I recently finished reading Red Zone, Aphrodite Jones’ book about a brutal dog maulting murder in San Francisco in 2001. It was particularly significant to me, because I remember the story from the news at the time, and I often take my children to parks in San Francisco with off-leash zones. Much has been made of the fact that the dangerous dogs which committed the murder had never been reported to the police or animal control previously, even the dogs had bitten people, attacked other dogs, and otherwise been out of control.
I think they weren’t reported because to see a dog behave like that in San Francisco is nigh-incomprehensible. The dogs we encounter, especially in the off-leash areas, are well-behaved and their owners (or guardians, like dog walkers) are especially responsible. Even though the area may be (and nearly often is) packed with dogs and people, the dogs don’t “talk” to strangers. They don’t lunge at us, stick their nose in my rear, or bark and growl at us; I can’t say the same for dogs in my own neighborhood, even when they are on a leash. The off-leash areas are the only place I’ve seen dogs in muzzles; as a parent, I’m glad someone is careful to use them, for an owner with an excitable dogs, it’s wise, since a bite can mean a death sentence for a dog, even in liberal San Francisco. The dogs are obedient and trained, so well that I once saw a dog walker keep 7 dogs at bay with only his voice. My children themselves know not to lunge or yell at dogs, and they love them, so I’ll sometimes ask an owner if my children can pet and play with their dog. The owner always gives appropriate advice, from “my dog isn’t accustomed to kids” to “yes, she loves to be petted.” And all the dogs we’ve run across have been clean and impeccably groomed.
So if a regular San Franciscan encounters the opposite, like the Canary Dogs kept by Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, it’s so shocking you just want to run away and put it out of your mind. And it certainly didn’t help that Noel and Knoller were lawsuit-happy everything-is-someone-else’s-fault lawyers. It sounds like they’d be happier suing someone for suggesting their dogs needed training than actually paying for the training such dogs needed to be socialized to an urban environment. Noel and Knoller couldn’t–and it’s implied that maybe they also wouldn’t–control their dogs, but when the dogs went wild and killed someone, they were surprised, even though no one else was.
Luckily, the vast majority of San Francisco dog owners are more responsible than that, so I feel comfortable with the dogs there, even when they’re off-leash. I suppose if more dog owners were like Noel and Knoller, San Francisco wouldn’t have off-leash areas at all.