Noe Valley Voice September 2008

Dogs Flip Over Joby's Run

By Corrie M. Anders

"My husband would have been really thrilled," says Holly Shinoff about Noe Valley's spiffy new hangout for dog owners and their pets. "It's getting a lot of use, and he'd be really happy with it."

Shinoff is the wife of the late John "Joby" Shinoff. Joby, who died nine months ago, was instrumental in getting the city's Recreation and Park Department to build an improved off-leash dog play area as part of a major renovation at Upper Noe Recreation Center.

To honor his memory, Joby's friends and neighbors asked the city to christen the exercise yard the Joby Shinoff Dog Run. With Holly Shinoff attending the event, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission approved the designation at its July 17 meeting. (The new name will be officially recognized during rec center reopening festivities on Saturday, Sept. 6, starting at 11 a.m.)

The lighted dog run has hosted doggie social hours every day since it reopened in mid-July. On one recent morning, two Bernese mountain dogs, a bichon frisé, a golden retriever, a German shepherd, and a half-dozen mixed breeds tussled, sniffed trees, and romped along the run.

"I love it," said Valley Street resident Marjorie Knettle, while keeping a close eye on Buzz, her 1-year-old bichon. "I haven't missed a single day since it opened."

The enclosed dog run, located at the northeast corner of the park, can now be accessed from Day Street as well as the original 30th Street entrance. The run was configured on a corner, allowing pets to romp in either direction along a narrow band of 200 feet of sandy gravel.

New fencing separates the run from the park's freshly sodded softball field, the tennis court, and the gym and children's play areas. The facility also includes benches and water fountains for both pets and owners.

The rec department didn't allow dogs on the field a decade ago, though many owners showed up with their pets anyway. That included Joby Shinoff, a longtime Church Street resident, and his new pup, Lily, a yellow labrador retriever now 9 years old.

"We just took the dog out there and we got 86ed," says Holly Shinoff. "There were some neighbors who wanted to use the park exclusively without dogs."

In 2000, the city gave in to the pleas of dog owners and approved a temporary run. Shinoff then led a petition drive that garnered more than 500 signatures seeking a permanent space for dogs to roam off leash.

In later years, and after numerous meetings, Rec and Park agreed to enhance and enlarge the old run. The city "has a policy that a dog run needs 10,000 square feet, minimum. So we had to extend it to meet that policy," says renovation project manager Keith Kawamura.

Although the dog run was completed in early summer, at first it wasn't scheduled to be reopened until renovation of the entire park was finished (see story, page 1). Frustrated dog owners complained to Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who interceded to allow dogs to use the run immediately.

"I made a very strong push with the recreation department to get the dog park opened," says Dufty. "I've heard nothing but universal praise for the dog play area."

Both the city and pet owners have taken steps to mitigate the chance that the gathering of canines becomes a noisy or messy nuisance. Signs posted around the run caution owners to keep aggressive dogs on leash, pick up and remove waste, and keep their animals off the athletic field.

The Rec and Park Department also wants to limit its use to daytime hours. "We're trying to move to sunrise to sunset hours of operations," says Marianne Bertuccelli, a neighborhood services manager. "After dark, there's not a lot of good stuff that happens in the park."

However, the city already has committed to keep the run open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to Neil Mosher, who has "three small rescue mutts" and was Shinoff's colleague on the dog run campaign.

"They spent a ton of money on lights" so that residents could exercise their animals before they head off to work and after work in the evenings, says Mosher. Those hours are particularly beneficial "in the winter when people come home at six, and it's dark," he says.

Joby Shinoff never got the chance to visit the new dog run he inspired. The 60-year-old Shinoff died Nov. 19, of complications from multiple myeloma.

Holly Shinoff, however, makes the visit with Lily. "I go at least once a day--sometimes twice a day," she says. "I've been meeting a lot of new dogs."