A wet dog at the beach.
A dog enjoying Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Tony Koloski/Flickr

Today’s Forum on KQED focused on proposed changes to leash laws within Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).

The possible rule changes were released Friday as part of an Environmental Impact Report, which is open for public comment for 90 days. The folks at GGNRA may need at least that much time to wade through the various opinions — before this morning’s Forum had even started, more than 30 comments had been left. As of 4:30 p.m., there are 130.

And that’s nothing compared to the responses we received to our Public Insight Network query asking folks to share their experiences with dogs in GGNRA. Almost 600 people told us how dogs impact their time in the park.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Public Insight Network, it’s a way for people to participate in KQED’s news making process.

One source who responded to the survey was Bob Planthold, who identified himself as a “physically disabled person who is aging.” Planthold articulated his views so well that we couldn’t resist having him on Forum. Here are some of the thoughts he shared:

Almost all staff, media, and public officials look solely at any issue from their individual perspective—and look around to their agile, adult, peers for validation, rather than look at all the vulnerable constituencies affected–whether a group of pre-schoolers going to a playground, seniors, a person with a guide dog, a class of 2nd-graders going to Crissy Field, an adult pushing a baby in a stroller and holding the hand of a toddler, or people with disabilities.

ALL of “us”, and many others, are not so agile and fleet of foot as are the media, public officials, and staff who make these rules–so hazards like off-leash dogs are often ignored or minimized..

On the other side of the debate, Riley Kasarda captured the passion of many dog owners who feel that leash-free areas are critical to their dogs’ health as well as their own:

I use the off-leash areas every day, 1-3 hours a day. It is the only way to adequately provide my dog the exercise he needs as well as the room to explore the environment without the unnatural confines of a leash or a small dog run. I do take my dog to various dog runs on occasion as well as long leashed walks around the city (up to 10 miles at a time), but neither could fully provide the physical and mental stimulation he needs to remain a healthy dog.

I also am a healthier and saner(!) person because of the availability to enjoy these areas with my dog…

Many dog owners suggested that off-leash recreation in GGNRA  is part of what defines living in San Francisco. Several people said that they moved to San Francisco specifically because of its dog-friendly policies. Gina Barnett went so far as to rank off-leash access as equally important as San Francisco’s other obsession — food:

Residents of San Francisco pay a lot to live in this city and among the things we expect to get in return (besides a good opera company and fine dining) are some parks and areas of great natural beauty for recreation for ourselves and our canine companions. We certainly do not get a workable or efficient public transportation system! Let’s at least keep parks open for people to bring their dogs and let them play off-leash.

Georgia Gibbs captured a sentiment expressed by many sources– that dog owners’ voice command over their dogs is not as strong as they like to think:

My dogs are leashed because they do not respond unquestionably to voice commands. One does now that she is older (5 years) but if we saw a wild animal I am not positive she would not give chase. Owners need to behave in accordance with their dogs personality, but I find often times they are behaving instead with an almost romantic idea of what their dog should be like…

Jennifer Scarlett says she takes her dog,whom she says answers well to voice command, to Ft. Funston at least once a week. Scarlett lets her dog off leash but echoes the call of many for more enforcement of existing rules:

I do see many owners who allow dogs on vegetation. I think some education and perhaps a few citations would rein this in quickly… Many dog owners and dog walkers need some stern guidance on appropriate behavior, (picking up feces, keeping dogs within sight and under voice control, abiding by park restrictions) but it is a relationship that can work. The more people who enjoy the outdoors–the more people who will in turn advocate for its preservation.

Many sources said that off-leash dogs are problematic for the elderly, but others, like James Krotzer, cited the importance of the companionship that the dog community offers:

…SF has a lot of retired residents who live alone. They are able to keep a pet for company and go to [Ft. Funston] for exercise and companionship with other retired folks. With the off-leash dogs, the risk of violence is virtually non-existent. It would take a very stupid mugger to attempt anything there. In my daily visits since retiring several years ago, I have never witnessed any problems like that.

And Lynn Keller was certainly not alone in citing GGNRA’s proximity to a major city as a reason for more lax leash laws:

…This is an URBAN PARK serving a million people. This is not a pristine area of the wilderness. Why isn’t the SF Board of Supervisors becoming more involved to represent San Francisco citizens who want and need off leash dog access throughout GGNRA??

