The Jan. 16 PB Town Council meeting, ostensibly held to showcase the work of the San Diego Humane Society, essentially became a forum for dog owners pleading for open space for their pets with a community complaining about puppy poop in parks.
Two issues driving the discussion — the use of the Crown Point Elementary School fields by dog owners and a proposal to renovate Capehart Dog Park on Soledad Mountain Road — revealed bifurcated opinions among dog owners on how best to address their needs without antagonizing the community.
While presenting the array of resources available to pet owners since the Humane Society took over the reins from the City of San Diego 's Department of Animal Services last July 1, the group's enforcement arm emerged as a menacing cop to dog owners trying to provide their pooches with a proper lifestyle.
"Dogs need to run to be mentally and physically healthy," said Vincent Fitzgerald of the PB Dog Owners Group. "We have nowhere to take them. So we would ask that you work with us rather than against us; descending down on us like the Gestapo. You know, we literally are like hiding from you guys while we try to give our dogs healthy lives."
With the addition of San Diego and five other cities to its jurisdiction last year, the Humane Society now provides animal services in 12 cities and five Indian reservations across the county, ranging from enforcement and licensing to hospital care and free meals for animals with impoverished owners.
Capt. Stephen McKinnon of the Humane Society's Law Enforcement Unit explained how the growth has affected his agency, more than doubling its size from 250 employees to almost 600 to handle caseloads expected to match an increase from less than 14,000 calls for service annually prior to July 1, 2018 to about 30,000 calls expected by July 1 this year.
Despite the overview of the Humane Society's enormous countywide responsibilities, the audience quickly narrowed the perspective to local issues in Pacific Beach. Topping that topic was the joint-use agreement the City has with Crown Point Elementary that allows the public to use the outdoor grounds as a park after school hours — including dog owners — as long as their pets are on a leash.
Enforcing shared-use rules
Parents at the meeting complained about their children continually being soiled by dog excrement when using the school fields for sports and other physical education programs.
Julianna Tetlow, director of government relations for the Humane Society, noted that patrols had increased in response, with 100-125 officer visits and 10 citations issued for off-leash violations in Crown Point since the first complaint was received on Oct. 11. She added that Kate Sessions Park was another "hot spot" for off-leash violations and patrols there have intensified.
"I know specifically for this park here, one of the officers talked to the dog owners as a group and explained what the problems are; talked about sanitation, talked about responsibility," McKinnon said. "Most of them hear us very well. Unfortunately, at the same time, some choose not to."
Not impressed, Susan (no surname given) asked how the joint-use agreement could be severed.
"I don't own a dog or a cat, but I do have a child at an elementary school in PB," she said. "I would probably go ballistic if I continued to hear that my kid stepped in dog crap while at school."
Tony Schlegel shared the disgust, noting that his two children have come home from school with their clothes stained multiple times. But as a dog owner, he argued the community could find its own solutions by communicating to each other without involving authorities.
"I speak for a lot of parents [at this] school," Schlegel said. "Nobody cares if it's off-leash, on-leash. Let the dogs run around and have fun. It's a huge field. But it should be taken advantage of ... I pick up after my kids. I pick up after my dog. People expect the same thing of people who use the park here."
Sergio (no surname given) argued that off-leash hours and more lighting to better follow dogs for owners who walk their pets after work could resolve most of the issue. "I agree there is a lot of poop," he said. "But we need to find a common solution. Crown Point doesn't have a dog park. This is it."
'Fixing' Capehart Dog Park
Town Council treasurer Marcella Bothwell followed with a presentation of plans for improvements such as better draining through grading, shade trees and new surfaces to the Capehart Dog Park on Soledad Mountain Road and the corner of Felspar Street.
Bothwell said she hopes the City's Park & Recreation Department will make the needed enhancements at a cost $600,000 because of its admission that the dog park was poorly constructed when first developed in 2004.
Asking the audience for e-mails in support, Bothwell said: "I'm taking those to the City to try and facilitate this process because the main thing we need is consensus that this is something that would be good for the community."
That unity would not be forthcoming.
Resident Peter Holmes said the better solution was shared-use at Kate Sessions Park with tight regulations on times and locations for dog owners.
Reminded by Bothwell that the idea was opposed by people living around the park when originally proposed years ago, Holmes asserted that: "They've been an obstacle for 15 years and they don't even come to the park."
Dog owner Fitzgerald agreed, pointing out that the minority of politically connected residents who throttled the shared-use idea were the same people who built Capehart "which is why it is so awful."
"[Capehart Dog] Park was a bad idea from the beginning," he added. "It's much too small. It's just going to go back to being dirt … instead of spending $600,000 on that, we can just put together a group to pick up the pet excrement and work together on this rather than being adversarial."
Yet the stink raised by dog owners and those without dogs alike during the meeting only served to accentuate attendee Nicole Larson's criticism of the Humane Society in general.
"I looked at your San Diego Pets magazine," Larson commented. "I get your communications regularly. It's 95 percent dogs. I've come to the point where I call it the San Diego Dog Society. It may seem like a small point but the message is very clear. I don't think you give a darn about cats or rabbits or other animals."
To learn more about the San Diego Humane Society, visit sdhumane.org
— The Pacific Beach Town Council next meets 6:30-8 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 20 at Crown Point Jr. Music Academy, 4033 Ingraham St. Topic will be the status of Rose Creek and the push for this area to be dedicated open space parkland, which would allow Rose Creek to benefit from services such as habitat restoration, trash cans with regular pickups, and pedestrian/bicycle improvements. (858) 483-6666, pbtowncouncil.org
• The City of San Diego coordinates animal services operations with the San Diego Humane Society for dog licensing, lost and found, adoptions, microchipping, spay/neuter, vaccination clinics, educational programs and cruelty reports.
• For animal-related emergencies or animal cruelty reports after hours (SDHS dispatch line closes at 6 p.m.) call the Police Department non-emergency dispatch line at (619) 531-2000 or (858) 484-3154.