A Man, His Service Dog, and a Parks and Rec Officer

  • Ginger

My ten-year-old service dog Ginger and I exited the car recently at a quiet local park. She was at my 9:00 heel position as we walked the 20 feet to our regular shaded spot that we have been coming to for almost a decade.

This is a “dog leash required” park, so I attached the leash to Ginger. I began to set the blanket and then pulled out her favorite chew toy, a tennis ball. Many years prior, the tennis ball was Ginger’s favorite fetch toy; however, an ACL tendon tear rendered her unable to chase balls. But, happiness is maintained by her love of chewing on it like a big piece of bubble gum.

As I began to sit and enjoy my Sunday lunch of an MXN burrito, 20 feet away, I saw a San Diego Parks and Rec vehicle start. As it came toward us, the officer pulled alongside our picnic area, put down his MXN burrito, and rolled down the window. I was going to humorously compare similar lunch tastes when he said, “You are required to have your dog leashed and under your control at all times.” He seemed frustrated. I quizzically looked over at him and pointed out, “The dog is on a leash.”

“You are required to maintain control of your dog at all times,” he responded. “I see by the tennis ball in your hand that it is your intent to throw the ball.”

“Strictly conjecture,” I retorted. “This dog has had ACL surgery and is unable to chase the tennis ball. I would be pleased to provide you with radiographs to prove that, if you like. As a treat, she gets to chew on it while I enjoy my lunch here at this beautiful park. Did the dog appear to be out of my control at any time?” I posed the question with an attitude, matching his.

“Perhaps you can debate that with the judge if I write you a citation,” the city worker said. “I saw you get out of your car; your dog was unleashed. You are required to have your dog leashed at all times.”

“I understand, and that is why the dog has a leash on now. The dog was never out of my control, and your accusation of my intent of letting the dog chase the tennis ball is strictly your own biased opinion without fact.” I was becoming annoyed.

“You need to maintain control of your dog at all times,” he repeated again.

“I do that!,” I exclaimed. “This dog is a service dog and is under my control at all times.”

“You have papers to prove that?,” he asked with a challenging attitude.

“As a matter of fact I do…here!” I whipped out the service-dog credentials and presented them to him.

“I don’t know what is going on with people this weekend and why everyone is displaying such an attitude,” he groused. “What am I looking at?” He peered down at the credentials.

“She is a service dog and has served the last eight years volunteering at various facilities. She has more volunteer time than most humans,” I said with arms crossed.

“And how am I to know that, and how does that excuse you to have your dog off leash and out of your control?”

“The point is that the dog is a service dog and was therefore never out of my control. She obviously has her leash on now and had it on way before you started driving up to harass me. Perhaps it is your verbal delivery method that bodes your question about people’s recent demeanor.”

I realized no pleasant end to this discussion would ensue if I continued. Despite my temptation to challenge the officer and get cited in order to make a media circus out of the event, my martial arts training guided me to “just walk away,” which I did.

As a service-dog handler, I am aware of and fully support the leash laws of San Diego. Too many times I see the lax attitude of canine owners allowing their dogs running amok in parks that are not designated as “dog parks.” I believe it is unsafe and unsanitary.

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"Looks" like a certain Parks and Rec officer needs additional training.

Unfortuantely some pet owners do create a problem by putting an internet purchased vest on their pet and taking them out into public as a "service dog". Those of us with certified and well-trained and handled service animals then have to put up with nonsense and ignorance as demonstrated by the "officer".

Mindy, why are your comments many times so hurtful? Does your oft-stated hatred of the Reader extend to its readers/commenters by association?

What gave me that idea? Well, here's one from last week that does not conjure up many warm images: "And don't worry, darling, I only read the Reader if I'm standing in line to use the restroom." And then you post on nearly every article you see (your energy level is indeed impressive). So which is it? If I had the time (moreover the inclination), I could cite several examples from the past 2 years or so in which you malign both the Reader and much of its staff. And G-d help new bloggers. We get it, ok? You've become boringly and repetitively predictable.

