My ten-year-old service dog Ginger and I exited the car recently at a quiet local park. She was at my 9:00 heel position as we walked the 20 feet to our regular shaded spot that we have been coming to for almost a decade.
This is a “dog leash required” park, so I attached the leash to Ginger. I began to set the blanket and then pulled out her favorite chew toy, a tennis ball. Many years prior, the tennis ball was Ginger’s favorite fetch toy; however, an ACL tendon tear rendered her unable to chase balls. But, happiness is maintained by her love of chewing on it like a big piece of bubble gum.
As I began to sit and enjoy my Sunday lunch of an MXN burrito, 20 feet away, I saw a San Diego Parks and Rec vehicle start. As it came toward us, the officer pulled alongside our picnic area, put down his MXN burrito, and rolled down the window. I was going to humorously compare similar lunch tastes when he said, “You are required to have your dog leashed and under your control at all times.” He seemed frustrated. I quizzically looked over at him and pointed out, “The dog is on a leash.”
“You are required to maintain control of your dog at all times,” he responded. “I see by the tennis ball in your hand that it is your intent to throw the ball.”
“Strictly conjecture,” I retorted. “This dog has had ACL surgery and is unable to chase the tennis ball. I would be pleased to provide you with radiographs to prove that, if you like. As a treat, she gets to chew on it while I enjoy my lunch here at this beautiful park. Did the dog appear to be out of my control at any time?” I posed the question with an attitude, matching his.
“Perhaps you can debate that with the judge if I write you a citation,” the city worker said. “I saw you get out of your car; your dog was unleashed. You are required to have your dog leashed at all times.”
“I understand, and that is why the dog has a leash on now. The dog was never out of my control, and your accusation of my intent of letting the dog chase the tennis ball is strictly your own biased opinion without fact.” I was becoming annoyed.
“You need to maintain control of your dog at all times,” he repeated again.
“I do that!,” I exclaimed. “This dog is a service dog and is under my control at all times.”
“You have papers to prove that?,” he asked with a challenging attitude.
“As a matter of fact I do…here!” I whipped out the service-dog credentials and presented them to him.
“I don’t know what is going on with people this weekend and why everyone is displaying such an attitude,” he groused. “What am I looking at?” He peered down at the credentials.
“She is a service dog and has served the last eight years volunteering at various facilities. She has more volunteer time than most humans,” I said with arms crossed.
“And how am I to know that, and how does that excuse you to have your dog off leash and out of your control?”
“The point is that the dog is a service dog and was therefore never out of my control. She obviously has her leash on now and had it on way before you started driving up to harass me. Perhaps it is your verbal delivery method that bodes your question about people’s recent demeanor.”
I realized no pleasant end to this discussion would ensue if I continued. Despite my temptation to challenge the officer and get cited in order to make a media circus out of the event, my martial arts training guided me to “just walk away,” which I did.
As a service-dog handler, I am aware of and fully support the leash laws of San Diego. Too many times I see the lax attitude of canine owners allowing their dogs running amok in parks that are not designated as “dog parks.” I believe it is unsafe and unsanitary.