The number of dogs hanging out on Haight Street has residents growling, according to Supervisor Vallie Brown.
While she has heard no reports of dogs biting people, or other dogs, since she became supervisor of the neighborhood in July, Brown said people are complaining that they are having a hard time navigating around the dogs and are wary of them.
“I have complaints probably every week from Haight Ashbury residents, a lot of them are seniors and disabled that are going into the streets to get around the large group of people with their dogs,” Brown said during a Board of Supervisors hearing last week. “How can we really address this and be much more effective?”
Residents complaints come whether the dogs are leashed or not. In some cases the dogs are leashed but no one is holding it or the leashes are very long.
Virginia Donohue, director of the Animal Care and Control Department, told Brown at the hearing that she shares her concerns. “Actually, we were just out at Haight Ashbury yesterday where I believe there were about 14 people detained in this massive leash law incident,” Donohue said.
The department told the Examiner Friday in an email that Donohue was referring to an incident when “Park Police called ACC about the dogs; dogs were leashed when officers arrived; SFPD arrived too; one dog was impounded by ACC for SF’s pit bull spay/neuter ordinance.”
Donohue said that “When the dogs are actually on leash but still blocking the sidewalk, I am not sure what the answer is there. That is something I can talk with SFPD about, what can we do about them blocking the sidewalk.”
One resident who has noticed a dog problem is Deborah Hall, who was out walking her one-year old Border Collie named Sage across Haight Street Friday afternoon.
“Homeless street people have pitbull type dogs that are poorly trained and aggressive and sometimes I go out of my way to avoid walking past them with my dog because I’ve had them lunge at her,” Hall told the Examiner. “Most of the dogs are on leash but sometimes the leash isn’t attached to anything. Sometimes they are just kind of ignoring them. I was thinking we should probably provide free dog training classes for the homeless people.”
She added, “The pitbulls are the ones I worry about the most.”
The Examiner didn’t observe any pitbulls in the area, but Hall said at the intersection where she was, Haight and Clayton streets, “Sometimes there are half a dozen on this corner.”
Animal Care and Control Department was unable to provide data by press time about the number of reported dog bites in the Haight. In 2017, there were 814 reported dog bites citywide, the department said. Of the total dog bites, about 300 were dogs biting people, according to the civil grand jury report that investigated ACC and was the subject of last week’s board hearing.
The department was also unable to provide data by press time how many off-leash citations were issued in the Haight area.
The civil grand jury found that in 2017 there were “over 2,000 cases of dogs reported off leash, of which 500 were followed up and or responded to by authorities. Of the reported cases, 24 resulted in citations to dog owners.” The grand jury recommended stepping up citations, but the agency disagreed.
Hall and several homeless persons interviewed in the area Friday said the problem isn’t with dogs not on leashes, but with the temperament of some dogs and their owners.
“I think it’s a poorly trained dog owner issue, and owners that haven’t properly raised their dogs,” Hall said. “Some of the street people, which are most of the people I see with dogs hanging out in the Haight, their dogs are well behaved and they are fine. But there is a lot of them that aren’t.”
Daniel Davis, 23, who said he was transient, was hanging out Friday afternoon on Haight Street with “Just. J.” Davis said his dog Billie Jean, a four year old Schnauzer mixed with Terrier, is well behaved and he keeps her on leash.
“For me, she helps me with my anxiety and also I help her with hers, because she does have anxiety with loud noises,” Davis said, noting that she was hit by a car when a puppy.
“Just. J.,” 50, who is traveling around the West Coast and sleeps in a nearby park, said that “here on this little strip you have a conglomeration of street kids and a lot of them have animals, and some of them are not treating their animals very well so those animals get grumpy because they are not getting fed and water.”
“Just. J” said that “the only ones that keep their dogs off the leash are the rich people. They can do whatever they want.”
“Normally all the [street] kids are good,” he continued. “There are a couple rolling around where they teach their dog to be aggro, that f—-s it up for everybody.”
Brown told the Examiner she didn’t get the answers she wanted from the hearing, which focused on a civil grand jury report about the Animal Care and Control Department, and is still trying to figure out the best strategy. She said she isn’t considering any legislation to address it.
“I’m just trying to figure out how to make the street safe,” she said.