Ben White’s nightly routine includes a game of fetch with his dog “Wally” at Little Italy’s Amici Park. On any given night, he is joined by dozens of other dog lovers and their four-legged companions, but despite future plans to make it a sanctioned dog park, Amici Park is not yet approved for off-leash activity.
“I know it’s technically a leashed park, but it’s just like the speed limit. I mean, nobody goes 65,” said White.
But not everyone shares his nonchalant attitude. San Diego County’s Department of Animal Services considers off-leash dogs at parks a growing problem, and the department’s records reflect their concern.
NBC 7 analyzed data provided by the county and found citations for off-leash dogs reached a two-year high in March 2015 with 42 violations.
See the map below to find out how many citations were given in your zip code from April 1, 2013, to March 31, 2015, as well as the location of the county’s dog parks.
According to Animal Services Deputy Director Dan SeSousa, the officers will target parks with heavy enforcement when they receive complaints about specific locations, but it is a hard rule to enforce.
“The people move to different parks or just come back,” said Desousa. He told NBC 7 dog owners at Kate Sessions Park on Mount Soledad even had a system: Someone would keep a lookout for officers and blow a whistle to alert off-leash dog owners if an officer showed up.
San Diegans who have been going “off leash” for years say they’ve noticed increased enforcement.
“We see animal control show up a little more often than not, and we sometimes drop the leash. It’s like ‘Oh, sorry they’re off the leash. They ran away from me,’” said Jerine Rosato who takes her dog to Pioneer Park in Mission Hills.
Pioneer Park, like many of the parks in question, has no barrier between the fields where dogs play and the playground where kids play, creating tension.
Bormaey Sinkovic said he sees the need to protect kids from unfamiliar dogs. He recalled a particularly heated exchange between a parent and dog owner after an off-leash dog licked a toddler.
“That’s a big no no with some parents, and it just gets ugly from there,” said Sinkovic.
Animal Services estimates there are at least a half million dogs in San Diego County, and dog owners complain about the number of available dog parks.
In the city of San Diego, there isn’t a single park east of Interstate 15. In downtown San Diego, where condo towers continue to rise and new parks for people get built, the only approved dog park is in Balboa Park.
Some people think more neighborhood parks should have areas fenced off specifically for dogs.
“It would be so nice if they could just enclose some small area where they could be off-leash because that’s when they’re the happiest you know, when they’re off-leash,” said Gloria Hardcastle-Taylor, who lives near Pantoja Park in downtown San Diego.
She has noticed that animal services officers have started citing people for letting go of their dogs.
Efforts to coexist are controversial too. The city of Poway is looking into allowing dogs to use the enclosed softball field at Silverset Park during weekday mornings, but neighbors worry about health concerns.
“As a parent I would never let my kids play where dogs have been defecating and urinating,” said Dianna Garcia.