitz-Gruwell said it could be lifted at any time.
San Francisco Dog Owners leader Sally Stephens said there’s a definite need for a mediator and an outlet before the community takes situations up with Rec and Park such as the Huntington Park leash fight.
— Kamala Kelkar
A judge rules at vicious and dangerous dog hearings every Thursday to decide the fate of dogs. If they're heinous enough, the judge will order that the dog be put to sleep, but that happens only 1 percent of the time.
Dog bite charge
Dog bites since July
Dog bites last fiscal year
Source: Dangerous and Vicious Dogs Unit SFPD