Taking the leash law into their own hands | March 16, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 16, 2007

Taking the leash law into their own hands

Ordinary folks, public figures find ways to not keep canines on leash

by Molly Tanenbaum

Which laws are okay to break, and who gets to decide?

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.

Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed at mtanenbaum@paweekly.com.


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Posted by Sandy Rossten
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2008 at 10:54 am

That's disgusting and frightening that these hypocrites are in public office. Their sense of entightlement and privilege blocks what should be their mature understanding that breaking a city law is not the vehicle for change. If they want to create a privileged group of dogs that don't require leashes in public, create an off-leash license that would be granted after the dog's behavior was tested.

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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 22, 2008 at 11:20 am

Has anyone in Palo Alto ever been given a citation for an off-leash dog? In the case of a boy being badly mauled by an off-leash dog in a school play yard, I recall a report that the animal control officer made a statement something like, we "may" have to issue a citation in this case. I would bet that no one has ever been given a citation for failure to pick up.

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Posted by Grandma
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2008 at 11:38 am

This is an old story dated 3/16/07. Yes, I remember the boy being attacked near Hoover School. I was attacked by an off leach white pit bull while walking along Amarillo, therefore, I support the leach law and wish it was enforced more often.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2008 at 4:46 pm

This is an old story from 2 years ago, there is plenty of breaking news, I am not interested in reading very old and trivial news ,neither is anyone else when we have an epidemic of violent robberies.

The Weekly clearly needs some competition to keep it on its toes

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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 22, 2008 at 6:37 pm

The non-enforcement of the dog laws and the "epidemic of violent robberies" could be related--through the principle of respect for the law. I assume everyone has heard the story about the cleanup of crime in NYC: when they started enforcing minor laws, if helped with the major ones.

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Posted by Mama
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Dogs should not be allowed on school campuses. Children have to run on grass for PE classes and play on the lawns at lunch time. They should be safe from dog poop.

Picking up the poop isn't good enough. Would dog owners put their hand on the grass where the poop was and then lick their hands? Children lie on the grass and then they go eat lunch. Same idea. Poop is not sanitary for children, and dog owners are selfish. There is a dog park on Cowper between OrEx and Colorado Ave. Owners are just too lazy to drive them there. We've had to put up a fence around our lawn because of all the selfish dog walkers who feel it is okay to trespass and use our lawn as a toilet.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2008 at 4:10 pm

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

Pregnant women, children, old people and those with weak immune systems can get fatal diseases from what cats deposit, the rains wash it into the ocean where it kills the cute cuddly otters in droves, not to mention the millions of birds and other small wild life slaughtered by cats every day.

Cats must be kept indoors or they should be taken to the pound for disposal.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2008 at 5:39 pm

Animal excrement is part of nature. We may not like it and we may do our best as pet keepers and homeowners to keep it away from us, but it will happen. We have racoons in our yard that actually dig up our yard and leave behind their excrement. The squirrel population around here is enormous and as for bird droppings. We are not going to get rid of it all. In fact, many gardeners actually pay for manure to put on their roses or prize pumpkins, or whatever.

All we can do is make pet owners do the responsible thing. Yes we don't want it on our grass, on our sidewalks, in our playing fields or sandpits, but how do you tell that to the wildlife?

Cats and dogs in their wild form, bobcats, mountain lions and bears, are native to this area. Any run off washed into the ocean from them can't be prevented. Birds are prey for wildlife, so are deer. We may like to look at these wonderful creatures, but remember that nature is survival of the fittest and there is a natural pecking order.

Attempting to keep wildlife from our urban areas is not going to stop the natural order of things. Excrement happens.

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Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of University South
on Nov 25, 2008 at 11:09 am

I who moved out of SF due to my dogs being brutally attacked by an off leash dog thought we would be safer in Palo Alto. This has proven to be an incorrect assumption!

