Heel, NIMBY: Dogs on Dog Turf Operate Beyond the Leash of the Law

The barking usually starts around 6 in the morning and sometimes doesn't stop until almost 10 at night. The chorus carries up from the Douglass Dog Park in Noe Valley and into the open windows of nearby apartments. Overlooking the park from a perch on Diamond Heights Boulevard, Victor Gilbert sits in his living room trying to block out the sound of dogs.

“It's like living on a loudspeaker,” he says.

Gilbert, 72 years old and retired, has lived in this home for 25 years. For most of that time, it was a quiet spot, just how he liked it.

But that tranquility was shattered, he says, when the city sanctioned the upper portion of Douglass Park — the area just below his window — as an official off-leash dog park in 2003.

“There were rules and they changed it,” says Gilbert. “There's no concern for those of us who live here.”

Dogs are ubiquitous in San Francisco; more dogs than kids here, goes the joke. Naturally, given the city's tight living confines, off-leash dog parks pop up all over town — more than 20 in all, each one bringing various levels of noise.

In a sense, dog parks serve as loopholes within the city's noise regulations, where all that separates legal noise from illegal noise is a fence. If a dog is barking continuously for 10 minutes outside the park, a resident could call the police, file a complaint, and an officer could write up a citation for the dog's owner. But as long as dogs are within the sanctioned zone, there's nothing a resident can do. Of course, while those fences are able to keep noise regulations out, they can't keep the noises in. It's not a state prison, but for Gilbert it's still a Not In My Backyard kind of situation.

“Unfortunately, we live in an urban environment and, generally speaking, residents will have to deal with a lot of different type of noises in a park,” says Connie Chan, deputy director of public affairs for the Recreation and Park Department. “We all are learning how to cope and how to share our space.”

In the city, certain types of noise are to be expected. Mechanical hums in SOMA and Bayview; drunken shouting in the Mission and Lower Haight; honks and engines around Civic Center; and constant barking beside dog parks in residential neighborhoods. Enduring those sounds becomes a sacrifice of city living, alongside $72 parking tickets and Embarcadero traffic.

Those like Gilbert, however, just want their quiet back.

Tags: , , , ,

Related Stories