Unleashed

A brutal dog attack in Nob Hill has revived the city's battle over canine control. Here's why it's going to get worse.

Julian confirmed that he had wrapped Cope's wound, which he did not think was caused by a dog. "I have to say — and this is very important — as bad as the wound was, I didn't think it was a dog bite. There were no puncture marks. There were no teeth marks. It was a flap of skin," he recalled. "Whether I saved her life ..." He shrugged. "Anyone else would have done the same thing."

On the whole, the park's patrons gave off a faint but undeniable air of enigma and obfuscation. "People know more than they're saying," said SFPD Officer John Denny, who is investigating the attack. Herndon, his boss, said several suspect dogs, including Frank, would be summoned to a Vicious and Dangerous Dog hearing — commonly known as "dog court" — on Feb. 4. "Bottom line: If those dogs had been on a leash, this wouldn't have happened," Denny said.

The scene at Huntington Park offered a revealing portrait of San Francisco dog factionalism. After meeting the likes of Mandel and Julian, it's no surprise that politicians have trouble dealing with a special interest as eccentric and emotionally complex as the dog lobby. "We're not crazy," Stephens of SFDOG insisted during an interview with SF Weekly. It was clearly a point she had felt compelled to make before.


Nob Hill resident Marion Cope says she was attacked by off-leash dogs in November.
Peter McCollough
Nob Hill resident Marion Cope says she was attacked by off-leash dogs in November.
The gash in Cope’s leg became infected and required surgery.
Peter McCollough
The gash in Cope’s leg became infected and required surgery.

Despite public officials' generally poor track record managing the anxieties of dog partisans, Chiu, having enmeshed himself in the concerns of Huntington Park, is seeking to broker a compromise. On Jan. 28, he plans to convene a meeting of neighborhood residents. "I have called for a community forum," he said. "What I'm looking for are peaceful solutions." Such as? "I've had dozens of conversations trying to solicit a creative idea that will allow for peaceful coexistence," Chiu said. "And I'm still looking for it."

Cope, who underwent surgery several weeks after the attack, said she has begun to recover, albeit slowly. "I have a huge cavern in my leg, but I have my leg," she said. "I won't be able to play golf for some time. I can walk." On top of her medical travails — her surgery was briefly postponed because of infection to the wound — Cope said her unwanted central role in the city's venomous dog politics has not been pleasant. "This is just too awful, and I've just had too much," she said.

What of the bigger picture? Is there any hope of imposing a lasting peace among San Francisco's dog warriors, and preempting the battles that will accompany the potential squeezing of thousands of animals from federal to city land?

As public officials seek a model for a workable dog policy, they could do worse than to take a look at Duboce Park. Until a few years ago, this slim strip of lawn that slopes downhill from West Portal was a nightmare of off-leash dogs, frightened children, and enraged parents, all battling for unconditional conquest of their neighborhood park.

Then something changed. In one of those rare political alignments that heralds progress on any divisive social issue, the moderates on both sides hashed out a deal to make Duboce Park welcoming to everyone. Together, they drafted a park-renovation proposal that established a large off-leash dog area, demarcated by bollards and chains; a hillside where only on-leash pooches would be permitted; and a dog-free lawn and playground accessible only to children and parents. An appeal to Supervisor Bevan Dufty secured political support and funding for the project.

Completed in 2008, the renovation has not been an unalloyed success. David Troup, a dog owner who partnered with those seeking stricter leash laws to plan Duboce Park's partition, said that when the park opened, enterprising vandals — who he suspects were from the off-leash dog camp — managed to break some of the iron bollards (no easy feat) that limited the formerly unfettered pets. There are still tensions between park users who follow the rules and those who don't.

"A successful compromise is one in which everyone is equally unhappy," said Troup, owner of Chino, an easygoing shar-pei mix, during a recent stroll through the renovated park. "A couple years down the line, I think the unhappiness has faded and everyone has realized this is something we can live with."

Not all live with it happily. As Troup walked across a grassy hillside, a pair of small, off-leash dogs rushed up to the leashed Chino, causing him to startle and yank his owner off-balance. The dogs' master, a tall man in plaid shorts, glared at Troup through a pair of shades, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

"This is actually an on-leash area up here," Troup said.

"I'm aware of that," the man replied. "Fuck you."

Troup shook his head as he walked away — reminded, once again, that some old dog warriors never lay down their arms. "Most people, if they know the rules, they try to follow them," he said. "There's going to be assholes."

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