We have had 3 off leash dogs come aggressively at us within this last year! When I tell the owners to leash their dogs they usually end up screaming profanities at me!

Now I bring a can of mace/pepper spray on every walk we take - pretty sad that it has gotten to this point!

What gives!

ALL dogs should be leashed - no matter what size they are!

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Posted by James
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2008 at 1:02 pm

"Cats must be kept indoors or they should be taken to the pound for disposal."

Sharon, you're atrociously disgusting. It's people like you that actually needs to be put for disposal. Your ignorant remark doesn't even have to do with the piece of news. It makes me sick to know there's people like among us!

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Posted by Andy
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 25, 2008 at 1:18 pm

I don't agree with people bringing their dogs to Addison school where kids play in the grass. Take your dog somewhere else. There are many parks in Palo Alto, and some of them allow to have the dog off-leash.
I'm a dog owner and I'm all for keeping dogs on-leash unless otherwise stated. I'm extremely tired and irritated of people walking their dogs thinking that their dog is "friendly". I don't give a damn if your dog is friendly. I don't want to find out he/she is NOT friendly when he/she has chopped off my dog's head. I'm also very tired of seeing dog poop on my house front yard. Most usually, it's the sh*t from unleashed dogs because their owners are not paying attention. For the same reason we have laws governing people, we need to have AND RESPECT those laws for how to live together with our pets. If you don't like it, don't own a dog in Palo Alto!

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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Speaking of dogs, got a funny story from years past.

Back in the day when one could take their dogs to walk The Dish (entrance Stanford Ave and Foothill)

I had gone up counter-clockwise and had taken the path that went right up under the dish. Just before the road spit off and went down a steep ravine, then ascending up where the two paths met.

So down to my left was the parallel path.

I heard screaming and looked down. A woman was running along behind a Chihuahua which was dragging it's leash. Above and just in front of the woman, but still behind the dog, was big hawk swooping down. I sat there with a mix of terror and interest (George Pace from Nature's voice in my head). The woman got close enough to abort the attack.

Later Stanford said it was closing the area to dogs because of it's concern for "the nesting birds". There are foxes, coyotes, mountain lions up there. Any bird threatened by off leash domestic dogs is probably doomed anyway. To me it was just an ironic ruse by Stanford to reduce human traffic/interest so that they could later develop the area without as much opposition. They even posted a grown man guard there....it is hard to drive by and not open the window and bark loudly at him.

But Stanford got to decide.

It would be funny to get a 10 foot Water Monitor, name it "Heart Rate" and walk it by the guy.

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Posted by Carole
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 25, 2008 at 3:25 pm

While I was walking on Middlefield, an unleashed dog startled me by jumping from behind a bush.I told the nearby owner that the dog should be leashed. Her irresponsible, insensitive comment,"You didn't get hurt" was answered,"At my age I could've had a heart attack."

I love dogs & believe the leash law should be strictly enforced.

The problem, in general, with dog owners & smokers is inconsideration & lack of empathy for others.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 25, 2008 at 4:08 pm

I was with my brother and my 7 year old nephew at Mitchell Park and my nephew almost crashed into a dog who was unleashed. The owner was irresponsible and argued with my brother when told she should put her dog on a leash. I love dogs, but just in case, dogs should be kept on a leash. With the poop, I think people-if they always pick up their dogs poop- then dogs with leashes should be allowed in parks(other than schools.)

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 25, 2008 at 4:26 pm

This is 'old news". Look at the posting date - March 2007.

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Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 25, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Dear Grandma, Sharon, and Kate,

This may be "old news," but it clearly isn't resolved news. But then antiques are just old stuff to some people.

Dogs are not universalists in their affections. I have been attacked by "wonderful dogs" on three different occasions. I don't like dogs, I cross the street even when the leashed ones approach, I don't feel like making nice with anyone's dog. And I work in the public schools where every Monday we have kids getting the orange cones to mark the poop piles until we can get things in shape for the week's play.

