It’s Us vs. Them, Again: Dog Restrictions in National Park Highlight Community Tensions

Hey, Dogsters! Today we bring you guest blogger Robyn Hagan Cain, a self-described "recovering lawyer" from San Francisco. She writes an amusing and informative piece...


Hey, Dogsters! Today we bring you guest blogger Robyn Hagan Cain, a self-described “recovering lawyer” from San Francisco. She writes an amusing and informative piece about something very close to my heart (and home): Dog people vs. “others,” particularly in relation to parkland access. My house in San Francisco is a bone’s throw from some of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area properties she writes about, and I’ve experienced the restrictions she discusses firsthand. As a responsible dog owner, it’s frustrating, to say the least. Bring it on, Robyn! — Maria Goodavage


It’s Us vs. Them, Again
By Robyn Hagan Cain

I am perturbed.

Its Sunday morning, Im slowly dying from the worst cold anyone has ever known, and my dog insists that she needs her walk. Now.

I have at least another hour before the NyQuil box claims I will be safely beyond the cold-med stupor. If I can put clothes on and walk around the block without falling into a shrub, Ill consider the day a success.

My dog takes pity on me. Halfway down the block, she poops. Yes, its in someones driveway — too far from the curb for me to excuse, even in my NyQuil stupor.

Yes, I clean up. Yes, I get busted.

Not by the tainted driveways owner, mind you, but by a passive-aggressive busybody standing across the street gabbing on her phone.

I hate stupid dog owners who let their dogs go anywhere. Peoples children PLAY THERE!

Okay, she just graduated from passive-aggressive to aggressive.

Now Im annoyed, but Im also halfway between a NyQuil coma and consciousness, so I just hold up a pink, waste-filled bag and wave. Shes not the only passive-aggressive gal on the block.

What nerve. I always curb my dog. Except when Im on the brink of death and its 7 a.m. and my dog does me a solid by taking care of business in a driveway so I can crawl back into bed.

Let it be said that I always, always clean up after my dog. I just cleaned up in front of this woman while she talked about me to her friend! (What kind of ill-bred person talks about a neighbor standing 15 feet away?) But none of that matters. In her eyes, I am part of the problem.

Its us against them. Again.

Here in San Francisco, co-existing with dogs is a way of life. The city is famous for having more dogs than children — around 2,500 per square mile — because the cost of living is prohibitively expensive for most families. Yet there’s a battle brewing here between the stupid dog owners and the antidog busybodies.

The issue of the hour? Off-leash rights in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area (GGNRA), a 75,000-acre park that includes three of the most popular dog-walking spots in the city: Ocean Beach, Crissy Field, and Fort Funston.

In January, the National Park Service proposed restrictive changes to current leash laws in the GGNRA; in some areas, the proposal would eliminate dog access to parks altogether. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors blasted the proposal. The SPCA condemned it as well. The antidog busybodies embraced it, and said Good riddance, stupid dog owners.

Need proof of the class warfare between the dog owners and the busybodies? Head over to the Dog Management Plan website and read the some of the 4,713 comments submitted in response to the plan. While some of the pro-plan commenters are concerned with protecting environmental sanctuaries in the GGNRA, more are concerned with protecting the soles of their shoes from abandoned excrement. Here’s a small sampling:

“I support the plan 100% The current situation is out of control. The park areas have been taken over by dog owners letting their dogs run wild, harassing other people and wildlife. It is impossible to enjoy these areas now. The dog waste is unbelievable, disgusting and unsanitary. I prefer banning dogs outright from all areas, but support this compromise. Please implement this plan and enforce it with stiff fines!” — Comment #65

“I support your Draft Dog Management Plan EIS. The EIS protects wildlife and protects people without dogs. Muir Beach and Rodeo Beach have become dog parks, people without dogs who just want to enjoy a quiet walk on the beach are intimidated by dogs running at yourself and at wildlife. The term ‘voice command’ means that the dog owner lets his dog run free, the dog can chase wild life and run up to people. After the dog has disrupted wildlife or people, the dog owner can call the dog back if he thinks the dog has done anything disruptive, but most often the owner will say ‘he’s a good dog, he won’t hurt anyone.’ Maybe so but just a dog running up to me scares me first, how am I to know the the dog is ‘people friendly.’ I see dogs chasing birds and ducks on both beaches constantly in full view of the owners who do nothing to stop the dogs. Please return the beaches and trails to people and wildlife. Thank you for this plan.” — Comment #169

The GGNRA restrictions are limited to the Bay Area, but the dog-owners-versus-busybodies battle is a cautionary tale from which any dog-dense community can learn. If San Francisco dog owners had been more responsible — overly responsible — in the GGNRA, we might not be fighting the combined forces of the Park Service and disgruntled parkgoers right now.

Thats not to say that San Francisco dog owners are an unusually bad breed — quite the opposite. Bay Area pooches are pampered with luxuries including posh pet hotels and bark mitzvahs. And since many San Franciscans opt for dogs in lieu of human children, pet parents lead by example to instill good manners in their pups.

There are, however, a few less-thoughtful owners who make life harder for the rest. Repairing the damage means bringing extra bags to clean up abandoned piles that did not come from our dogs, and subtly scolding perpetrators when we catch them. (“Do you need a bag? I hate when I run out midwalk.”) It means gently suggesting the correct course of action to inconsiderate or unaware owners. (“The signs arent well marked, but the park is cracking down on leash laws to enforce this erosion control area.”) It means defusing situations with the antidog busybodies, like my phone-toting neighbor. (“Youre right; what can I do to make it better?”)

Yes, its inconvenient to make amends for the bad seeds, but the greater inconvenience is the shrinking number of public places where we can take our dogs. What’s at stake is not just a relationship with someone who we do not know and will not meet again; it’s our way of life and our dogs happiness.

What do you think? Should dog owners roll over to ensure a peaceful existence, or should we bark back at the opposition?

Robyn Hagan Cain normally blogs about the law for legal professionals. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and Braxlee, their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

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