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The Most Common Places Dog Owners Are Ticketed In San Diego

A sign in Mission Bay explains when dogs are not allowed, March 9, 2018.

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: A sign in Mission Bay explains when dogs are not allowed, March 9, 2018.

Mission Bay’s paved path that loops around the water for more than 10 miles is an ideal spot to walk, run, or bike — but not so much for man's best friend.

Dogs, even on a leash, are not allowed there from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter and until 6 p.m. in the summer. Some San Diegans are surprised to learn this and may be even more stunned to receive a ticket for $200 or $300.

Dog Citations in San Diego 2015-2017

A map of all dog citations given out in San Diego from 2015 to 2017.

From 2015 to 2017, the city gave out more than 600 citations to people breaking some dog-related rule. Just under half of all citations went to dog owners in Mission Bay, according to a KPBS analysis of city data. Those citations include off-leash violations and walking dogs in areas where they are prohibited.

A list of the most common places to get a dog citation is shown in this undated image.

The second-highest ticket spot was Balboa Park, with 145 off-leash citations. The city also gave 84 citations in Ocean Beach and fewer than 50 each in Kate Sessions Park, La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores. Those citations were also a mix of off-leash violations and having dogs in locations where they are banned.

With the exception of service animals, dogs are barred from all city beaches during the daytime, aside from designated areas such as the Ocean Beach dog park and Fiesta Island. The dog beach ban also extends to all of Mission Bay, including the boardwalk, grass parks and paved paths that may seem enticing to pet owners.

Photo caption: Vanessa Barrera and her dog Annie rest after a run on the path around Mission...

Photo by Claire Trageser

Vanessa Barrera and her dog Annie rest after a run on the path around Mission Bay, March 9, 2018.

This was news to Vanessa Barrera, who was jogging on a recent late morning with her dog Annie along the Mission Bay path. Barrera owns Unleashed Dog Fitness, a pet exercise service, but said she was unaware of the rule against dogs.

"I did not know that, nope," Barrera said. She also said she had not noticed a city sign right next to her that spelled out the ban.

Another dog owner, Amy Bjornson, said she was familiar with the rules but did not think the city enforced them. Until last April, when she was stopped by a park ranger while with her dog Skyler at Mission Bay's De Anza Cove.

"The lady told me 'You need to get out of here with your dog. There's no dogs allowed here,'" Bjornson said. "She was a little aggressive about it. I kind of felt like I was a criminal."

Bjornson received a ticket originally for more than $200, but a judge ultimately reduced it. Bjornson said she and Skyler now go to dog-friendly Fiesta Island, but said the rule makes it hard for her to find a place to bring her whole family, which includes Skyler.

Photo caption: Amy Bjornson and her dog Skyler play at Fiesta Island dog park, March 16, 2018.

Photo by Claire Trageser

Amy Bjornson and her dog Skyler play at Fiesta Island dog park, March 16, 2018.

"A lot of us are living in apartments, and we don't have yards, so there's not a lot of places for dogs to roam," Bjornson said. "If we go out for the day, we're going somewhere where my dog can come with us, the kids can come, we can have a picnic, we can throw the ball."

But Karolynn Estrada, a city of San Diego senior park ranger who oversees Mission Bay, said there is a reason for the ban.

"We look at the most populated times that people are out in the beach and park areas and try to make it a safe environment for everybody that maybe don't like dogs or don't want to be around dogs," she said.

Despite Mission Bay’s 24 miles of shoreline and 27 parks, Estrada said it is too crowded on weekends to make room for lots of dogs.

"If there's a party of 100 people and another party of 20 people, before you know it you have hardly any grass area available or any sand available," she said.

Estrada said the dog ban has been in place for about 30 years, and it started from community complaints. Still, she said rangers do not immediately write a citation when they observe a dog-related violation. Instead, Estrada said, they aim to educate dog owners about the rules. Those who say they did not know about the restrictions will be let go with a warning, but those who say they knew the rules will get a ticket, she said.

"Or if the dog was not as behaved as it maybe should be," Estrada said.

To reduce the $200 to $300 fines that come with a citation, Mission Bay offenders can complete four hours of community service and attend a beach area community court, which is a Thursday evening community meeting.

"They can listen to police officers, a city attorney, a nurse and myself explain why these rules and regulations are affecting the community," Estrada said.

Another dog owner at Mission Beach, Keith Culver, said following the rules is easy. He walks his dog Josie right up to the edge of Fanuel Street Park, which sits on the Mission Bay path.

"We don't go on the beach," Culver said. "I'll come down here, take a picture, check out the beautiful sunset and then just go back up and go away."

Possibly saving himself hundreds of dollars in the process.

The city of San Diego gave out more than 600 citations to dog owners from 2015 to 2017. Almost half of those were received at the same location.

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