It remains to be seen whether San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will become involved in the leash-law fight. Let’s just hope that the debate remains more civil than the outgoing supes’ recent vote for interim mayor.

Bay Area Responds to GGNRA Dog-Leash Proposal 23 February,2011Amanda Stupi

  • Karl Cohen

    I had a wonderful Yellow Lab who lived 15 years and the beach along Crissy Field was by far his favorite place to exercise and play. It also offered me a chance to exercise daily and to socialize with friends I made in the dog walking community. We avoided Ocean Beach as the ocean is too rough and dangerous for most dogs and too many jerks went there with dogs who were not well trained. Also there were dog owners who didn’t clean up after their dogs at Ocean Beach in the 1990s and my Lab was bitten once at Ocean Beach. I don’t recall any out of control dogs at Crissy except one or two times when a professional dog walker had a dog run away from them. Basically in my years walking Cedric at Crissy Field the off leash dogs were very well behaved and walking the beach daily was good needed exercise for both of us. Dogs don’t go to the beach looking for trouble, they need to run, swim and socialize with other dogs.

    • Mr. Pena

      Dogs just want to have fun.

      How can you be certain? Do they talk to you?

  • Antonia Sousa

    Everyday, I walk my dogs on Ocean Beach. A very small percentage of this beach is off leash. In the seven years I have been walking my dogs, chihuahuas I might add, I have only had a handful of experiences encountering bad dog owners. These are the concerns I believe the GGNA should be addressing instead of threatening these tactics. Ticket those who litter our parks. After a sunny day it is the worst. This to me does far more harm than a dog could ever. Supply poop bags at every park location. Ticket dog owners who do not remove their dog feces. Act on bad dog owners with strict citations. Permit dog walkers. You can never control ten dogs off leash in an emergency. Please GGNA do not remove my dogs right to run free.

    • Mr. Pena

      Enforcement cost money. Permit programs cost money. Poop bags cost money. These are not revenue centers – They are expenses. You could just put your dog on a leash, grab a plastic garbage bag (from a grocery store located outside of SF) and walk him around the block or down to the park, being careful not to let him off his leash. After all, that would be illegal and you wouldn’t want to get fined. Poor for dogs, huh?

      Here’s what your dog is thinking: food, food, food, food, food, food…

  • Mr. Pena

    I know plenty of “dog people” and cannot think of one that has the self-discipline to train their dog in such a manner that it can be controlled by “voice command” in lieu of a leash. And these 20 foot retractable reels aren’t really leashes, are they?

    Dogs aren’t people. I’ll tolerate your dog if I have to, but don’t pretend that everyone else likes your un-talking smelly friend as much as you do. Please put your dog on a leash and walk him respectfully like they do everywhere else outside of “dog-friendly” SF.

    For the lady who has 1 to 3 hours each day to spend at off-leash, I envy you for having so much time to run around and play with domestic animals. Your life must be like one long summer vacation. I can’t understand why more public land is dedicated specifically to meet your special needs.

    Let’s put people and endangered species before selfish dog owners.

    • Owner

      Clearly you are not a dog person my guess you are not a kid person either. Maybe even one of those people who thinks kids should be leashed muzzled and kept under complete and utter control at all times less they annoy you. Life is about tolerance. Tolerance in race, sexual preferences, religious belief, educational beliefs to name a few. Leashing or not leashing a dog is not much different. Some people understand that discipline is necessary whether it be a parent who does not believe in disiplining their child, or the dog owner who says he just won’t listen. These people ruin it for the masses. Leashing dogs is not a lot different than leashing children or saying that someone cannot speak out about a sexual preference, or a religious belief etc. I realize this concept might be hard to grasp but the problem is not merely leashing or unleashing dogs, the problem is society learning to live in harmony. Respecting one another, and doing what it takes to work together so everyone can live freely and harmoniously.
      My dogs are TOTALLY under voice control. They are NEVER on leash and yes I am breaking all leash laws in all cities as I will not leash my dogs unless it is for their benefit. This is how I see it. My dogs on leash are a hazard. The leashes get tangled around me and in a large crowd others get tangled in them. Dogs on leash are also prone to being more aggressive (I have only been bitten by dogs on leash never by a dog off leash) they feel confined and when someone they do not know approaches them they can snap because they cannot get away. My dogs stop when I say stop, stay when I say stay and heel when I say heel. I realize they are the minority not the majority but I think the thing to do is teach people to be respectful not take away freedom for all because of the mistakes of some or the intolerance of the fearful and unhappy who seek to judge and force all to bend to their wishes. Where do the restriction stop? This will only lead to more and more restrictions until non one will be able to leave there house without a tracking device to ensure we are always doing what we are told. Just because it bothers you does not mean we all have to suffer so you can be happy. It is about tolerance and learning to share in a world that is getting smaller and smaller with more and more people in it. Teaching manners, teaching to treat others as you would be treated would be a good start. Peace!

