Coastsiders in support of off-leash dogs

Letter

Posted by
Sun, March 7, 2010


Why can’t our coastside community have legal, open spaces that permit off leash dogs (under voice command) like so many areas around the bay and beyond?  Considering the large number of responsible dog owners (with well-mannered dogs) who frequently use open spaces from Montara to Half Moon Bay to exercise and enjoy a walk with their dogs, I feel that having open space areas that permit off leash dogs is an asset to our coastside community.

One may ask why do we walk our dogs off leash? Why do we risk getting caught for breaking leash laws? Are we born criminals who are just out to break laws?... It’s because we believe in giving our dogs a healthy, happy quality of life that they can only get through adequate physical and mental exercise. As any dog trainer will tell you, a well-behaved dog is a tired dog. It just not the same to chase the ball to the end of a 6’ leash. In addition, well-socialized dogs tend to be less aggressive, and socialization is best learned off-leash. Furthermore, with the obesity epidemic in America,  open spaces that allow off leash dogs are beneficial not only for the dogs’ health and fitness, but also for our own.  Recent research has indicated that people are more likely to walk regularly if they are responsible for a pet.

Unfortunately because of the few aggressive/unruly dogs with irresponsible or ill prepared owners who make it into the news,  ALL dog owners and their dogs are presumed to be a public nuisance at best or a threat to public safety at worst. The overwhelming majority of responsible coastside dog owners have no more desire to step in dog poop or be accosted by aggressive/unruly dogs any more than our fellow coastsiders who don’t own dogs. And the good news is that, despite the widespread publicity given to the relatively few incidents, on any given day, there are hundreds of us on the coastside and in the immediate bay area (Fort Funston and Crissy Field to name a few) walking our dogs off leash uneventfully. However, the move to leash all dogs based on the behavior of a few is the kind of generalization that is not only unwarranted, but unjust. It like saying, "we better not let teenage boys congregate together, because they are going to rape someone!" or should we say that "because of a few bullies and kids who are bent to hurt others, all parents should be leashed to their children so that they can have better control on their kids’ behavior?"

We all need to start taking responsibility for ourselves and not have to rely on legislation or laws to dictate every little thing we do in our lives! We are all fortunate to live in such a beautiful place. I am sure that the coastside community of off-leash dog owners, on-leash dog owners, and non dog owners alike, can come to a solution that can satisfy everyone.


I appreciate the desire for a place for dogs to be off-leash.

However, in my experience, few of the off-leash walkers in Montara (Rancho Corral de Tierra) have any sort of control over their dogs.

I’ve walked two different dogs, each of whom had social issues, in the area over the last ten years.  One, a large akita mix, would get aggressive with dogs that approached him. The other, a smallish basenji mix rescued from the streets, is terrified of other dogs.

I can’t tell you how many owners let their dogs get in our faces, yelling ahead of the approaching dog that “He’s friendly!”, or just repeatedly yelling the dog’s name in a vain attempt to recall him.

At the same time, I’ve also seen plenty of responsible owners leash their dogs when we approached.  I don’t know if they always do that or they read my body language, but I greatly appreciate their taking some responsibility and setting a middle course in managing their dogs.

I think there is a dog park next to Smith Field (the softball/hardball diamonds in south HMB).

I often see dogs off the leash on the trial out to Mavericks and in Wavecrest.

Greg

We live in an ever-more crowded world, of humans and their pets. I personally do not give greater value to the quality of life of a pet compared to wild creatures that share our beautiful environment. No matter ones feelings for ones dog, they are perceived by wild creatures as predators, as something to be afraid of and run away from.  Perhaps this dynamic only prevents other hikers from seeing and hearing the wildlife, diminishing their experience of the open space preserve, but sometimes it endangers the lives of the wild creatures such as when exhausted migrating birds cannot stop for critical rest and feeding along the shoreline. Thorny issues.

We trained our dog, with the help of a great trainer, behind Safeway in HMB.  We got to where our dog was so well behaved that off leash, 100 feet ahead of me, if another dog came within view, I could call him and he’d come back and go on heel, despite his obvious desire to go say hi to the other dog.  I’ve met others with dogs (and owners) similarly well-trained.  It’s a great thing.

So, with that as background, imagine that you’ve just had back surgery, and the number one thing your doctor tells you to do is get out and walk.

Just in my limited experience, trying to follow doctor’s orders to get strong again, I’ve had dogs rush out of a yard onto the street, straight for me, in what looked like full-on attack mode as if I was about to injure their masters.  I’ve had large dogs run up and jump up on me on San Pedro Mountain road.  I’ve had a dog come at me only to have the owner tell me that I shouldn’t walk with a walking stick because his dog was trained to attack people with sticks.  I’ve helped fend off a dog that came after a neighbor and her dog (on leash, doing the twice-a-day training she was diligent about; she twisted her ankle in this incident).  I’ve even had a leashed-up dog outside the post office bite me as I simply walked past (the owner said, “I don’t understand.  She’s so gentle with my grandchildren.”  Since I’m not a member of his pack, and since the owner told the dog to stake out and defend that turf, in retrospect, I’m not surprised at all.  The poor dog looked as confused as I did afterwards, as if he knew something wasn’t right). 

