Dog laws unleashed
Although city's canine laws are clear, some say rules muzzle owners
While the subject of Pleasanton's dog leash law can inspire debate among local residents--dog owners or not--the ordinance is actually pretty clear.
All dogs--from the smallest Chihuahua to the tallest Great Dane, from the cutest ball of fluff to the scruffiest mutt--are required to be on a leash when they are on public property in Pleasanton. The only exceptions to the rule are the dog park inside Muirwood Park and the trails in Augustin Bernal, Pleasanton Ridge and Shadow Cliffs parks.
That's the law and it's that simple, said Animal Services Officer Roy Ficken.
"Once your dog hits the sidewalk in front of your house, it needs to be on a leash," said Ficken, who added that he's unaware of a city in California that doesn't have a similar leash law. "The concept of a leash law is to make sure everyone is safe. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've picked up injured animals that were off leash and ran into the street."
"We've had problems in the parks with loose dogs going after other dogs. The concept of the ordinance is very simple and logical," he added.
Pleasanton's leash law, which was enacted in 1989, states:
"No owner or keeper of a dog shall allow or permit the dog to be or run at large in or upon any public place or premises, or in or upon any private place or premises other than those of the owner or keeper except with the consent of the person in charge of the private place or premises, unless such dog is securely restrained by a substantial leash not to exceed six feet in length and is in the charge and control of a person competent to keep such dog under effective charge and control."
First time offenders can receive a verbal warning from a police officer or Animal Services officer, be issued a courtesy citation warning them of the violation or be given a citation, according to the city's Web site.
Citations carry a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for a second, $500 for a third offense and $750 for fourth and subsequent offenses.
Last year, the Pleasanton Police Department issued 268 citations to dog owners for everything from courtesy warnings to vicious dog citations.
Ficken, who patrols the city with his police dog, Gandalf II, said he tries to educate dog owners about the city's ordinance.
"In my 35 years of doing this, it's never the dogs that are the problem and always the humans. People use poor judgment," Ficken said.
The city employs two full-time Animal Services officers and both are responsible for enforcing the city's animal laws, including dog licensing, leash law and "pooper scooper" laws, among other duties. Many of the city's parks, however, are difficult to see from the street, Ficken acknowledged.
"The key for Animal Services is we don't want to be neo-Nazis about this; we want people to learn. That's why we give courtesy citations," Ficken said. "You will even see professional canines on a leash, unless they are working."
Despite the simplicity of the law, it's a subject that can stir up a debate, as evidenced in two separate online forums on the Pleasanton Weekly's Town Square. In one, more than 60 people dialoged about the need for a leash law. While some of the commenters defended their practice of allowing their dogs to go unleashed in parks, others had plenty to say about the merit of the law.
One anonymous poster wrote: "I have been with my kids in park/playgrounds in Pleasanton when an unleashed dog has run up to them."
"They're little kids, and they don't know your dog, and whether it is friendly or not," the poster continued. "I wish people would keep their dogs on leashes as they are supposed to do in our parks. People usually say, 'I'm sorry! He's friendly!' But it's too late, you've already given my kid a heart attack when we were supposed to be having fun at the park. 'Sorry' doesn't make up for it; put your dog on a leash."
One resident who defended his practice of letting his dog run in the park off leash explained: "I own an American Brittany hunting dog. He wears an orange (collar) and responds to a whistle. I have spent $3,000 teaching this dog to obey. I realize all of the laws are in place for good reasons, however, I often let my dog off leash when we are in the middle of a park together. He needs to run and a leash does not do it. I am not making excuses for my behavior. I know it is deemed wrong."
"I guess the only thing that bugs me is that in Pleasanton, we have become so uptight that we can get shook up over any type of dog being off leash," he continued.
In response, another anonymous poster wrote, "I just have one question for you...would you really want to take a chance of having your dog attack a child because you don't feel all dogs should be on leashes?"
There are a couple of places in Pleasanton where dogs are permitted off leash. One is the enclosed dog park within Muirwood Park. Inside the gates, dogs are permitted off leash, but owners are expected to maintain voice command of their dogs, if necessary.
People who use that park rave about the facility.
"I live up the street and walk over here two times a day. It's in (my dog's) contract," joked Jack Smith, a Muirwood dog park regular who visits with his Tibetan terrier, Kybu.
Jim Sievers is also a regular at the dog park with his German Shepherd, Maedchen.
"It's one of the few places I can let her off leash," he said. "Although, I do wish they would put in an agility course. She likes to jump, do a catwalk and weave poles."
Pat Wood is part of the 9 a.m. group that visits daily. She's been bringing her dogs to the dog park since it opened.
"We love it. In our group, we know all the dogs so we don't have to worry about fights," said Wood, who was accompanied by her Australian Shephard-Lab mix, Kayla.
In the Augustin Bernal Park, dogs are permitted off leash on the trails. Owners are expected to maintain voice command of their dogs and to restrain them if requested by another trail user, Ficken said.
At Shadow Cliffs and Pleasanton Ridge--two parks that are overseen by the East Bay Regional Parks District--dogs must be on leashes in the parking lots and staging areas, but are permitted off leash on the trails, said EBRPD spokeswoman Shelly Lewis.
"We ask people to have voice command of their dogs and to carry a leash six feet or less," Lewis said.
Calls about dogs rank among the top three complaints the park district receives, Lewis said. (The largest number of complaints is about bicyclists.)
"People who are hiking and using the park have a right to ask people to put dogs on a leash. We want people to be comfortable in our parks," Lewis said. "Dog owners need to know that not everyone is comfortable with dogs. It's not enough to call out that your dog is friendly if someone asks you to put it on a leash."
At Shadow Cliffs, dogs are not permitted in the lake or in the recreational area, but may go off leash in the arroyo area and on the trails, she said.
Anyone who encounters an aggressive dog (or dog owner), particularly if it's a recurring offender, should call the park district's police department at 510-881-1833.
"If we don't know about it, we can't do anything about it," Lewis said.