The onset of Daylight Saving Time (March 12) brings the busy season to officers in the Department of Animal Services — especially when it comes to dogs being off-leash at area parks. Since it is lighter later, compliance officers report an increase of residents who allow their dogs to run free.
Laurie Joniaux, North County Region Deputy Director for the San Diego Department of Animal Services, attended the March 7 Bird Rock Community Council meeting to discuss the situation.
“We’ve had issues in the parks and we know there are community concerns. Some are proponents of letting dogs run free in parks and others are upset by it,” she said. “People who allow their animals to run free, know full-well they are not supposed to do this. Some have been given warnings and yet they continue to do it, and we’ve received complaints about repeat offenders, primarily in La Jolla Hermosa Park, Bird Rock Park and specifically, Calumet Park.”
The weekend prior to the Bird Rock meeting, she said, 11 citations for off-leash dogs were issued in Bird Rock parks. Expanding that window to the months prior and including Kate Sessions Park (another area where violations occur), officers issued 35-40 citations.
The cost of a ticket starts at $50, but various assessments could bring the total to as high as $400.
“We’re getting more and more contentious people who are more angry, arrogant and bold ... maybe they’re mad because they got caught or they have to pay the fine, but they are getting more aggressive,” she said. “It’s just like driving faster than 65 miles per hour on the freeway, people know they’re not supposed to do it, but they take a chance and hope that no one is there to catch them. They know we can’t be everywhere at once. There are literally thousands of parks in San Diego County and we have 31 officers for the entire county.”
Joniaux said officers operate from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., with one on standby through the night for emergencies; that’s a rate of one officer for every 85,000 people.
Encouraging those who witness a violation to report it, she said options to reach Animal Services include: contacting the department at sddac.com/patrol.asp to file a report and/or take a photo of the perpetrator’s license plate. “If we have the license plate number, we can (obtain their address and) send that individual a letter after the fact,” she said.
In extreme cases, should a witness be so inclined, he or she can perform a citizen’s arrest. “A police officer or animal control officer cannot issue a citation unless they see the violation, so the law allows you to cite an individual by writing out a ticket using our forms. Then, we would deliver it. If the violator pleads guilty, you have no further involvement. But if they plead not guilty, you have to come and testify to what you saw,” Joniaux explained. “Most people are not willing to do that.”
One meeting attendee shared a story of being bitten by a dog whose owner left a gate open. Joniaux responded by reminding those gathered that all dog bites must be reported.
“The animal must, legally, be placed in quarantine for 10 days and we check to see if there is a history of dangerous incidences with the animal. It’s something we need to know about,” she said. “We have a team of people working with area medical groups to help with treatment, and we may be able to assist with a bite victim’s medical bills.”
Mountain out of a molehill?
However, there are some dog owners who don’t see the practice of letting their dogs run off-leash as a problem. The La Jolla Light spoke to a few the next day in Calumet Park.
“I don’t see it as a big deal,” said resident Kyle Candee. “I do it because I don’t like having my dog on a leash anywhere. If I was a dog, I wouldn’t want to be on a leash. My dog loves to run and he doesn’t get to run on a leash.”
Candee said Calumet has become “an unofficial dog park” for those who live nearby. “We are pretty respectful ... if anyone were to have an issue, we would be respectful.”
Kathleen (last name withheld by request) added, “I don’t understand why everyone thinks dogs should be on a leash. They aren’t bothering anyone and everyone cleans up their dog’s droppings. This is a neighborhood hang. Those who come here are neighbors and friends. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve made more friends in this park than anywhere else. I grew up in Australia and we never put our dogs on a leash, so I’m just not used to it.”
Oliver Noble said he takes his dogs, Benji and Sofia, to Calumet in particular, despite the “multiple” tickets he has received, because of its convenience.
“There are no dog parks between Del Mar and Ocean Beach, and we are right in the middle,” he said. “So it’s a 20 to 30 minute drive to a dog park, and by the time I get home from work, get everyone in the car and get to one of those spots, it’s dark, so I bring them here. There is a caged dog park on Soledad, but that caged environment can make dogs very tense,” he said. “We get tickets here, but to be honest, it’s worth it to me. You just kind of put up with it.”