What’s the common thread?  People didn’t control their dogs, and someone else had to deal with it.

I’m all for having areas where dogs can run.  They need to.  I’m all for people having dogs.  It’s good for people, and good for dogs. 

But I’m also for responsibility.  Yelling, “He’s friendly!” at a distance is not voice control.  It’s an injury waiting to happen for the person who’s got a bad back, or the aged.  A broken hip is not something someone in their 70s or 80s needs to deal with. 

Who can tell from a distance that someone cannot afford to have a dog jump up on them? or that they fear dogs and may fall over just trying to back away?  (I’m reminded of a friend who was mauled at a young age by the family dog, fortunately a rare enough thing, to be sure, but I can’t imagine she doesn’t harbor a well-deserved fear of dogs coming at her).  There is is simply no way anyone can know how the stranger on the trail is going to react to a dog coming at them.

The responsibility for what the dog does is on the person who has chosen to bring that dog into their family.

I don’t think anyone would suggest that San Pedro Mountain Road or our beaches should be off limits to the elderly or the person with the bad back.  Nor that it should be off limits to dogs.  I’d like to see a solution for co-existence, too. 

If you’re still with me, here’s my initial contribution to finding that solution—sharing this point of view that dog lovers may not have considered:  the need for exercise for the aged and injured, and the real concern that an unleashed dog encounter might lead to injury.

If we can agree that this is a real concern, perhaps we can come up with some ideas on how to get dogs and humans the exercise they need without creating problems for each other.

In an ideal world, every dog would be properly socialized as a puppy, never be abused, neglected, or abandoned, never develop any behavioral issues, and be trained for reliable off-leash behavior. Sadly, that’s not the world we live in. Like Barry, I have observed that most people who think they have voice control over their dogs do not. For those of us with imperfect dogs whose encounters with other dogs need to be managed, dealing with uncontrolled off-leash dogs puts a real damper on our ability to enjoy a walk with our pets. To Scott’s point, we share the trails and open spaces with people who don’t like, are afraid of, or who are put at risk by dogs. Their ability to enjoy the outdoors is also impaired when they are accosted by a strange dog, no matter how friendly. I think there are a lot more unpleasant incidents than you think, involving dog owners you might consider responsible and dogs that are considered well socialized.

The solution that satisfies everyone is to have designated off-leash areas. These include the dog park at Smith Field in HMB, Esplanade Beach in Pacifica & the 16 acre off-leash area at Pulgas Ridge. There are several other dog parks on the peninsula as well. A brochure listing the parks is available from the CA State Parks here: http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/531/files/wherecanitakemydog3_03.pdf

If these aren’t adequate, then perhaps those who want something different for their dogs need to do the work & raise the funds to make it happen.

First, I would like to say that I really appreciate the civility of everyone’s comments, even if we don’t all see eye to eye. I know this issue can quickly get very emotional.

A little background about us: we are strong contributors to POST, GGNRP, Defenders Of Wildlife, WWF, PETA, Ocean Conservancy, Best Friends Sanctuary, Humane Society of America, ASPCA, to name a few; so we are all for a balance between the existence of modern man and the need to preserve nature and its wild creatures. It seems everything that we are talking about is a matter of degree.  I think that we see the same issues, it’s a matter of a different perception of the intensity of the problem.

Folks who appear to want to limit off leash dog areas propose Smith Field as the solution. The dog park at Smith Field may be satisfactory for those people who don’t want to walk, but are there instead to socialize their dogs. It is not enough for those of us who would like to enjoy this beautiful coastside to exercise ourselves and our dogs at the same time (because there is not enough time in the day for everything- work, family and exercise).

Conversely, those of us who would like to maintain many areas for off leash walking need to acknowledge the sometimes unpredictable and unpleasant behavior of our dogs (just like we can’t always predict and control everything that our children do). I am empathetic to the unpleasant experiences that people have had with dogs and can only add my own experience.  I can honestly say that in the last 12 years of walking our dogs off leash on a daily basis, I’ve never been physically threatened by any off leash dogs. My experience of walking dogs has been the enjoyable and peaceful experience I think we would all want.

I feel that there is a need on the coastside for off leash areas where both dog people and non dog people can co-exist. While I appreciate not everyone loves my dogs as much as I do, I pay my fair share of taxes too. I don’t see why I shouldn’t have the same access to this area as anyone else, as long my dogs and I are not bothering anyone. From what I have gathered from all of our walks in Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, and Half Moon Bay open space areas, my dogs and I have not been a threat to bicyclists, on-leash dog people, or people without dogs (old and young). However, if my off leash dogs mere presence is perceive as a threat rather than their behavior, then this is a different issue. I cannot control other people’s fears, therefore,  I don’t feel that my dogs and I should be restricted because of it either.

I wish that everyone could be responsible dog owners, just like I wish that that everyone could be responsible parents, then we would not have so many societal ills; but can we (people with common respect, and common courtesy, and common sense) reach out and co-exist peacefully? We then can lead by example for the younger generations to come.

