South Park's Grape Street off-leash dog park became a risky place to have a dog off-leash on Wednesday morning, April 22. When the park opened for the day at 10 a.m., a team of law-enforcement officers were on hand to write tickets for off-leash and unlicensed dogs, issuing additional warnings to several other dog owners.
The coordinated leash-and-license check involved a team of two SD police officers, a county Animal Services official, and a ranger from the city's Parks & Recreation Department. A witness arriving at 11 a.m. said additional police cars and officers had arrived. She described "a row of cops, animal control, and park rangers lined up on the fence" at the park entrance. Twelve citations were issued over the course of about three hours, mostly for dogs being off-leash in the roughly ten-yard walk between the park entrance and its two-block strip of parking lot on the west side of 28th Street.
The uniformed officers targeted people walking between their cars and the park, including a couple that witnesses say received three citations — one for each of three dogs exiting their vehicle without a leash. Other dog owners inside the park with their pets were cited for being unable to produce a dog license issued by the county's Animal Services department — proof that their dogs were up to date on rabies vaccinations.
Additionally, the Animal Services official carried a handheld scanner and used it to check a number of dogs for an embedded microchip, a popular technology used to identify dogs and their owners' addresses. Microchips are not required by law. SDPD sources say their objective was "to scan the dogs that did not have their licenses on them to confirm their status." A number of people present said they were asked by police to show proof of ID or witnessed police ask someone else in their presence.
Proof of a dog’s license may be requested for a dog in public places, and a leash is required outside defined park bounds — both are listed among a set of rules posted at the entrance to the dog park.
First-time offense for off-leash violation incurs a fine that adds up to roughly $205 — a base $50 bail, plus approximately $155 in penalties tacked on by county and state legislation. A similar fine for failure to show proof of license may be waived by showing proof of license to the court.
However, these rules are not routinely enforced with such a showy effort. An officer was seen onsite Monday and Tuesday (April 20 and 21) to issue warnings to some park-goers, though several dog owners present for Wednesday's sweep said they were caught off guard and that the presence of so many officers raised tensions, even among those who weren't targeted.
"They were clamping down all of a sudden and being very indiscriminate,” said a professional dog walker and park regular. "People were nervous."
"People were sketched," added another.
The timing of the sweep seems geared to appease neighbors of the park — specifically, residents of a row of ten homes situated across the street, facing the parking strip.
A statement from SDPD media relations read, "Residents living across from the park have voiced their concerns over the years regarding dogs running lose [sic] in the area and into their yards…. Recently, two residents sent an email to the City asking for help with getting the users of the park to comply with the rules."
The statement also mentioned that the officer on site Monday "Saw dogs running from the park to and from cars and saw at least two dogs running across the street into residents' yards."
There's a documented history of acrimony between dog-park supporters and some residents of the homes along 28th Street, culminating in a 2004 city-council vote wherein the park's off-leash status ultimately prevailed. Still, a representative of councilman Todd Gloria's office says it continues to receive "regular complaints from some Grape Street Park neighbors."
One park regular concedes dogs enter these yards "once in a while," but suggested it has more to do with dogs escaping the park than people walking to and from cars. As another park-goer noted, "I think the bigger problem is dogs leaving the park because of the lack of a fence." The five-acre park has only partial fencing, giving dogs the opportunity to leave the designated off-leash area in pursuit of cats, squirrels, or other dogs.