Fatal dog attack at San Francisco's Fort Funston highlights leash issue

As the Golden Gate National Recreation Area considers stricter rules on off-leash dogs, an unrestrained pit bull attacked and killed a small dog at Fort Funston last month. The larger dog and its owner then fled the scene and are still at large.

Witnesses including the deceased dog’s owner, Diana Levy, said the pit bull was not on a leash when it ran up behind her chihuahua Ferris on a trail at one of The City’s most popular dog-walking spots. Levy said the big dog clamped her 12-year-old dog’s neck and held him in its mouth while shaking its head back and forth for about five seconds.

Ferris died around 4:45 p.m. on May 22, Levy said.

The pit bull’s owner hurriedly leashed his dog and ran away, according to Levy and two friends who were walking with her. Friend Dave Kesler said he first thought the other dog’s owner was just trying to restrain his dog, but then he never returned.

Dogs are not currently required to wear leashes at Fort Funston — where hundreds roam freely every day — but they must be trained to respond to voice commands. However, the recreation area is proposing stricter rules.

A draft dog-management plan released in January proposes to completely or significantly reduce the off-leash areas in 21 open spaces in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.

Fort Funston’s off-leash area would be reduced to about a quarter of its current size, which would include the shoreline and an area near the parking lot. Only restrained dogs would only be allowed on trails.

The restrictions were conceived to balance the needs of all park visitors, including people who are afraid of dogs or simply dislike their company as well as native birds and other wildlife.

But Levy and her friends say the recreation area’s problems stem not from off-leash dogs but specifically from pit bulls.

Kesler, who witnessed the attack with his girlfriend, 5-year-old daughter and two Siberian huskies, said leash laws are irrelevant to this situation.

“This is an aggressive, violent dog and an irresponsible sicko owner who needs to be caught,” Kesler said.

Recreation area spokesman Howard Levitt said National Park Service police do not have any leads.

Under San Francisco law, all pit bulls in The City must be spayed or neutered, but witnesses were not sure whether the attacking dog was altered.



Changing the rules

Dates   Phase
Winter-spring 2011 Public review and comment on dog management plan
Spring-summer Incorporation of public comment
Late fall-winter Public review and comment on proposed rule
Late winter-early spring 2012 Incorporation of public comment
Late spring-early summer Final plan released
Summer   Record of decision released
Late summer-early fall Plan implementation begins


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