S.F. parks’ dog days could be dog hours

A proposed off-leash dog policy for San Francisco parks is recharging the decade-old debate about how to accommodate the more than 100,000 dogs in The City.

A Recreation and Park Department committee is hammering out details of a possible “timed-use off-leash” dog policy that could open up a number of city parks to off-leash dogs during certain times of the day. Dogs are currently allowed to roam free off their leash in 29 designated dog play areas in various parks around San Francisco.

The policy discussion comes as dog activists are fighting the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s decision to prohibit off-leash dogs on a popular portion of Ocean Beach and Crissy Field. The off-leash ban is necessary between the months of July and May to protect the western snowy plovers found in these areas, according to the GGNRA.

The GGNRA’s decision prompted members of the Ocean Beach Dog Owners Group to ask The City’s Animal Control and Welfare Commission to recommend to the Board of Supervisors a resolution that supports taking back the land under GGNRA, which The City had deeded to this division of the National Park Service.

Dog activists say the GGNRA ban creates a larger problem: that by removing valuable off-leash dog play space, more dog owners are forced to use the already crowded dog play areas at city parks.

The Dog Advisory Committee is expected to come up with a recommendation for a timed-use off-leash policy in January. It would ultimately require approval by the Recreation and Park Commission. The committee could suggest to drop the idea altogether.

“I think our park resources should be shared resources,” said Suzanne Valente, founder of the Ocean Beach Dog Owners Group. “It’s a way of giving everybody what they need while trying to utilize the resources to their fullest.”

Opponents of the policy argue that allowing dogs to roam free in the parks would pose health and safety hazards and also deteriorate the condition of the parkland.

Other cities have some form of a timed-use off-leash practice, including New York City, which has used one for more than 20 years, according to Scott Reese, superintendent of Recreation and Park operations. Common timed-use off-leash practices allow dogs to roam unleashed at parks from the time they open to 8 a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. to park closing.

“Dog activists have been very active in bringing forth interesting concepts to accommodate their pets within the urban fabric,” Reese said. “We’ve got very little space in this town,” he added.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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