Oops. I somehow forgot to insert the word "insufferable" in my previous post. Normal-weighted Babe (RIP) says "bite me", by the way. - The Wise Ol' Guy...

Personal experience, perhaps? Oh, by the way, when you send another user a personal e-mail that includes profanity, the Reader converts it to symbols, as in %$#@&. So I was unable to ascertain the full extent of your meaning in your message to me last night: "Who do you think you are? You don't own the web site. If you don't like the comments, stay off. Web admin should have cut you off years ago. You are rude and nasty, and as my mother would say, you have no breeding." Don't know if you're aware of this. Hope this helps.

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 113903: "“Service animal” means an animal such as a guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability." Do you see the word "owner" in there? Nope. If the animal is trained to provide assistance to any "individual" it is a service dog per California law. Emotional therapy is a legally recognized therapy, e.g., dogs for veterans who suffer only from PTSD. Please educate yourself before you post nasty comments. By the way, miniature horses now qualify as well.

Mindy, you are a little harsh here. The dog was only of leash as they existed the car, and then leashed - so IMO that is legit.

Me, I think you should have put those martial artists skills to good use and taken the low life out!

The longer I live the more I am dismayed at the stupid scurrilous scumbags we hire to "enforce" our laws. Since when is a leash required to keep a dog in control? As a matter of fact I have seen more than one unruly dog strong enough to overwhelm the person holding the leash, and leashes and collars too insecure to be trusted. People need to learn how to get their animals to respect them as pack leaders. And pack leaders don't need leashes.

Leashes are a way to control a dog, and I have seen many dogs get so excited at whatever, that they won't respond to verbal commands, and if a fight breaks out you can completely forget about verbal commands.

I think the better question, Mindy, is what will YOU do?

As an act of good faith, I forwarded the unedited version of the above to SD Park and Rec (which included the time, date and park). I received an email back the next day saying that the incident would be investigated and "appropriate actions" would be taken. I was quite impressed that they actually received, read and responded to the incident. My compliments to Park & Recs for their rapid and caring response.

Also a sincere thanks go out to the supporters of this article. Please feel free to check out my other write ups on samuraijim.yelp.com (being a foodie trained under Naomi Wise, the articles there are about food).

As an act of good faith, I forwarded the unedited version of the above to SD Park and Rec (which included the time, date and park). I received an email back the next day saying that the incident would be investigated and "appropriate actions" would be taken.

That is gov code for saying we wont do jack shit. They're the gov, unaccountable to anyone!

Why in God's name did you "[whip] out the service dog credentials and show them to him" instead of educating him? I'm sure you know that under federal law, proof that a dog is a service animal isn't required but he obviously didn't. You could have said something like, "Well, legally, I don't have to carry anything to prove that she is; I'm sorry you don't know that. You can ask if my dog is a service animal and what she is trained to do to help me, though. Would you like me to tell you?"

Then you confused the issue by mentioning that your dog has done volunteer work. It's great that your service dog also does therapy dog work. My miniature schnoodle is so wonderful with children that I'm planning to get him certified as a therapy dog so we can volunteer at Rady's Children's Hospital. But you'd identified your dog as a service dog, NOT a therapy dog, and while you and I know they aren't the same at all, it's entirely possible that the officer didn't. So, you not only set up service dog teams following in your wake for access challenges that include the expectation that the handler carries credentials of some kind, but you've misinformed someone about what service dogs do by mentioning something totally irrelevant.

Please understand, I agree wholeheartedly that the officer was being a pissant. But instead of using confrontational language, why didn't you just reply, "Oh, I can see how you'd think that, but she blew an ACL, so her days of chasing this thing are over. She just chews on it now." No, you had to address him like a defense attorney. People in authority typically don't like being talked down to because, in most instances, it plays on the inferiority complex that motivated them to get jobs that give them authority. Handling this situation as you did increases the likelihood that this guy will now dislike service dog handlers on sight because he'll assume we're all disrespectful smartasses. I'm sorry he spoiled your lunch, but I think your spoiling the park for other service dog teams was just as bad.

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