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Bella, Jeff’s five-year-old Labrador mix, crouches five feet from her owner at a park in San Carlos. She stares at the rubber ball inserted in a sort of handheld catapult called a “Chuckit!”

Jeff rears back and flings the ball 40 yards, past two brown dachshunds near a jacaranda tree, 50 feet from a man playing Frisbee with a yellow Lab.

Jeff lives across the street, and he’s been bringing Bella here twice a day for five years, despite the signs indicating off-leash dogs are prohibited.

On a typical weekday evening, Jeff says, 15 to 20 owners bring their dogs to the park.

“There’s been more, lately; I think animal control officers are ticketing dog owners at another park down the road in Allied Gardens,” says Jeff. “Every few months it seems like [animal control] starts patrolling here, and then after a while they go do the same thing someplace else.”

Three months ago, Jeff says an animal control officer drove up the hill and onto the field. “She was giving people warnings, and I think a few people were ticketed. She asked for my ID, but I was able to talk my way out of it,” he says, smiling.

In the City of San Diego, there are 15 off-leash dog parks, all but 4 of which are west of Interstate 805. As the city’s population grows, so does the number of dogs. According to the San Diego County Department of Animal Services, the City of San Diego is home to approximately 338,000 dogs.

“Our good friends live up the street. We met them at the park when they got their puppy,” says Jeff. “We’ve known them for four years now and meet up for walks, dinners, and barbecues. Our dog and their dog are best friends.”

Last year, animal control officers issued more than 430 citations for off-leash dogs. In San Diego County, the citation for first-time offenders is $240, and the fines increase with the number of incidents: $430 for a second offense, $810 for a third.

“If we receive numerous complaints of dogs running loose at a park, we will do everything possible to be there at the specified time in an attempt to observe the violations and take the appropriate action,” writes Lieutenant Dan DeSousa of the county’s Animal Services Department in an email. “If the officers do not have any calls pending, they patrol the problem areas within their assigned areas, be it a park or street.”

Citywide, DeSousa says the parks that receive the most complaints are Kate Sessions in Pacific Beach, Liberty Station in Point Loma, Villa La Jolla in UTC, Pantoja Park downtown, and the outfield at downtown’s Petco Park.

On a sunny Thursday evening at one of those parks, 20 to 30 dogs play off-leash. An older golden retriever walks back to its owner with a dirt-brown tennis ball in its mouth. A Rhodesian ridgeback puppy, carrying a blue rubber ball, nearly runs into the old retriever.

Toby waits under a tree for his two-and-a-half-year-old black Lab, Molly, to retrieve the tennis ball he bounced down the hill.

“I’ve met three of my closest friends — one of them is now my landlord — from bringing Molly here,” says Toby.

“There’s a whole group that comes here. Sometimes, after we come here, we all go get a beer together. I play basketball with a few of them on the weekends. Then there are those other people that I see every day but don’t know the people’s names, only their dogs’ names.”

A few minutes later, Toby’s friend arrives, holding a Chuckit! in each hand. Two black Labs and one yellow Lab jump at his waist.

“What’s going on, brother?” Toby asks.

The two friends talk about their jobs, his teenage son’s baseball game, and an upcoming trip to Lake Tahoe.

Later, Toby says he is always on the lookout for the white pickup trucks that animal control officers drive. A few people at the park have recently been cited.

“There are two older ladies that come by here and take pictures of the dogs and their owners before reporting it. Usually, animal control shows up a few days after that.”

Toby says some people are trying to get off-leash hours designated at the park from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays, but nothing has happened.

Much of that is due to the expensive and time-consuming process. According to the City’s website, the process of establishing an official dog park costs a minimum of $5000 and could take up to several years.

“The…process can be lengthy and expensive…and requires a strong, long-term commitment. It is the intent of this process to confirm that the community, elected officials, and San Diegans as a whole are well aware of and support the proposed change in park use.”

Of the eight districts that make up San Diego, District 7, which includes Allied Gardens, Del Cerro, El Cerrito, Grantville, San Carlos, Rolando, Tierrasanta, and part of City Heights, is the only district without a city-designated off-leash dog park.

“During the campaign, while walking precincts, I received several requests for dog parks,” writes District 7 councilmember Marti Emerald in a May 30 email. She admits to occasionally letting her chocolate Lab and two standard poodles loose while she hikes through the canyons near her home.

“There is a serious pent-up demand for areas to let dogs run and play,” says Emerald. “As soon as the current budget deliberations are over, my staff will check with the city’s Real Estate Assets Department for city-owned land that may be appropriate and available for a park. Then we will estimate the cost of building the park. Once we know the price, we can sit down with the community and figure out how to pay for it; possibly a combination of government and private money.”

But, even for those dog owners who live close to city-sanctioned dog parks, some prefer the unofficial parks. I spoke to Maggie at a neighborhood park two miles away from the dog park at Balboa Park.

