‘I’m a dog owner and I vote’ | VailDaily.com

‘I’m a dog owner and I vote’

John M. GlionnaLos Angeles TimesVail, CO Colorado
With the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, canines run free at an off-leash beach near Crissy Field in San Francisco. The city's 225 parks feature 29 off-leash dog play areas, the most per square mile nationwide, officials say. Illustrates SF-DOGS (category a) by John M. Glionna (c) 2007, Los Angeles Times. Moved Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2007. (MUST CREDIT: Los Angeles Times photo by Robert Durell.)

SAN FRANCISCO – Vail isn’t the only town where dogs are a divisive issue. In San Francisco, one supervisor calls it the political version of a pit bull attack. The mayor says grimly that he probably will solve the homeless problem first. Opponents face off in city parks, public meetings and on the Internet, and they sometimes resort to shoving matches and name-calling.Canine politics here can be dog-eat-dog.In this city named after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, the 120,000 dogs outnumber children. And although the debates are not unique – leash or no leash, dog parks or people parks – San Francisco’s arguments are particularly high-pitched.The dog lobby is a political tour de force. Most parks have pro-dog groups. The leash debate draws huge crowds at hearings, which go on and on and require overflow rooms.Canine political action committees hold question-and-answer sessions with would-be office-holders. Blogs rail against “dog haters.” One dog group’s motto is “Speak up now or forever hold your leash!” Bumper stickers say: “I’m a dog owner and I vote.”

And woe to those who want those furry wards tethered. Take Arnold Levine: He loves dogs. It’s their owners he fears.

Levine, 56, who has no pets, sits on the 12-member Dog Advisory Committee, which consults with city park officials. He’s been shouted down at meetings for, as he says, “having the audacity to take a stand against people who feel their dogs should run free at every park and beach in San Francisco.”Dog owners, he says, have turned one park into “a toilet.” But when he suggested that they leash and clean up after their pets, he felt their wrath.He found dog feces inside his car and on his lawn. “One woman repeatedly screamed ‘You’re not human!'” he said. Eventually, he sold his home and moved.Officials say they feel caught in the middle.

“It’s the third rail of San Francisco politics,” Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said. “There is no middle ground. City officials know that if they touch the issue, they’re going to get hurt.”All dog owners want is to be left alone, insists Sally Stephens, head of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group.She says opponents mischaracterize the issue as one pitting children against dogs. Many families have both, she reasons. Opponents have overblown the acts of the irresponsible few who do not curb their pets, she said.”We’re not saying we want everything,” said Stephens, whose dog, Skates, is a border collie mix. “We just don’t want the wholesale banning of dogs.”San Francisco’s 225 parks feature 29 off-leash dog play areas, the most per square mile nationwide, officials say.

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