Why do I need to walk my dog on a leash in San Francisco?

First, a disclaimer: I almost always walk my dogs on a leash in San Francisco. The only exception to walking on a leash is when we are going from our garage to a car parked within a few feet or when going from the car parked at Pet Camp into the building. Other than that, even though I trust my dogs to behave, well I trust at least one of them to behave, they walk on a leash.
But why is keeping your dog on a leash so important? There is the obvious answer that it is San Francisco law. Section 41.12(a) “Duties of Owners or Guardians,” of the San Francisco Health Code states that “It shall be unlawful for the owner or guardian of any animal, other than a domestic cat, to permit said animal to run at large within the City and County…” Section 41 of the Code defines “at large” as “any dog off the premises of its owners or guardians and not under restraint by a leash, rope or chain of not more than eight (8) feet in length…”  Hmm, does that mean all those flexi-leashes are illegal in San Francisco?  But I digress.

In addition to the law, there are some practical reasons for leashing even the most well-behaved dog. Here are some of the reasons my dogs and I face every day:

  • Other dogs: no kidding, not every dog is as amazing as yours and you just don’t want some of them to interact with your dog.
  • Other people: sadly, it’s not just dogs that you need to pay attention to – there are some San Franciscans you also probably don’t want your dog to interact with.
  • San Francisco’s Streets: Have you seen all the stuff on our streets? For years it was “just” garbage, trash, needles, human feces and other disgusting stuff.  Today, with curbside eating and drinking on almost every street, there is the added attraction of left-over food on tables and dropped food all over the sidewalk. Your dog’s “off” or “leave-it” command might be good – but is it that good?
  • Other animals: Coyotes get all the press coverage (they are so Wile E.), but there are raccoons (the dog almost always comes out worse) and skunks (the pet parent always comes out worse).
  • San Francisco Drivers: there’s a reason that seven years later and only 3 years left for completion that “Vision Zero” remains more myth than reality.

So, there you have it. There are both legal and practical reasons to walk your dog on a leash in San Francisco. Yes, the odds of San Francisco Animal Care & Control enforcing the leash law against a dog off leash but under voice control may not be very high, but the pragmatic reasons for leash control still exist.
Thanks for reading.