If you are a dog-lover, San Francisco is the right place for you. For almost the past two decades, the dog population has been increasing to the point where there are more dogs than minors in the City. Recent U.S. census figures stated that there were over 118,000 minors in San Francisco, whereas the dog population, according to a separate estimate, placed their number at approximately 232,000. Some analysts claim that the most obvious reason for this “phenomenon” is that many people choose to own a dog rather than have a child. This is partly because of the high cost of living in general, including daycare, private schools, food, etc.
The large population of dogs, as well as their owners, can lead to some positive as well as negative situations. The latter include irresponsible dog owners who do not clean up after their dogs, do not keep them under control in public, and/or using parks and public spaces not designated for dogs, which often leads to other problems. For example, some people will complain, and the situation will escalate. This often happened to me with my dogs, even though they were sweet and not aggressive. Sometimes you get people telling you that parks are for kids and not people and so on. Since the nearest dog park to your home may be far, you may not have a choice other than accessing the local green space. It would be best if you were cautious.
Now let’s talk about the positive side of dog ownership in San Francisco. There are actually numerous dog parks, dog runs within parks, and certain beaches designated for dogs. You may need to drive to get there, but since the City is not that big area-wise, it is usually a short drive. Following is a partial list of available dog recreation areas, which are my personal top three favorites:
- Bernal Hill: not only did I meet my partner here almost 16 years ago, while each one was walking his respective dog, but it is also an extensive area with great views of the City. The off-leash dog area encompasses approximately 26 areas and has limited parking, but you can usually find a spot.
- McLaren Park: though a bit out of the way, this park has some great qualities. At 312+ acres, it is the third-largest park in San Francisco after Golden Gate and the Presidio. Therefore, tons of hiking paths, meadows, grassy areas, and even a pond with ducks. Also, there is plenty of parking, and it is terribly underutilized, which can be a benefit. You can spend a few hours there and even have a picnic.
- Fort Funston: whether you have a water dog or not, your pooch will enjoy all the sandy areas and beaches around here. However, if you do have a water dog or a dog that enjoys swimming, the waves are not too strong, plus there are some shallow areas where your best friend can splash around. Also, there is usually parking available off of Skyline Boulevard just south of the Lake Merced entrance.
As far as life outside of dog parks is concerned, there are shops and even restaurants that allow your dog to accompany you. Still, businesses are not as permissive about this as European cities tend to be if you use Europe as a reference point. Still, San Francisco is a lot more flexible than other U.S. or even Bay Area cities. You need to check and see on a business-by-business basis. However, restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating usually allow dogs.
Finally, what if you don’t currently have a pet and are looking for one? As a former adoptive dog owner of the SPCA, I am a staunch advocate of shelter adoption. In San Francisco, the two largest shelters are the San Francisco SPCA and the Animal Control Center. Both are located a block or two from each other, and the former has a no-kill policy. Therefore, you may want to go to Animal Control first and see if there is a dog right for you since these dogs will not be there for a long time. That said, both locations have lots of dogs that need a home and have a very professional approach to pet adoption. They ask the right questions; counsel you on the right pet to adopt, in case you have kids, for example, and provide follow-up care for a limited time. In other words, you can go back to them and get free veterinary care for a few months to make sure your new pet stays healthy.
Additionally, there are several other non-profit rescue centers in San Francisco and nearby Bay Area cities. One such rescue center that I am familiar with and know they do good work is www.rocketdogrescue.org. They rescue, foster, and, ultimately, seek permanent adoptions for all kinds of dogs. And some of these dogs have unfortunate histories behind them and need caring and responsible owners. It is worth checking them out. There is another well-organized rescue center area-wide called www.labrescue.org. As you can tell by the name, they specialize in labs (Golden, Black, Lab mix, etc.) They have a large network of volunteers and are very professional and responsible. Definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of Labradors.