Heiress Pushes to Add Some Bite to City's Leash Laws
By JIM CARLTON
Hotel heiress Marion Cope is trying to keep one of San Francisco's most exclusive neighborhoods from going to the dogs.
Mrs. Cope, a resident in the city's Nob Hill area, and others in the vicinity have complained for years about unleashed dogs disturbing Huntington Park, which lies in the shadow of the tony Huntington Hotel that Mrs. Cope's late husband controlled. On Nov. 11, the 74-year-old Mrs. Cope was attacked by unleashed dogs as she walked her leashed Irish terrier, Clancy. Signs say dogs must remain on leashes, but Mrs. Cope and many other residents say the laws are ignored.
Huntington Park in Nob Hill has a grassy area popular with nearby dog owners as well as a playground.
From her hospital bed where she recuperated from a 10-inch wound to her right leg, Mrs. Cope decided to fight back. Using her BlackBerry, she wrote an email to the neighborhood Nob Hill Association chastising dog owners for allowing their animals to run unleashed.
"The park has become a nightmare of unleashed dogs and just plain scary at night," she wrote on Nov. 21 to association president David Lefkowitz after she had gone back to the hospital to deal with complications from the dog attack.
Mr. Lefkowitz read Mrs. Cope's email at the association's Nov. 23 meeting, at which representatives of the police and fire departments as well as San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu expressed "a sincere and dedicated effort to solving this problem," Mr. Lefkowitz emailed back to Mrs. Cope.
Since then, the issue of unleashed dogs has become one of the most heated issues in Nob Hill, a wealthy area that is home to iconic institutions including the Fairmont Hotel and the Pacific-Union Club. Behind the scenes, activists who say they have long asked the city to enforce leash laws have ratcheted up pressure on City Hall by emailing city officials and taking videos of unleashed dogs.
But supporters of off-leash areas call the complaints overblown and Mrs. Cope's high-profile injury an isolated incident. "We have never had that problem," says Jana Holm, 60, a real-estate stager walking her two cocker spaniels in Huntington Park recently. "We all feel bad about her bite, but our little dogs didn't bite her."
Earlier this year, off-leash backers gathered 500 signatures in a petition to establish "timed" use of Huntington Park for off-leash dogs, a proposal opposed by the Nob Hill Association.
The Huntington Park dogfight is the latest chapter in the long-running debate over on-leash versus off-leash dogs. With more dogs than children in the city by some estimates, dog owners often lock horns with petless residents in San Francisco's 219 parks.
Although there are about 20 official unleashed areas in the city, park officials say it is difficult to enforce leash laws in the other parks partly due to limited resources. The city normally has only two park patrol officers on duty to police leash violations, says Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the Recreation and Park Department. And the San Francisco Police Department says its main jurisdiction is protecting the public from "vicious and dangerous" dogs.
Recreation and park officials say they have stepped up their patrols of Huntington Park, while Mr. Chiu -- who also serves as president of the Board of Supervisors -- helped organize a community forum scheduled for Jan. 28 at nearby Grace Cathedral.
"We all just need to sit together in a room and see if there are any solutions that can lead to peaceful co-existence," says Mr. Chiu.
Mrs. Cope, formerly from New York City, moved into Nob Hill's Brocklebank Apartments in 1967. In 1989, she married Newton Cope, who ran Nob Hill Properties Inc., which owned the Huntington Hotel. When he died in 2005, Mr. Cope was chairman and majority shareholder of Nob Hill Properties, a private firm controlled by his family.
Since Nov. 11, when Mrs. Cope says she was charged by four unleashed dogs after she stopped in Huntington Park to drop a doggie waste bag into the trash, she says she has continued fighting off-leash dogs by contacting activists such as Simon Ireland, a soccer coach who intensified his crusade against off-leash dogs after the attack. "I am pressuring everybody!" Mr. Ireland said in a Dec. 4 email to Mrs. Cope.
"I don't want anyone ever to go through this," Mrs. Cope, who has had to undergo skin grafts, says of why she became an on-leash activist. "This is a total disfigurement of my leg forever."
Thursday, December 17, 2009
A Mauled Heiress Fights Back in San Fran
From today's Wall Street Journal:
Posted by credo-ny at 9:11 PM