Suppose it’s Sunday afternoon of a sleepy day and your dog is on your lawn dozing in the lambent sun. Does the Animal Regulation Officer have the right to invade your front patio and impound your dog? Or. suppose your dog, as it occasionally does, visits the house next door where it is harmlessly frisking with a fellow pup on your neighbor’s lawn. Can the “dog catcher” haul both of these animals to the Central Animal Shelter at 1104 Azusa St., San Diego? The answer to both of these is a resounding YES.
In the good old doggie days, any animal on its own property was considered safe from the stern arm of the law. But the county ordinance passed in November, 1973 and adopted by the city in March 1974, made puppy love and dog dreams on any unfenced area a misdemeanor. City Ordinance 11267, effective as of April 6, 1974, has turned harmless moments of freedom into the veritable “dog's life.’’ The new ordinance states that dogs must be in a fenced area at all times, or restrained by a leash if not in a fenced area.
The impetus for this seemingly harsh law, particularly in quiet suburban areas where licensed, vaccinated pets had free run of their own property, was due to the number of bites reported to the Animal Shelter. There were and are about 3 calls a day from the Post Office, complaining that mailmen have been bitten. Calls from the general public about bites inflicted on parties conducting legal business on property where the dog is unrestrained, or on the sidewalk adjacent to it, vary from 10 to 100 calls a day. According to Dave Boyd, district supervisor at the Shelter, there are rarely less than 300 to 350 bites reported a month.
Because of its proximity to Mexico where wild animals (skunks, coyotes, foxes) as well as domestic animals are more rabid than in areas of the United States, San Diego County has been designated by the State Board of Health as a rabies area. The cry for a tougher dog law came from the general public—not from dog owners. The County and City ordinances were approved by the Animal Health and Regulatory Committee, the County Board of Supervisors, several dog and kennel clubs, and the City Council. And Mr. Boyd has statistics to prove that the new law is effective.
In the month November-December 1973, 1800 dogs were impounded. A year later, November 16 to December 13, 1974, 1264 dogs found themselves scooped up by animal regulation officers and brought to :he shelter. Of these, 393 were recovered by their owners, 94 found . adoptions, 47 went to medical research—the rest, 730, had to be put to sleep.
What happens if your dog strays from your fenced yard and is “busted”? Sixteen field officers
(dog catchers) are employed by the city. Of these, 9 work on any given day, 7 days a week, with the hours staggered from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Two officers are on duty after 5 to handle reports of severely injured or vicious animals.) Two deposits are made daily, one about noon, the other after 5 p.m. If your dog is licensed, you will be contacted by phone or in writing, and you have 5 working days (not including Saturday, Sunday, or holidays), to redeem your dog. The fee is $5 plus a dollar for each additional day. If this is a first offense, you also post bail for $15. Unlicensed dogs have only 3 working days to be redeemed before being put up for adoption or put to sleep. (Mutts are kept 24 hours and pedigreed dogs one week after the time they should be redeemed before being put to sleep.)
Ocean Beach, Point Loma, and Southeast San Diego (area south of Highway 94) have the greatest number of unrestrained dogs. But the percent of redemption to impoundment remains the same throughout the city regardless of economic class. In other words, it’s not the money or lack of it that keeps owners from retrieving their impounded dogs. Often people from the poorest economic areas will pick up “mutts” faster than owners of pedigreed dogs.
First offenders have an easy time of it, because they can post the $15 bail. But if your dog is a second offender, you have to show up at the San Diego Municipal Court at 220 West Broadway and appear before the judge.
I had to do so a few weeks ago. My dog is a collie, one of the sweetest and dumbest animals alive. When she heard the shouts of another dog who was being busted, she leaped over a low part of the retaining wall on our property and was off like a shot to join what she thought was fun. Freddy, who is known in our neighborhood as Reynard the Fox for his ability to escape, made off in the ensuing melee. But Luba, our collie, whose name means LOVE in Russian, waited passively by for the officer to arrest her. The scene of the crime proved to the the sidewalk on the house next to ours.
Since this happened to be a second offense (she had been picked up on the front step two months before), we had to appear before the judge. This killed several hours of a designated afternoon. We had to wait with traffic violators, petty thieves, drunken drivers. You have the right to plead guilty or not. Since our dog had leaped the fence, we pled guilty. Result: a firm reprimand and a stiff fine of $50, twenty of which was suspended “until the next time.” Two other dog owners suffered similar fates.. They didn’t even have the feebleness of their dogs’ brains as consolations. They were wild, fuming that they were treated like “criminals”.
Dog owners find the new ordinance oppressive. If you are working in your garage and your dog is with you, though not restrained by a' leash, you are liable to impoundment. Irate owners have found their tempers at boiling point because the officers may invade private property if they see an unrestrained animal. Though Mr. Boyd has advised his officers not to go after dogs on their own property who are with a responsible party though not restrained by a leash, there are always over-zealous officials who interpret the law with absolute literal mindedness. This has generated a great deal of bad feelings.
Outraged dog owners, who often resist the arrest of their dogs on their own property, frequently make threats to the officers, or to the district supervisor. Some have threatened to meet the officers after work and “punch them out”; others have threatened the safety of their families. Some owners have been furious enough to suggest that even shooting wouldn't be good enough for dog catchers. About two months ago. a man trying to protect his dog from impoundment lost his cool and struck the dog catcher several heated blows. Outcome: he was booked in the county jail.
The Animal Shelter serves functions other than seeming to harass neighborhood dogs on cul de sac streets in quiet areas. It runs a clinic where you can have your female dog spayed by licensed veterinarians for about half the cost of a private doctor. Mr. Boyd deplored the practice of “backyard breeding" where people allow their dogs to have puppies for the sake of a learning experience for children. These puppies can’t be placed and an “unbelievable number” have to be put to sleep. The ideal of a zero population for dogs is more mythical than it is for humans—even the reduced license rates for spayed females ($5 a year versus $10 for an unspayed female) has not been sufficient inducement.
The Humane Society on Sherman Street is privately funded; the county facility utilizes city funds. Dogs are available at Azusa Street for adoption and you may have your animal vaccinated and licensed there as well . But if your dog takes it into its mind to as much as sniff at a bush on your sidewalk when not on a leash, and the animal officer is in sight watch out you'll be off to the dogs.
- IMPORTANT PHONE NUMBERS FOR DOG OWNERS
- General information on vaccination (a recording) 297-3708
- If you suspect your dog is impounded 297-4763
- For emergencies after hours (county radio) 278-9760
- Animal control officer 297-0722