Just because you have never seen your dog take anyone on, please do not believe that they won't do it , especially if they go for a walk on their own. They are wild animals underneath, and they respond mostly to the people who have control over the food dish. Everyone else is a threat to their territory, and to their people.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 25, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Paul Losch from the City of Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission here.

I had hoped the Commission would be able to tackle this thorny matter in 2008. For various reasons, it did not. I do hope that we can do so in 2009, a couple of us have tried to develop an approach to get a better understanding of all the issues and what various alternatives are to deal with this matter.

This is a classic issue that cities deal with, and there is room for evaluating if Palo Alto's current reality and the laws on the books are in alignment.

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Posted by Ken
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 25, 2008 at 7:48 pm

"there is room for evaluating if Palo Alto's current reality and the laws on the books are in alignment."

Paul Losch,

Clearly, you are stating the obvious: If Palo Alto does not enforce its laws, and various people, especially the elite, decide to flout the law, then the reality and the alignment with the law are in conflict.

With your usual fluff, Paul, you are just saying, "Break the law, then the law will change!".

The leash laws are in place, because of pubic saftey and public health. Paul, do you have the scones to just say, "ENFORSE THE LAW!"?

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Posted by Teacher mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 25, 2008 at 8:38 pm

When we lived in the Addison neighborhood we would walk our very large dog on leash to pick up our child from AKC. On several occasions an off leash medium sized herding type dog would run up and circle our dog, which created some anxiety being that our dog if provoked would kill this dog. Where was the owner? Too busy talking to the other owners and totally ignoring his dog! I don't mind dogs off leash as long as the owner is paying attention, which brings up the poop issue. Many (not all) of the owners at Addison are too busy talking and community building, that they're not paying attention to their dog pooping on the field that our kids play on.I'm sure when they see their dog pooping they pick it up, but what about all of the poop they don't see? Our kids are stepping in it!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2008 at 9:25 pm

I am not a dog owner, but I grew up with dogs. The big problem is that there are not enough dog runs and the ones we have are totally inadequate.

Dogs need to run off leash. They need to be able to spend their energy in a way that can't be done on leash even if the owners are running with them. They need to be "free" to be able to run, stop, smell, bound, and generally enjoy their freedom. The dog runs, when they are used by more than a few dogs, don't have enough space for several dogs of different sizes or even to run after their own balls.

For this reason, many dog owners take chances and let their dogs off leash to give them the freedom they crave in the manner described above.

If we could allow parts of parks to be fenced off where owners can allow their dogs off leash for at least certain times during the day, then those who are nervous around dogs won't venture in and dogs and owners can actually walk and play together. I feel sure that there must be some areas of our larger parks, like Byxby Park and perhaps Mitchell or Greer where much larger areas can be fenced off for decent sized dog walks. I am thinking of areas about the size of a football field, rather than a tennis court.

I feel sure that if there were adequate dog walking areas, then the problem of off leash dogs in the parks would be much less.

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Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of University South
on Dec 12, 2008 at 4:39 pm

So I posted on November 25th and since then I have had 2 large dogs come after us walking in the Homer Street area (near the park at Waverly) - NO owners around to come after their dog! Fortunately, both times people were around to help me - but come on!

I have called animal control and nothing????

What is it going to take to enforce leash laws?

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Posted by Concerned Resident,
a resident of University South
on Dec 22, 2008 at 10:45 am

Let's add another one to the list - had a large OFF LEASH come tearing down the street at us yesterday afternoon! This make 4 dogs - OFF leash that have come after us since November 25th!

This is really getting old - fast!

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Posted by Mama
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 22, 2008 at 12:09 pm

No, it's the responsible owners who would put their dog into a car and take them to a dog run.

It's the irresponsible ones who let their dogs off leash and walk them to school grounds to poop on the lawns so the kids can get the poop residue on their shoes when they run during PE. More dog runs will not change their behavior.