Some dog owners, confident that their dogs are well-trained and well-behaved while not on leashes, think Palo Alto's leash law — which fines $100 for off leash dogs in public areas — has room for interpretation.
Two such violators are Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Jay Boyarsky and former Palo Alto mayor Vic Ojakian, who were photographed by the Weekly with off-leash dogs at Addison Elementary School last week.
"I'm not going there as a civil disobedience person or an activist or consciously seeking to break any laws," Boyarsky said.
Boyarsky said he takes his yellow lab, Daisy, to Addison to join an "ad hoc gathering" of up to 15 other off-leash dogs for evening romps when kids are not playing in the park. It has been a way to meet neighbors and socialize, while giving the dogs needed exercise.
"I think we're all very responsible," he said, noting that the dog owners at Addison always pick up after their dogs.
Boyarsky has never received a ticket for running Daisy off her leash.
"If anybody ever says, 'Hey, put your leash on,' or if anybody ever wanted to get me in trouble, of course I'd accept responsibility," he added.
Ojakian said last week that dog owners in Palo Alto have limited options for legal places to take their dogs for exercise.
"This isn't 'anywhere' America," he said. "Land is so expensive and scarce here. People get by with the ways they can."
His 1-year-old Portuguese water dog, Kailie, needs to run outside, and Addison is a half-block from Ojakian's house.
At Addison, a sign is posted that reads, "Help keep our kids healthy. Please leash and scoop. Fines up to $125."
But dog owners who use the park feel as long as they pick up poop, stay away from children's play areas and have control of their canines, they won't cause any problems.
"I sort of take it as, 'Pick up after your dog, and don't let your dog intimidate or interfere with anybody else,'" Boyarsky said.
Boyarsky's feelings were echoed by one contributor to the Weekly's online forum, TownSquare.
"I choose to let my dog run off-leash," the Charleston Meadows resident wrote. "This action knowingly violates the leash law, which I do not support. It's OK to violate a law — but ONLY if I'm willing to accept the consequences."
It's become harder for Palo Alto dog owners to find places to let their dogs run off leash since Stanford stopped allowing them at the dish in 2000.
Councilman Larry Klein used to take Owain, his Welsh springer spaniel there for off-leash time.
"He wouldn't go more than 15 or 20 yards away," Klein said fondly of Owain, who is now 12. "He wants to be close to mom and dad."
Though some people advocate stricter enforcement of Palo Alto's leash law — which nabbed 74 off-leashers in 2006 — others say kicking responsible dog owners out of the parks will send them to other parks and make problems worse.
"The very people who keep our parks clean are those dog owners who are there every day," said Bob Griffin said, a 50-year dog trainer who lives in Palo Alto and said he's received tickets while training dogs off leash in parks around the city.
While he supports a "strong leash law," he also thinks responsible dog owners are self-policing and keep the parks safe, like "block parents."
"These people are responsible people. When they go into a park, they literally make it safe from bad dogs and bad people," he said. "These people will pick up anybody's poop. We're all outside the law and to keep peace, we even have poop patrol."
Having off-leash dogs in parks is inevitable, Griffin said.
If the leash law is over-enforced and conscientious dog owners are pushed out of parks, Griffin said, "We're going to go to another park. You're not going to stop us. It's like prostitution."
Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg no longer has a dog, but when her Dalmatian, Pepper, was still alive, she liked the idea of dog owners using parks in the mornings and evenings while other park users weren't there.
"We thought that was a great compromise because we felt the dog people could discipline themselves," Kleinberg said, though she herself did not use the parks with Pepper, she added.
Though Griffin supports a certain amount of disobedience — allowing off-leash dogs with vigilant owners in parks — he warned that not all dogs and dog owners should be granted that privilege.
"If you don't have control of your dog, you need to seek professional help before you turn your dog loose in the parks," he said.
That means a dog should be able to come immediately when its owner calls it, he said.
Boyarsky — who jokingly asked if this would be "his first scandal during (his) tenure in Palo Alto" as deputy district attorney — said he mainly thought the picture of his family in Wednesday's Weekly was flattering.
"I thought, how bucolic and idyllic to have Natalie and Daisy and Liana and I in the local paper," he said.