One dusky June evening, a woman was reportedly jogging with her small, off-leash dog deep in Glen Canyon Park when a coyote snatched the pooch in its jaws and ran off. When Animal Care and Control responded, they couldn't find the jogger, or what remained of her dog.
In response, Recreation and Park Department police handed out a rash of citations in the park, where it's illegal to take dogs off leash, said department spokeswoman Connie Chan. But many who visit Glen Canyon's untamed trails say they want the freedom to let their pets run free – and risk the consequences.
"I think it's ridiculous for well-behaved dogs to get ticketed," says Dan Balsam, a Glen Park resident who was handed a $118 citation in June for letting his terrier, Cosette, off leash. Cosette was so ill she couldn't run. "Yes, it's a shame that a dog got killed by a coyote. But everyone has been off-leash in that park. It seems like an overreaction." He's fighting the ticket.
In 2007, two coyotes in Golden Gate Park were "dispatched" — that's police-speak for killed — by U.S. Department of Agriculture officers after the canids allegedly attacked a pair of leashed dogs.
Since then, ACC has gotten wise to the ways of coyotes, says Lt. Le Ellis Brown. "Now, that's not how we handle wildlife. Dispatching a coyote is a last resort."
Coyotes are naturally curious and protective of their dens, particularly during the April-to-August pupping season. Each time a coyote report comes in, Brown investigates whether the coyote's behavior is "acceptable." Following or chasing an off-leash dog near a den? Acceptable. Approaching an on-leash dog on the sidewalk? Not acceptable.
Tales of dog-coyote meet-ups are numerous. Jason Spain was walking his basenjis in Glen Canyon one foggy evening when he heard his dog, Jungle Jane, running with another dog. "When I turned around, I saw she was engaging with a coyote," he says. "It wasn't threatening, wasn't growling or lunging. She was playing with it. I called her off, we leashed and left."
Like many Glen Canyon regulars, Spain prefers to take his dogs off leash so they can sniff, wander, and get more exercise. He also likes the coyotes. "When I walk into that park, I understand I'm taking a risk. And I'm okay with that," he says.
ACC, on the other hand, isn't okay with that — particularly after a recent video emerged, showing a dog owner in Glen Canyon letting an off-leash rottweiler chase and taunt the coyotes. "We felt citing dog owners was in their best interest," Brown says. "You guys are putting your dogs, yourselves, and the coyotes in harm's way."