Commentary: Are HB City Council Members Doggone Hypocrites?

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

If coyotes can no longer prowl our city streets and parks for fresh cat and people meat with impunity, why should dogs be allowed to?

In fact, a city ordinance requires out-and-about dogs to be on a hand held leash six-feet or less in length.

The ordinance is clearly posted in every city park, but maybe a lot of dog owners don’t read. Whenever I walk Sappy, my small but ornery Mini Pin, to the local city park, he is usually the only dog on a leash.

Ten or more dogs are often frolicking about—always without leashes—but usually doing nothing more offensive than mutual butt sniffing. Sometimes, however, you find out why the city’s leash law should be enforced, as I did on two memorable occasions.

The first incident was several years ago. I rode my bike on the street that circles the park when a large unleashed Doberman ran for me at full speed, like a wolf chasing a caribou. I barely escaped.

Are our city parks going to the dogs? Photo: Surf City Voice

The dog’s owner sat on a park bench watching, but did nothing to stop her dog. What would have happened if one of my young children had been on that bike instead of me?

I called the police and the dispatcher said to call Animal Control, which I did, but AC said that it was unlikely that an officer would arrive on time to deal with the dog and its owner.

My next dangerous dog encounter was about two months ago while I was walking Sappy, on his leash, at the park.

Sappy gets very irritated by frisky puppies or larger dogs. Usually, he snarls a bit at the other dog and it goes away or I just lead him the other way by his leash and everything is fine.

But this time two very large and powerful pit bulls, probably well over 100 pounds each, which ran free with leashes dangling behind them, didn’t like the idea of being shooed away by an upstart Mini Pin a fraction of their size.

The two pit bulls growled at Sappy and began chasing him; Sappy snarled back, but they kept after him.

Fearing a full blown attack at any moment, I struggled to drag Sappy out of harm’s way by his leash. But the pit bulls kept following him as I desperately dragged him around in circles. Then I lifted him by his leash, which attaches to a body harness, and swung him in the air, again in circles, in order to avoid the pit bulls.

I grabbed Sappy in my arms but the larger of the two pit bulls jumped for him. I stepped onto a park but the pit bull followed. I pushed the large dog back to the ground, but it jumped back repeatedly.

Caught in the middle of a dog squabble, I was in as much danger of being mained by two very powerful pit bulls as was my dog.

I pleaded with the dogs’ owner to take control of them, but she seemed to find the incident more humorous than dangerous and took her time in doing so. Scolding her, I reminded her of the leash law. Then—I could hardly believe it—she scolded me for having an aggressive dog that I could not control.

That blew my lid off; so, again, I called the police.

Dogs wander freely in a local park, in violation of the city's leash law. Photo: Surf City Voice

Quickly, the pit bull lady put her dogs into the back of her pick-up truck and sped off before the police could arrive. Several other people leashed their dogs and also left in a flash. It looked like the U.S. Border Patrol or the DEA had arrived.

The last person to leaving the park, with her tiny terrier now on a leash, yelled at me, “There you go. Now you can have the whole park to yourself,” as if I had selfishly ruined everyone’s day.

Well, I didn’t want to spoil anybody’s dog-day-afternoon, including my own. I know that most of the dogs in the park probably don’t need to be on a leash, but the exceptions can be dangerous.

More important, our city parks are for everyone. Nobody should have to fear for their safety in any public park, whether from coyotes or dangerous dogs and their irresponsible owners.

If two dog parks and a huge dog beach don’t provide enough areas where dogs and their owners can run freely in our city, maybe the city council needs to look for solutions.

As noted in two previous Surf City Voice articles, there is a coyote problem in our city, but dogs are still a much greater threat to public safety.

So, I wonder if the same city council members who loudly boasted to angry residents that they would protect their children from marauding coyotes, which, by the way, have yet to bite a single city resident, will just as boldly do something about enforcing leash laws, not to mention looking into the 2,026 aggressive stray dogs, 602 dog vs. dog attacks and 2,626 animal bites, none of them by coyotes, that were reported to the HBPD last year.

Don’t count on it.

Judging from its reaction to the public mob that formed two years ago, when mandatory spay and neutering was proposed by Councilmember Keith Bohr, and from Councilmember Joe Carchio’s quick withdrawal of his proposal to crack down on people who feed coyotes after he received a few angry e-mails, it’s doubtful that this city council has the guts to discipline irresponsible pet owners.

Still, I challenge the city council, specifically members Don Hansen and Devin Dwyer, who pounded their chests at the city’s March 16 coyote study session, to look for solutions for the entire issue of canine control, including spaying and neutering (stray dogs mixing with coyotes = stronger, more dangerous predators), with as much urgency as they have brought to solving the coyote problem.

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