A woman talks on the phone while walking her dog along the Mission Bay Park path during a beautiful sunset. THOMAS MELVILLE / BEACH & BAY PRESS
Swari hangs out in the shade of the seawall on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach with his owner Robert, of La Mesa. THOMAS MELVILLE / BEACH & BAY PRESS
Walking the dog around Mission Bay Park on a sunny San Diego day seems like a perfect way to enjoy life at the beach. But parading your puppy on the promenade could put a pinch in your pocketbook.
Turns out, Mission Bay is the most common spot where dog owners receive tickets for walking the pooch in the park. Dogs are prohibited from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (see sidebar) and a lot of people learn that law the hard way.
According to stats compiled by the City, from 2015 to 2017, of 553 citations handed out to dog walkers in San Diego, nearly half – 256 – were issued in Mission Bay Park, with its 24 shoreline miles and 27 parks.
The nation’s largest man-made aquatic park, Mission Bay features an abundance of paths including a 19-mile, full-bay loop connecting several neighborhoods, perfect for long walks with your four-legged friend.
Balboa Park was runner-up to Mission Bay with 145 dog-walking citations in two years. Ocean Beach was a distant third with 84. Fourth- and fifth-place went, respectively, to Kate Sessions Park, 42, and La Jolla Cove/Shores, 26.
Citations were for numerous causes including dogs off-leash and walking in prohibited areas. Some Mission Bay Park areas allow dogs on-leash only. Others, like Fiesta Island, are leash-free. Some areas do not allow dogs at all.
City guidelines for legal dog-walking may seem strict to some. Service animals aside, it’s illegal to walk dogs during the day at all city beaches, which extends to all of Mission Bay, including all boardwalks, grassy parks and paved paths. The only two exceptions are Ocean Beach Dog Park and Fiesta Island, designated off-leash areas.
The dog-walking prohibition in most San Diego public parks and beaches is not new. It’s been in place for 30 years due to public complaints about dogs threatening safety. Prime time for people being out in the City’s beaches and parks is daytime. Hence, the diurnal dog-walking restriction.
Of course, no one enjoys being ticketed for anything, dog walking included. The Beach & Bay Press solicited accounts from beachfront residents concerning how, where, and why they received canine-walking citations.
“I had put my [mini schnauzer] in the front basket of my bicycle riding with my daughter,” said PB resident JD. “A ranger stopped me on foot and said I could not pass through with a dog, even in the basket. She was close to giving me a ticket, but gave me a warning. I’m mad. My daughter thinks we can’t go places with our dog in a bicycle basket.”
Cori Meara bought a bike called a school bus to accommodate their old Basset Hound. “Last April, we were stopped by a park ranger who wrote us a ticket for being on the boardwalk during non-dog hours. We told her our dog was technically not on the boardwalk, but inside a bike. She said it didn’t matter. The ticket was $280!”
“I think the regulations around times you can walk your dog are crazy,” said Angela Rowe of PB Plaza. “Walking your dog by the beach is illegal until after 6 p.m. starting April 1. The city should encourage exercising. Instead, it penalizes dog owners.”
From the “other” side, Devin, a trauma center employee, and PB father of two young girls, said, “Leash and dog laws exist to protect both the dog and the public.”
Citing one example, Devin said: “It is the illegal off-leash use that makes the Kate Sessions’ hill unsafe for young children. I already know the owner doesn't mind breaking the law. How likely is [the dog] to bite? Knock over my daughter? Obey? Now add another five or 30-plus illegally off-leash dogs. It makes for a stressful, miserable time.”
Devin added that PB has a lot of legal dog-walking/running spots such as Capehart and Fiesta Island (89 acres) where off-leash is legal.
Karen and Eric in PB agreed.
“The laws are posted and people just disregard them,” the couple emailed. “We [runners] have a child who was bitten by a dog, and we intentionally go out to the parks, beaches and walkways when dogs are not supposed to be there. Every single time we go out people are disregarding the laws.”
PB resident Steve Kovack says he sees more serious violations than dog walkers along the beach and bay – such as alcohol use, smoking, and littering – with no enforcement.
“I was given a warning on a weekday afternoon for walking my dog at Paradise Point, with no one else in sight,” Kovack said. “Along with the warning, I was provided a copy of the Mission Bay Park rules and regulations, of which there are 19 mentioned. How many tickets are issued to dog owners versus citations for violating many of the other rules?”
“Thankfully, I have not received a ticket for walking our well-behaved service dog, however, I do agree with those who would like to see another separate area for dogs to play in Crown Point (instead of the elementary school),” said PB resident Melissa Pratchard.
“I love the suggestion about using the dirt and grass area at the opening of the bay, off Crown Point Drive and Lamont Street, as a dog area,” Pratchard said. “Our dogs, just like our children, need places to play.”
What are the City rules and regs for walking the dog?
Q: What are the laws governing walking dogs along the coast?
A: Dogs are not allowed on the beach and in park areas between the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Nov. 1- March 31 and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April 1 to Oct. 31. The area includes beaches, bays, parks, cliffs, sidewalks, boardwalks, piers and adjacent parking lots. This also includes having a dog in a crate, purse and a bike carrier/basket. (Service dogs are exempt from the law. Emotional-support dogs are not covered under ADA, so they are not exempt from the law.)
• All dogs must be leashed at all times unless it is a dog park like Fiesta Island in Mission Bay or Dog Beach/Dusty Rhodes in Ocean Beach.
• You must pick up after your dog.
• The leash cannot be more than eight feet long.
• The leash must be attached to a person.
Q: When, where, is it legal to walk pooches along the bayfront?
A: Before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m. from Nov. 1 to March 31 and before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. April 1 to Oct. 31. Dogs are allowed anytime at designated dog parks including Fiesta Island, Dog Beach and Dusty Rhodes.
Q: What are the most common infractions? What are the penalties for those infractions?
A: Most common infractions include dogs off leash, dogs in the park during the restricted hours, and not picking up after dogs.
Regarding penalties, these laws are considered “wobblers” and can be cited as either an infraction or a misdemeanor and include a notice to appear in court. The judge ultimately decides the amount of the fine, but fines typically start at about $250 per violation.
Q: Who enforces dog-walking regulations?
A: A number of agencies can enforce regulations, including San Diego Park Rangers, County Animal Control, San Diego Police Department and San Diego Lifeguards.