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Ponzi June 17, 2009 @ 9:59 p.m.

People can't enjoy picnics or letting their children play at parks anymore because they are being infested by dogs. 50% of the people do not pick up their dog waste.

Anyway, the problem used to be ants at a picnic, now it's learning you threw your blanket over a pile of dog crap.


yogamuch June 22, 2009 @ 10:02 a.m.

There are thousands of acres of parks available to residents and a small fraction of them allow dogs. Having off-leash designated parks helps set expectations of park users so when they go to a non-dog park they know they won't throw their blanket down on a doggy pile. Also, there are only a small number of so-called bad-owners who don't pick up after their dog.

As for the drunken dog owners at dog beach, B.S., public drinking of alcohol is illegal and you don't see drunken dog owners on the beach. Crucifying all dog owners because of a few who don't pick up, means taking measures for those who don't, keep reprimand specific, ticket those who don't pick up after their dog and designate more off-leash areas so dog owners and their dog have a place to go ... this keeps the other parks pristine.


SDaniels June 22, 2009 @ 11:37 a.m.

It all sounds great in theory, yogamuch.


yogamuch June 22, 2009 @ 2:15 p.m.

It's a theory that can be implemented in a practical manner.

It's very do able for the city to allocate enough off-leash areas. For example, Rose Canyon, great place to run, hike, bike, but you can't take your dog off-leash; therefore you can't mountain bike with your dog ... too dangerous to keep them on the leash.

If there were more places you could take your dog, then parks that are not-off-leash or no-dogs would have less issues with dogs.

There are over 40,000 acres of managed parkland in san diego and less than 1% (~.001% = 41 acres (not including Fiesta Island)) of parkland designated for offleash. Fiesta Island is the largest off-leash area and Parks and Rec is now trying to change that.

With this small of a percentage of off-leash area no wonder there are issues with dogs being at non-off-leash and no-dog parks.

Dog owners are equal taxpayers and should have areas to play and exercise with their dog ... it brings joy to them just like any family wanting to bring their children to the park.


ecocamper June 22, 2009 @ 3:16 p.m.

The City can add to its coffers by citing the dog owners who refuse to respect the leash laws. Step it up - I've had it with dog owners who leave piles on the sidewalk and elsewhere. And every single dog park that is created, is park taken away from non-dog owners, since, as the last sentence or your article fully confirms, the dog parks become smelly and dirty. We non-dog owners do not like sitting in or looking at the rude remains of your pet, or watching your pet pee on everything they pass by. There is a children's playground near the municipal golf course, where dogs are supposed to be on a leash. Not even this tiny space reserved for small children is regarded as off-limits for some people's dogs. I politely mentioned to someone that the playground was for children and we'd appreciate it if his dog wasn't inside, and he stubbornly refused to take his dog outside the fence. I've been to the beach in OB at the foot of Santa Cruz, where dogs are not allowed at all. Of course there are dogs running back and forth, barking at each other, etc. You dog owners need to make the effort to care for your dog giving respect to the laws in this town. Cite the non-compliance - why have a law if you're not going to enforce it? You dog owners have your freakin dog parks - leave the other parks to the human beings they were created for in the first place. Fiesta Island and Balboa Park are special places in San Diego - to have portions of this premier recreation land set aside for dogs is about as generous as you can get. If it were up to me, the dog parks would be in Anza Borrego and the Tijuana Estuary.


SpliffAdamz_ June 20, 2009 @ 3:50 p.m.

That sounds just like dog beach in OB!!! Come and enjoy walks in the sand of dog p and s while checking out the waves!!! See drunk dog owners let their dog p and s everywhere and do nothing about cleaning it up!!!


yogamuch June 23, 2009 @ 10:28 a.m.

I agree that disrepectful dog owners should be sited, but respectful dog owners shouldn't be fined.

Why must all parks be for kids? they scream, yell, dodge in out of people with their skateboards, destroy park benches and railings with their bike and skateboard antics, let's kick all those families and kids out of the parks .... gee that's rational.

Same thing should apply, kids who are ruining park assets should be fined, just like anyone who ignores the rules, but not all children should be kicked out of parks.


pawsinsd July 6, 2009 @ 8:30 p.m.

Ah, Villa La Jolla, picture a small park frequented late afternoons by senior citizens, many widows, and their Yorkies and Bichons. Then picture three radio-controlled Animal Control trucks aiming these trucks at the ladies at 40 mph, breaking all the sprinkler lines in their path.

The good old days. It's refreshing to see that the same neighborhood bully who thinks this park belongs to her is still calling Animal Control several times a day to scare the wits out of her neighbors who may not be able to take their dog for a long enough walk every day because of age or infirmity.

If it were me, I'd offer to help them walk their dogs, not take away their precious social security moneys through heinous fines and misdemeanor citations.

San Diego City and County government are still the small-minded fools they were years ago when I lived there. Except now they're bankrupt. Financially as well as morally. Taxpayers money should be used better than fining little old ladies.

