Debate heats up over off-leash dog rules on park land

A public hearing in San Francisco to discuss a proposal that would restrict off-leash dog walking on federal park land is heating up.
January 30, 2014 12:12:45 PM PST
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is in the middle of a heated public debate with the National Park Service over the controversy of walking dogs off-leash on federal park land.

Dog owners are so passionate about this they got Congress involved. Speier is holding a public forum Thursday at Stern Grove in San Francisco. She's looking for solutions.

Jan Zakin says letting her dog Zsa Zsa off-leash at Crissy Field is a morning ritual.

"I run her three to five miles every day," Zakin said. "She has to be off leash, she has to do 10 plus miles or she doesn't get enough exercise."

Restricting that would be a deal breaker for Zakin.

"It would be devastating to us," she said. "I mean, I think we'd move, we'd probably go to St. Helena."

Where dogs can roam on and off leash in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has been debated for more than a decade. New dog restrictions released by the National Park Service in 2011 caused such an uproar among dog owners that Congresswoman Speier got involved, calling Thursday's public hearing in San Francisco.

"That means dog owners, non-dog owners, birdwatchers, bicyclists, everyone's interests have to be accommodated," Speier said.

But how to do that? Sally Stephens, chair of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group, says responsible dog owners should be given an all access pass to parks

"So basically what's happening is the feds are coming in and telling the local people they can't do the things that they've been doing on their land for 50, 60, 70 years," Stephens said.

San Francisco resident Pat Skain disagrees, noting, "Dogs dig holes, going for gophers, chase birds, run over flora and fauna."

Park officials say hopefully there can be room for everyone to enjoy our amazing Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

"Everybody wants to enjoy the same area," said Howard Levitt with the National Park Service, "Whether you want to do it with a dog or you would rather not have dogs at all."

The controversial dog management plan has received more than 4,000 public comments so far. The park service will keep that comment period open until Feb. 18 before making a decision. They say to speak now, or forever hold your leash.


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