In a city named for St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, it should come as no surprise that seven of the 16 mayoral candidates appeared recently in the Mission to discuss the dog issues of the day.
Given the multitude of pet-friendly establishments and parks in San Francisco, many city dwellers think dogs here already have it pretty good. The candidates learned, however, that some features of the easy life for canines — like off-leash privileges in parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area — could vanish if the National Park Service’s Dog Management Draft Plan for the GGNRA is implemented without major changes.
Currently the plan limits canine access at Fort Funston, Crissy Field and Ocean Beach, among other locations. A project newsletter is expected to be released soon, describing changes to the draft plan and next steps in the process.
The candidates weighed in strongly on the side of dog-owner rights.
“I have seven children, but I just brought my dog here,” said mayoral candidate and former San Francisco supervisor Tony Hall on Saturday, referring to his 9-year-old rescue dog Molly, which has golden-red fur and looks like it may need to lose weight.
While the general tone of the forum remained lighthearted, make no mistake: Attendees take their dogs’ happiness seriously. The forum was sponsored by DogPAC, a registered political action committee focused on, yes, dogs, and the interests of their owners.
On Tuesday the committee released its endorsements for mayor, in ranked-choice order: #1 John Avalos, #2 Bevan Dufty, #3 Jeff Adachi. While DogPAC hasn’t raised any money yet, president Bruce Wolfe said that the group is leveraging its connections with San Francisco dog groups, dog parks and dog areas to get the candidates’ attention.
Nancy Staffer, co-director of the Professional Dog Walkers Association, said that it’s a rare owner who doesn’t use the services of a dog walker, some up to five days a week. State Senator Leland Yee said that despite being dogless, he feels that dogs should be allowed to run free.
If the GGNRA draft plan’s current off-leash restrictions are retained, the candidates promised to take the issue to Capitol Hill, publicly oppose the plan, and support advocacy groups in their efforts to maintain the off-leash areas.
“I’m very concerned on how they have failed to really engage the community before making decisions,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.
San Francisco turned over many of its coastal park properties to the GGNRA in the 1970s. But when candidates were asked if they would go so far as to instruct the district attorney to retake control of the parks, most seemed unsure.
“Certainly we can look into that, but we have to be mindful of the policy implications. How are we going to pay for it?” asked City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
A small white dog in the back row vocalized the crowd’s uneasiness with a whine.
While Green Party candidate Terrie Baum noted the potent power of threatening to take back the parks, Hall asserted, “We can do at least as good a job taking care of our beaches” as the National Park Service.
Willa, a well-spoken 13-year-old, said that her golden retriever would suffer if the leash laws were changed, and that any new restrictions would hinder the socialization of dogs. Lisa Vittori, a former professional conservationist, said that restoration can be accomplished in parks without pitting canine owners against native plant enthusiasts. “It’s fighting with your allies, that’s the sad part,” Vittori said.
One topic everyone agreed on: It’s hard to find a trash can when trying to discard dog poop.
“Mayor Newson somehow thought if there were less trash cans there would be less trash,” Adachi said, referring to an earlier decision to reduce the number of trash cans by more than 300. All the candidates agreed that, if elected, they would bring back the coveted disposal bins.
On the question of how to increase pet-friendly housing options, candidates had few ideas. Dufty, a former member of the Board of Supervisors, called for training sessions to help landlords and tenants to work together, while Leland Yee, a California state senator, suggested a forum where different sides could air their concerns.
“I do think that having a pet should be a right,” Adachi announced, pointing out that Animal Care and Control is overwhelmed with surrendered animals.
While residents like Chris Mangini left the event feeling that the candidates failed to adequately address all the concerns of dog owners, some candidates had clearly put some thought into how best to reach the canine demographic. Herrera’s fliers included an autograph by pop star and animal protection activist Pink, while Adachi spoke about his Australian shephard, Duke. Duke couldn’t make it to the forum.
Not to be outdone by Molly, Duke, or Pink’s popularity, Adachi ended his closing remarks with the statement: “If I could be any dog, I would be a compassionate pit bull.” The crowd erupted in laughter and applause.