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Off-Leash Dog Plan Triggers Huge Reaction

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In a city with more dogs than children, it isn't surprising that a lot of people have strong opinions about where they can and can't let their furry friends frolic freely. This is precisely why Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) officials weren't surprised to receive 4,713 comments on a draft plan limiting the areas where dogs can be off-leash in 21 sites stretching from Muir Woods to Fort Funston.

"We expected to have a large volume of comments," said GGNRA Director of Communications Howard Levitt. "Passion around the issue has been strong for a number of years and it comes from all sides."

The comments, which are part of a legally required public input period and can be downloaded from GGNRA's website, largely break down into two categories. One group feels the GGNRA has turned into one big, poop-filled dog playground with little thought given to the needs of non-dog owners, and the other group loves to bring their pups to places like Ocean Beach and Crissy Field on a regular basis and would hate to see their ability to do so curtailed.

Many in the former group are also concerned about the detrimental effect dogs have on the parks' bird population. Meanwhile, many in the latter fear that if off-leash dogs are restricted from park lands, the city's other off-leash dog havens--such as Alamo Square and Duboce Park—will become overcrowded.

The comments themselves run the gamut from affecting personal stories to cascades of near-identical form letters. One commenter wrote:

As a regular user of both Crissy and OB [Ocean Beach] I fully support the plan. I love dogs but things are out of hand at Crissy in particular. Last time I was [sic] their an off leash dog ran right over/through my water sports equipment - the owner was an idiot and claimed it was my fault for "being there". Minutes later another off leash dog came over an peed all over it. The owner pretended not to notice, and when I asked him to clean it up he said "dogs are dogs" and told me to get lost. Good riddance to these people. Now the kids won't have to play in dog sh*t anymore.

Another disagreed, writing:

Your plan to ban dogs on the sandy part of ocean beach South of Irving St. is not acceptable to dog owners of San Francisco. Most people get dogs to have someone to walk with them on the beach. My dog died in May. Since then I have walked the beach alone. It is not fun. I am about to get another dog to have someone to walk the beach with me. If you do not allow me to walk my dog on the beach on leash, I may as well stay home and become obese. I am 81 years old, I live at Ulloa St. and cannot get to the area North of Irving St. Yes, I can walk on the path with my dog, but I love being on the beach itself, at the water's edge. Please reconsider allowing dogs on the beach area.

At present, dogs can be off-leash inside much of the GGNRA, which receives over 16 million visitors every year. They're allowed to be solely on voice command at Baker Beach (north of Lobos Creek), Crissy Field (excluding the west end of the beach), most of Fort Funston, Fort Miley and the majority of Ocean Beach.

Even though the GGNRA is technically part of the U.S. National Park system, where dogs are only allowed on-leash, the GGNRA issued guidelines in the late 1970s designating about 15 percent of its area acceptable to walk dogs off-leash.

This marks the second time GGNRA officials have tried to cut down on off-leash dog areas. SF Appeal reports:

In 2001, there was an attempt to eliminate these areas as a means to protect an endangered birds species but that ban was later invalidated by a judge because the change in policy received insufficient public input prior to implementation.

Officials will spend about a year going over the comments and come out with a modified plan based on all the pubic input late next summer.

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