There needs to be more than civility.  There needs to be acknowledgement of the serious consequences to seniors and recuperating individuals.

“The death rate for hip fracture patients is higher than for other people of the same age who do not sustain the injury. About 24 percent of hip fracture patients over age 50 die within 12 months after injury because of complications related to the injury and the extended recovery period.”

While training our dog, perhaps the most striking thing I noticed was that all the dogs obeyed the instructor from day one.  Over time, the dogs started obeying their masters.  I’m pretty sure that most of the training was of the humans.

Why mention this?  Because some people are naturals with dogs.  And the rest aren’t.  While you haven’t been threatened by dogs, others have (and two of us have posted our personal experiences here).  I’m glad you’ve had such good experiences.  I hope you can see that your experience is not universal.

If a dog runs up to a senior and the senior backs away and trips, or the dog jumps up on them (in a friendly way), falls over and breaks a hip, I hope you’d agree that it’s not the senior’s fault.  Can we agree that this kind of risk has to be part of the discussion?  I’d like to find some arrangements where dogs and humans can both get the exercise they need.

There is the option at Wavecrest of visiting the dog park for an off-leash run and then walking your dog on leash.

As strong as the bond may be between a person and their dog, as well as dogs may serve as surrogate children, the reality is they are not children and our society does not treat them as such.  We were all children once.  I think it is best not to equate tolerating children with dogs.  The subject is emotional enough as it is.

I’ve had two scary and eye-opening experiences with aggressive dogs on the Coastside.  One at Ross’s Cove where the dog ran at me from way down the beach, snarling and trying to circle behind me with his owner running and calling from far off.  I was completely at the mercy of that dog until his owner finally got there.  Made me consider carrying pepper spray or big stick.  The other time was horseback riding Rancho Corral de Tierra when a pack of dogs came at me, circling and aggressively barking at my horse, with the professional dog walker not even in sight yet. Fortunately my borrowed horse did not panic at this rightly frightening scene and no one was injured.

I don’t want to be grumpy with people I meet on the trail, so when someone’s dog rubs their muzzle on me or jumps up to say hello and gets my clothes muddy, I don’t complain, but I wish I didn’t have to put up with that.

Nicole, I’m an excellent and considerate driver, but I like to drive fast and I do. It’s extremely unlikely that my driving will ever harm anyone, but I recognize that I may deservedly get a ticket some day. I won’t suggest that we repeal the speed limits, though. If your dog is so well behaved that it never bothers anyone, I’m not sure you really have a problem. If someone hassles you, put the leash on and walk away.

It’s a matter of balance.  I live in San Francisco, where less than 5% of city-managed parkland is legally accessible for off-leash recreation, while one-quarter to one-third of households (200,000+ people) live with a dog.  Overall within the GGNRA, less than 1% of its 75,000+ acres is accessible for off-leash recreation, Less than a handful of parks in the entire state park system allow off-leash dogs.

Given adequate space to pursue the enormously popular activity of off-leash recreation, it would be more feasible to keep other spaces dog-free or on-leash-only for those who want that, and conflicts between user groups would be minimized to a far greater extent.

Insightful park/trail planning that adequately and reasonably accommodates all user groups is the key, whether it’s planning to accommodate bikers and equestrians such that biker-hiker and biker-horse conflicts are minimized, planning to accommodate the off-leash community such that dog-hiker and dog-horse conflicts are minimized, or planning for adequate access for hikers.

There are bound to be conflicts in any situation where land or *anything* is shared.  Hikers, bikers, and equestrians have issues with each other from time to time, just as hikers and off-leash dog walkers sometimes have issues with each other AND hikers and hikers sometimes have issues with each other.  There are problem people in any group.

Conflicts can certainly be minimized with better park planning and reasonable access for all.

Hey Coastsiders,
Did you know that there are approximately 77,500,000 dogs in the USA representing 39% of all US households (12-30-2009 Humane Society)?  I’m glad to see people taking the time to comment on the always contentious issue of off leash dogs.  I walk my dogs on the Pillar Point Bluff, as do hundreds of others, on a daily basis.  We know of one elderly, and fit individual (Eddy) that runs the bluff and has expressed the same concern about being knocked down accidentally by a “friendly” dog.  He, and others are concerned about breaking a hip, etc.  So we have all discussed this and when we see him, and others like him, we leash, or otherwise control, our dogs, have a friendly conversation as we do with other acquaintances, and then continue on, letting our dogs loose when the danger has passed.

So my suggestion is to be aware of your surroundings and out of respect for those who ask, control your dog until they pass.  The fact is there are several areas suitable for off leash walking, the bluff being one of them.  Once the new trails were graded 2 years ago, more people have been using them.  There are now bikers and hikers that hadn’t considered using them until the improvements were made.  I am OK sharing these trails with them, however, I don’t expect those new to the bluff to impose restrictions on those of us that have been co-existing without incident for the last 30 years that I have been accessing them.  BTW: I am one of several that clean up after the dogs daily; and I am aware of the excellent work in that regard that takes place in Montara.

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions.