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Unleashed Fury: The Political Struggle for Dog-friendly Parks

Julie Walsh
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    Unleashed Fury
    Book Description:

    The question of whether dogs should be allowed off the leash in public places has become a major political issue in cities and suburbs across the United States. In the last two decades, “leash-law disputes” have burst upon the political scene and have been debated with an intensity usually reserved for such hot-button issues as abortion and gun rights. This book investigates what has changed in American community life, social mores, and the relationship between humans and dogs to provoke such passionate responses. At its heart, the book details and evaluates the handling of three leash-law disputes, all of which were exceedingly divisive and emotionally intense. Two of the cases took place in San Francisco, a city with a reputation as one of the most dog-friendly in the United States until 2001–2002, when officials curtailed off-leash walking. The other case study occurred in 1998 in Avon—a wealthy suburb of Hartford, Connecticut,—when town officials unilaterally imposed a leash law at a popular off-leash park. This book is not only a revealing study of Americans’ conflicted attitudes toward animals and the difficult balance between individual rights and the public good in our communities. It is also a useful source of information for both dog owners and local government officials who are faced with leash-law disagreements.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-187-5
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Chapter I Why are Dog Walkers so Mad?
    (pp. 1-12)

    In town and city council meetings all over the United States, citizens have been debating leash laws for dogs with an intensity usually reserved for such hot-button issues as abortion or gun rights. As with those issues, positions are passionately held, opponents are often demonized, and compromises appear difficult to obtain. Typically, dog walkers far outnumber leashing advocates at these meetings, and it is their fury that the media highlights. To the casual observer, dog walkers seem to have lost perspective and to be inexplicably furious. What the casual observer does not know, however, is the story behind that anger....

  2. Chapter II What is Behind the Sudden Clamor for Leash Laws?
    (pp. 13-26)

    Leash laws are a relatively recent phenomenon. In most places, they did not appear on the books until the second half of the twentieth century. Further still, it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that these laws were seriously enforced on a wide scale. That enforcement is what precipitated so much controversy. To be sure, laws prohibiting roaming dogs date back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States. Grounded in fears of rabies in an age before vaccinations, those laws focused on the unsupervised, free-roaming dog who could also annoy people by...

  3. Chapter III The Inevitable Turn to Politics
    (pp. 27-42)

    As leash laws have been more routinely enforced, dog walkers have had no choice but to turn to the political arena for help. That turn has sparked political conflicts in every region of the country and involved local, state, and national governments. While it is beyond the scope of this work to provide an exhaustive listing of these disputes, a brief review of selected conflicts demonstrates both their breadth and intensity. Clearly, these conflicts have become a national phenomenon and as such, present a challenge to public officials. In some cases, these officials have risen to the challenge and negotiated...

  4. Chapter IV The Land of Steady Habits? Avon, Connecticut
    (pp. 43-72)

    In the “Land of Steady Habits” otherwise known as Connecticut, there is no more quintessentially steadier town than Avon. It was there that a piece of property, for a time, came to be known as “dog heaven.” Fisher Meadows won this designation because it was not only leash-free, but contained a body of water complete with small beachheads, a wooded trail that ran along the Farmington River, and lots of friendly people and dogs. Over time, it becametheplace to walk dogs for those who lived in Avon and its surrounding towns. For hundreds of people, a trip to...

  5. Chapter V San Francisco: The Patron Saint of Animals
    (pp. 73-100)

    Named for the patron saint of animals, Frances of Assisi, San Francisco is indeed home to animal lovers of all kinds. Even the leashing controversies in this city often pit one form of animal lover against another. There is no question, though, that dog lovers abound in this area. As one reporter explained, “Nobody beats San Francisco when it comes to doting on dogs. It’s a city with luxury dog hotels, rooftop dog cocktail parties, …” and more dogs than children!¹ It is no wonder, then, that at one time, San Francisco was rated the best city in the United...

  6. Chapter VI San Francisco’s Eastern Front: Dog Walkers versus Bureaucracy
    (pp. 101-130)

    Since dog walkers must succeed in the NPS’s rulemaking process to retain off-leash areas in the GGNRA, that process has taken center stage in their fight. As we will see, though, there are dog walkers who lament this fact and they do so with good reason. Since we are following dog walkers in their war, even if they are headed toward an ambush, it is to this rulemaking process that we now turn. As a part of the Department of the Interior, the NPS is a component of the executive branch (the federal bureaucracy). Agencies of the executive branch are...

  7. Chapter VII All is not Quiet on the Western Front: San Francisco’s City Politics
    (pp. 131-156)

    The leashing issue in San Francisco’s city politics has been every bit as controversial, if not more so, as it has been at the GGNRA. While the national government owns about half of the city’s parkland, the city controls most of the remainder. In the late 1990s, the leashing issue at the city parks, many of which are small neighborhood areas, burst onto the political scene. One reporter noted that in her almost two decades of covering San Francisco City Hall, “the debate over whether dogs can be off-leash or on-leash has been by far the most contentious issue…. More...

  8. Chapter VIII Conclusion
    (pp. 157-166)

    The case studies of Avon, the GGNRA, and the city of San Francisco should concern both participatory and minimalist democrats. The results should also alarm off-leash advocates, as it is clear that even in San Francisco, the one-time best city for dogs, their interests are not quite as equal as everyone else’s. At the least, dog walkers in populated areas should be put on notice that they might find themselves on the defensive. However, the news is not all bad, as off-leash dog walkers have been able to claim significant accomplishments in the forms of dog parks and official recognition....