Noe Valley Voice November 1999

Rec and Park Tries Out a Fenced Dog Run at Upper Noe

By Heidi Anderson

For the past year, the city has been tangled in a battle between snarling parents and yelping dog owners over the use of the athletic field at Upper Noe Recreation Center. Now, like King Solomon, it has offered to divide the park.

Last month, the Recreation and Park Department announced a plan for a fenced-in dog run at the back of the playing field (also called Day Street Park).

Rec and Park acting chief Joel Robinson presented the plan at an Oct. 13 meeting attended by about 75 park neighbors. He displayed a map of the field showing the fenced area beginning behind the baseball diamond backstop on the 30th Street side and running all the way across to Day Street. The dog run would be about 30 feet wide by 200 feet long.

The fence, like the "home-run" fence put up during Little League games to catch runaway baseballs, would be portable and put up and brought down each day by the Upper Noe staff. Dogs would enter and leave the area via the park gate on 30th Street near Church.

Under the plan, people could exercise their dogs off-leash only during certain hours of the day, such as 6 to 9 in the morning and 6 to 9 at night. During that time -- and perhaps at all times (this issue is still up in the air) -- the rest of the field would be off limits to dogs. "We want a distinct run for the dogs so that we can allow athletic and dog recreation without them commingling," Robinson said.

He explained that park officials had recently conducted a test at a similar park in Eureka Valley. There they let the dogs have free rein of the entire field for certain hours each day. Problem was, the foot and paw traffic damaged a wide area of turf. "From our experience, we know we will lose the Upper Noe field if dogs get to use all of it off-leash."

The Upper Noe dog run would be set up on a three-month trial basis, shortly after the field is resodded this fall. (The resodding is scheduled to begin in November.) After the three-month test, the city would hold a neighborhood meeting to evaluate the results.

"We are looking to serve the total community," Robinson stressed. "This is just an experiment."

Some Sniff, Some Wag Their Tails

Still, reactions to the plan were mixed.

Lewis Loeven, who has been active in a group called Day Park Dogs, thinks "any proposal that accommodates the entire community has to be seriously considered."

But Joby Shinoff, a Church Street resident and dog owner who's also in the group, is worried about the potential to ban dogs elsewhere on the field. "This plan is unworkable," he said. "It's wrong because we may not have a way for people to be at the park with their dogs on-leash during other hours."

(Shinoff had earlier submitted a petition with 500 signatures asking for off-leash hours on the open field, from 6 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. daily.)

Noe Valley resident Patti Moran, who works as a dog trainer, considers the size of the dog run to be a flaw. "That dog run is not big enough for a dog to actually run in," she said.

Moran is also concerned that dogs going in and out of the narrow gate might get into spats. "Dogs greet each other in a side arch, sniffing and not making eye contact. The head-on greeting here would force dogs to use improper body language."

Other pet owners complained about the dog run's location, pointing out that the area behind the backstop is often muddy and that trash and broken glass could endanger the animals.

But neighbor Joan Kelly, who brings her children to the park, gave the plan a thumbs-up. "We have a health problem when dogs and humans both use the same field," she said.

Duncan Street resident Georgia Schuttish, who also brings her kids to play at Upper Noe, backs the proposal, too. "Dog owners have had a free ride on that field for four or five years, and this is a way to protect taxpayer money for the upkeep of the athletic field," Schuttish claimed. (She noted that she had collected 500 signatures on her own petition, asking that the leash law remain in effect at all times.)

And the park staff is enthusiastic. Calling the dog run idea "terrific," Upper Noe Park Director Chris Borg said she'd let her Tiny Tots children play on the field more, once the fence is in place. She also said she'd monitor the situation daily and make sure the park staff cleaned up behind the backstop.

In answer to other dog owner complaints, Robinson said he'd entertain a suggestion to build a second entrance at the opposite end of the run. He'd also consider changing the location. "I admit the dog run is small." Still, he hopes the neighborhood pet owners will give it a go.

"I understand this solution is not perfect," he said. "I'm asking your indulgence for three months."

Joel Robinson's office later advised the Voice that two more meetings would take place on the dog run -- one right before the fence goes up, to discuss the exact rules, and another three months later to evaluate the test. Both meetings will be announced via signs posted at Upper Noe Rec Center. In the meantime, the park staff has put down a chalk line showing where the fence will be. If you have questions or comments, call Becky Ballinger of Rec and Park at 831-2783.