The point is that nobody used the park when the dog owners were there early mornings and evenings but it bothers this one person enough that she's spent over 12 years fighting her neighbors. It's a pity that one person can harm a neighborhood so much.


Helen McKenna July 7, 2009 @ 1:38 a.m.

Dear Ponzi: Please cite the study that shows your dismal statistics: "50% of the people do not pickup their dog waste". Of course you can't because it's a figment of your imagination. Why don't you give credit where it's due? Do your own study. Afraid you might discover that the vast majority of dog owners pick up after their dogs? One day about 7 years ago when visiting a dog park near the ocean in San Francisco I deliberately looked for dog poop over an hour-long period. Do you know how many dog poops I found? Zero. I even wrote the mayor about it. Helen


SurfPuppy619 July 7, 2009 @ 11:04 a.m.

People can't enjoy picnics or letting their children play at parks anymore because they are being infested by dogs. 50% of the people do not pick up their dog waste.

Anyway, the problem used to be ants at a picnic, now it's learning you threw your blanket over a pile of dog crap.


Sorry Ponzi-but it just takes one bad apple (and it usually is just 1 or 2) to do the damage you complain of.

I am a dog owner and have ALWAYS picked up after them-going back 15 plus years. Everyone I know who I walk my dogs with (daily)are the same. The vast majority of dog owners are responsible.

The ones who are NOT are the ones who are essentially lazy and selfish, and also usually complainers.

And all it takes is one dog owner in a neighborhood to imput bad vibes to all responsible dog owners, and non dog owners, because if an irresponsible dog owner walks their dog just twice a day, and the dog does a number 2 twice a day-and it is not cleaned up-that is 60 piles of dog doo per month in a confined area.

So one irresponsible dog owner can cause a LOT of damage and bad vibes between everyone.


Ponzi July 7, 2009 @ 11:12 a.m.

Dear Helen, please lick the lawn of the next dog park you visit. Or roll around on it in your white pants and top. There is no such thing as picking up all of the dog waste and every person leaves something behind. Just because you grabbed a pile of the goop doesn't mean you removed all of it.

I see it smell it and walk in it inadvertently everyday in parks around my home. And the sidewalks around the part of downtown San Diego where I work is covered with dog s*** and its subsequent stench. So are many areas of Mission and Pacific Beach.

Unless you are getting on your ands and knees and scraping and scrubbing after your pooch, there is not way you are removing all of the crap. It’s still there between the blades of grass where children other adults can end up getting it on their hands and other articles.


SurfPuppy619 July 7, 2009 @ 11:42 a.m.

Ponzi, you are definitely a complainer.

No pleasing you.

And to be honest if there is 2-3% of dog crap left over and it upsets you, I dont really care either. Thats life buddy.


PB92109 July 9, 2009 @ 10:10 p.m.

Interesting article- alot of fecophobes out there!

Another unofficial off-leash area not mentioned is Western Hills Park in Bay Park. It is frequented by neighbors from Bay Park who like to exercise with their 4-legged companions.

It is located at the corner of Garfield and Kane, off Milton Street.


Latifah July 10, 2009 @ 9:10 a.m.

Dear Ponzi: What does your shrink say about your obsession with dog poop? Can it be cured?


SDaniels July 17, 2009 @ 5:54 p.m.

I'm with Ponzi, and belong to the same chapter of Canine Fecophobes Unite! Seriously, PB and Latifah, if your building and its environs were smelling of nothing but dog waste, I'm sure you'd be singing another tune. What do the shrinks say about all of the infantile, anal expulsive dog owners who want us to revel and roll around in their canine's generous leavings? Love my dog, love my dog's sh*t, is that it?


dogtown April 13, 2010 @ 1:44 p.m.

I have a solution to the dog problem. It seems that people who own dogs are happy to lavish lots of money on their pet for grooming, special food, vet bills, so why not simply have a license fee of $100 per dog per year and use the money to create dog parks? The money can also be used to repaint lamps, hydrants, and trash cans that dogs urinate on and pay for all the replanting that has to be done when dogs urinate on grass areas and dig up flower beds. It can also be used to pay for all those poo bag stations that my taxes currently pay for.

Each dog can be made to wear a colored tag on their collar corresponding to the license year. Traffic wardens can be given authority to issue tickets to owners with dogs not showing the tag. If 200,000 dog owners complied out of the city's estimated 338,000 dogs, the local government would gain $20,000,000 in extra annual revenue and those of us not addicted to living with an animal would have our tax burden reduced. A few exempt tags can be issued to the elderly on social security for one dog only.

Of course, we'd have to round up and destroy all those strays whose owners really don't care about them enough to pay $100 annual fee, but that would be a temporary problem.

Everybody would be happy. Dog owners would get their parks and non-dog owners wouldn't have to keep paying for the damage.


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