Dogs and Democracy

Lars Poulsen - 1997-11-

I'm usually too busy with work, church and computers to be very active in local government, but recently I got all steamed up when I felt my lifestyle threatened. I got so steamed up that I sent a letter to every member of the city council, with copies to our local newspapers. The "big" local paper printed the whole letter on the Sunday editorial page under a 4-column banner headline "Leash law will alienate people, not solve problems". (Santa Barbara News-Press, Sunday November 2nd, 1997)

I got two calls from the mayor, a letter from a council member on the ordinance committee, and lots of contacts from other dog-owners in town. Most importantly, I have not seen the dog-catcher on my beach since ...

The whole experience renewed my faith in "the system". It works, at least at the local level.

Animal Control Enforcement at Arroyo Burro Beach

Every Saturday and Sunday morning, my beagle and I walk for a good hour on Arroyo Burro Beach. We have been doing this for 3 years now, and we both enjoy the exercise, and the beagle enjoys the opportunity to get off the leash and sniff and play with the other dogs for a while.

This morning, we were stopped by two uniformed officers; I believe one carried a Santa Barbara Police badge, and the other a City Parks Department uniform. They were friendly and polite to both the beagle and myself, while they informed me that after a brief warning period, the SB City Parks department intends to start issuing citations for any off-leash dogs seen anywhere on the beach. They tell me that this new enforcement policy is directed by the Santa Barbara city council. With elections coming up, I would like to confirm the truth of this claim.

For at least the last 3 years, the enforcement policy has been stable and rational: The county parks department enforced a strictly interpreted leash law within the boundaries of the county park, extending about 200-300 feet to both sides of the parking lot, leaving the remaining beach available for responsible dog owners to exercise their pets off leash. This policy makes good sense: It allows for a zone where families with toddlers can safely let little ones romp around with minimal risk of getting jumped on by playful dogs or encountering animal waste, while still allowing a more free regime further out. I would like to see this policy brought back; I have seen no problems at Arroyo Burro Beach that would not be solved by strict application of this policy.

In general, I prefer to see minimal regulation strictly enforced, rather than overly broad regulation enforced laxly. I do understand that a "leash" law is easier to enforce than a "control and clean up" law, and it appears that in many cases a "leash" law is on the book with the intent to enforce "control and clean up" by issuing citations against the leash law violations only when problems are actually demonstrated. I can live with that. But in this case it appears possible that problems of too lax enforcement within the county park are attempted to be compensated by too strict enforcement elsewhere. This will alienate a lot of people without solving any problems. This enforcement patrol could more productively be used for example to educate visitors to the Douglas Family Preserve to keep their dogs on leash while walking between their cars and the reserve on neighborhood streets (News Press story today, 10/25). I would appreciate it if you could let me know before the election:

Despite my general disenchantment with single-issue political pressure groups, I am inclined to take this as an indication that there is a real need for the Dog-PAC, and send them a check …

Respectfully yours,

Lars Poulsen
125 South Ontare Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

October 25th, 1997
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