By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
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By Leif Haven
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By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
A few months ago, in the warren of back yards that stretches east from our third-floor rear window, my wife heard a chorus of yawps, yells, barks, and laughs unlike any previous commotion in our ordinarily quiet neighborhood. She stepped out onto our steel balcony and saw five or so residents of the halfway house four doors down from us standing on their back porch, hollering and pointing at two dogs, which were scooting around in the grass, humping.
"It was kind of perverse, as everyone seemed to be reveling in the sexual act between the two dogs," my wife recalls. "But I had to laugh, too. I couldn't control myself."
It doesn't have to be this way. In my day there were parks, riverbeds, alleyways, and railway beds where dogs could meet, hook up, and make love obscured from the embarrassing gaze of human beings.
Sadly, in San Francisco, spaces of this sort are off limits to animal love, thanks to a blue law in the city's Health Code that says it's illegal for animals to "breed on public property," excepting places such as the University of California at San Francisco hospital, where researchers may spawn rats, monkeys, and whatnot.
You can imagine my pleasure, therefore, when I noticed a package of legislation on last week's Board of Supervisors agenda aimed at improving the lives of San Francisco dogs. I was happier still when the package passed Tuesday, a story that was picked up by more than a hundred newspapers around the country, which reported on the seemingly ultrahumane, generous provisions of the new law that require owners to provide doghouses complete with blankets and raised floors for their pets.
And I was ecstatic when I learned the dog-law package was sponsored by Supervisor Bevan Dufty, ordinarily an open-minded person when it comes to issues regarding sexual freedom.
It turns out, however, that Dufty's supposed dog sop is not really very humane at all, as it leaves the anti-humping statute on the books.
"Personally, I think it is a good law," said Carl Friedman, director of San Francisco's Department of Animal Care and Control, to whom Dufty's office referred me for comment on the new dog "rights" laws. The anti-humping law, Friedman said, "should stay on the books."
Advocates for the homeless and other less-fortunates often bring up animal rights laws such as Dufty's to illustrate society's mistreatment of fellow humans.
But when it comes to the yen to socialize, to form romantic relationships, and to love -- to satisfy life's most basic desires -- dogs suffer a level of discrimination worse than any human not residing in a penal colony. In San Francisco, large swaths of public land in Golden Gate Park, Buena Vista Park, and elsewhere are practically off-limits to most citizens because they're packed with people looking for -- and having -- sex in public. This creeps out and drives off people interested in other activities. Police walked around the northwestern part of Golden Gate Park a few years ago handing out fliers suggesting that people fornicate elsewhere. But the public-sex enthusiasts have long since returned, even though there are plenty of other places for humans to mingle, meet, and have sex.
For dogs, however, public parks and byways are the only real place for making and consummating new relationships. Action for animals, in other words, ordinarily requires meeting on government land.
I called the Bay Area branch of Action for Animals to ask about this deprivation of animal action rights.
"On the grand scale of things, I think it doesn't matter," director Eric Mills said of the supposed dog-rights improvements that don't include relaxing the public-sex ban. "The world is going to hell in a handbasket. At least the dogs are doing a little better now."
It seems that for Mills, action doesn't mean "action" at all, but refers to advocating against abuses such as those occurring daily at live-animal food markets in Chinatown.
A call to DogPac, the S.F. political action committee that advocates for dog rights, went unreturned.
Sensing no outrage from the animal rights community, I decided to directly confront Friedman, the man responsible for enforcing the dog anti-sex laws.
The first thing I wanted to know was whether the vague, no-"breed" ban prohibits all forms of dog sexual expression, some of which even the worst anti- animal-sex prude would have to admit are harmless.
"Dogs will hump your leg. I would not consider that a violation of Section 41.12 of the city Health Code," noted Friedman, a man of wealth, taste, and sophistication who would only allow me to quote him if I promised to say something nice about the Department of Animal Care and Control. "I should turn you over to the City Attorney's Office. But I think that, to be in violation of the law, the animals should be in the process of copulation."
"In my mind, there has to be penetration," Friedman explained. "But there's the question of how many counts would be involved in a particular incident, to which I don't have an answer."
As it turns out, Friedman couldn't recall ever having given out a citation for dog sex, though he's been involved in S.F. animal law enforcement for more than 30 years.