  • Mr. Pena

    When your dog pees on the grass in the park, it kills the grass.

    Thanks are due to dog lovers for taking your pet animals out to use public (read “human”) spaces as toilets.

  • As Mayor of San Francisco, I will put in place a law that says all dogs need to be on a lease( no longer than 15 ft ) or have a muzzle on the dog, take your pick !

  • Shari Mann

    I’m a retired senior citizen. I do not bicycle, jog, play tennis or soccer. My recreation is walking, and I enjoy doing it with my young dog, who needs to run and play with others of her kind. Much more fun for both of us than leash walks, which provide her no exercise. She can’t even retrieve, if on a leash. I mostly use Ft. Funston. Can’t use Ocean Beach — there are no handrails on the steep concrete stairs to the beach; there is only one place you can get down safely, that’s the ramp. Baker Beach can be fun if you’re lucky; but in winter the fishermen don’t always look when casting, and in summer there are picnics — food on the ground. I avoid it out of consideration for others. Crissy’s fine but a bit of a drive which wastes fossil fuel, and she doesn’t care to swim.

    Consider that what’s being viewed as “dog recreation” is in fact “people recreation”, and don’t curtail it. Please.

  • Gina Barnett

    I’ve been a GGNRA Park Sponsor for many years, but I have discontinued my annual donation because of this issue. It’s time for those who want to restrict access to the parks to pony up and support the GGNRA. Those of us who will now be denied access have no reason to continue donating.

  • Shari Mann

    This issue is being improperly defined as a “leash law fight”. It is not that. What is under discussion is allocation of recreational resources. The existing policy is working very well, and has done so for years. Dogs do not go to GGNRA parkland by themselves to recreate. Those of us who accompany those dogs are entitled to our share of recreational space (seniors, families; speak up). This is a “people” issue, not a dog issue. The bulk of recreational space within the City requires that dogs be on leash. The space allocated to use by off leash dogs is, comparatively speaking, small. It need not and should not, be curtailed.

  • Vicki Tiernan

    On the disabilities issue, I’d like to point out that many people with disabilities have dogs themselves and would be greatly inconvenienced by a sharp curtailment of access for off-leash recreation. It’s not a black-and-white issue. Many people struggling with HIV/AIDS, for instance, cherish off-leash dog walks as a way of providing needed exercise and socialization for their dogs as well as for themselves.

    As far as those with mobility issues, I have seen many people in wheelchairs at Fort Funston. One woman brings a bag of dog treats with her because she enjoys interacting with the dogs, and of course the dogs all love her.

    Certainly educational efforts are in order, to stress that people need to keep their dogs from running up to other people. Such efforts are ongoing within the dog community and should be supported. But please keep in mind that restricting off-leash access even more than it already is will hurt seniors and people with disabilities who enjoy off-leash walks with their dogs.

    It’s not a black-and-white issue.

  • loretta jones

    Why do dogs need to be restricted to a leash at Crissy Field. There’s no reason why there can’t be a specific area at Crissy Field specifically for dogs to run off leash. There’s plenty of room to have part of Crissy field designated as an off leash area for dogs. San Fransico has plenty of dog owners and plenty of parents and both can co-exist at Crissy field. Making dogs stay on a leash at Crissy Field is completely extreme and unnecessary.


Amanda Stupi

Amanda Stupi is Forum’s engagement producer.

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