Cracking the leash on unruly dogs

Dogs biting at horses and hang gliders may force canines back on leashes at the popular Fort Funston recreation area.

Owners have been allowed to legally walk their dogs off leash though most of Fort Funston — the 141-acre park in the southwest corner of The City — for decades.

The federally owned, pooch-friendly park that runs along Skyline Boulevard has attracted more than 560,000 dog walkers, hang gliders, horseback riders and other visitors this year alone.

A recent spike in some canines’ unruly behavior, however, could jeopardize the license for all dogs to run free, particularly because the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which owns the land, was already investigating what kind of impact leash regulations would have in coming years.</p>

Local hang gliding instructor Gordon Pollock has been sailing through Bay Area skies for more than 20 years. He watched a medium-size dog take a bite out his friend’s leg last month.

“I was there, watching it happen, and then the dog and dog owner suddenly disappeared within minutes,” Pollock said. “I have never seen anything like that happen anywhere else.”

The two took pictures of the half-inch teeth marks that lined his friend’s leg and then filed a report with the U.S. Park Police.

Steve Rodriguez, president of the hang gliding club Fellow Feathers of Fort Funston, said he and two other members of the group have also been bitten by dogs at the park.

That unruly behavior by the off-leash pooches has forced the Park Police, which monitors the entire Golden Gate National Recreation Area, to step up patrols.

Officers learned last month that territorial dogs and their owners were harassing horseback riders, said recreation area spokeswoman Shirwin Smith. The increased presence was intended to raise awareness and mediate the problem, she said.

Dog-walking groups are also making an effort to put an end to the biters, Smith said, adding that no one wants a crack down on
leash laws.

“I think there’s no voice stronger than one of your peers. Yes you can get a ticket, but in terms of changing behavior it’s up to the user groups, and I know they’re trying really hard to spread the word,” she said.

She said local groups will put up their own courtesy signs asking owners to be more responsible — and not just with the biting, but also with cleanup.

Veteran dog walker John Chirico, who owns a company, agreed.

“There’s a lot of irresponsible dog walkers coming out here who aren’t really that good with their dogs,” he said. “I hate to use the word ‘leash’ so I’ll just say, ‘Please, just don’t use this area.’”


Where the dogs roam free

In 1979, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area citizens' advisory commission approved a policy that allowed dogs to be unleashed in specific sites if under voice control. In 2001, the park attempted to reinforce leash guidelines. But, a federal court ruled in 2005 that it must go through a specific process, including an environmental impact report, before changing guidelines that had existed for decades.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area sites where off-leash, voice-controlled dog walking is permitted:

  •  Fort Funston (excluding the 12-acre closure in the northwest area)
  • Ocean Beach (excluding the Plover Protection Area from Sloat Boulevard north to Stairwell 21, where leashes are required all year except from May 15 to July 1)
  • Lands End
  • Fort Miley
  • Baker Beach, north of Lobos Creek
  • Crissy Field (excluding the Wildlife Protection Area at the west end of the beach, where leashes are required all year except from May 15 to July 1)

Applicable fines:

  • Most dog-related fines, including breaking leash laws, are $50 plus a $25 processing fee.

Source: Golden Gate National Recreation Area

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