UC Berkeley bans off-leash dogs, cites biting incidents

No more off-leash fun for dogs on the Cal campus now that the university has said owners must keep their four-legged friends on leash. Photo: John Goode
Two dogs having some off-leash fun in an unidentified location. UC Berkeley says owners must keep their four-legged friends on leash on the university campus from now on. Photo: John Goode

For the first time since 1968, UC Berkeley has banned dog owners from walking their dogs without a leash on the Cal campus, according to the university.

Citing “a number” of incidents of “dog-related fights, including one where “a service dog was threatened by an off-leash dog,” the new policy aims to prevent future episodes, and allow service dogs to do their jobs without distraction, UC spokeswoman Claire Holmes said in an emailed statement. The new policy, which also is “more aligned with the Berkeley Municipal Code for dogs,” went into effect Aug. 1.

Holmes’ statement said there have been seven dog biting incidents since Jan. 1, 2015, but, in a follow-up email, said she was not able to make details of the incidents available by publication time (for example, the number that involved off-leash dogs).

UC Berkeley disability compliance officer Derek Coates also expressed concern after being “confronted by a number of dogs who were off-leash while on campus,” and said that he “contacted and worked with UCPD to require that dogs on campus be leashed.”


In a voicemail message, UC Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Sabrina Reich echoed the safety concerns.

A beagle on leash at UC Berkeley's Memorial Glade. Photo Wikimedia Commons
A beagle on leash at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Glade — showing how it needs to be done in future. Photo: ©BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons

The last time the university changed its policy was 48 years ago.

News of the change in policy has frustrated dog owners who regularly use the campus grounds for their dogs to enjoy off-leash time.

One observer said,:”I always kept the secret that the UC Berkeley campus [was] the best off-leash dog park in the East Bay.”

Reacting to the news, The Bark editor in chief Claudia Kawczynska said: “It’s ironic because there have been so many research projects, some of which of come out of UC Berkeley, about the health benefits of walking dogs.” “It’s very difficult to do on-leash, which does not provide the same amount of exercise for the dog or person.”


The Bark was founded in 1997 as a newsletter that advocated for off-leash dog parks in Berkeley, and has since expanded to a national publication.

Kawczynska lamented that the University didn’t conduct more community outreach before unilaterally implementing a new policy. She said that potential compromises could have included restricting off-leash walks to hours and days when campus is not busy, and there are numerous examples around the nation where such an approach has been successful.

She also pushed back on the university’s statistics, and said, “What do the reports actually say? What are the incidents? Are they dog on dog? I would question what is in those reports.”

Banning off-leash walks from campus also makes it more difficult for dog owners not living close to the Berkeley Marina — since, according to Kawczynska, the only other dog park in the city is closed at the moment. Construction work began on Ohlone Dog Park projects in June and will take approximately four months to complete, according to the city website.

“It’s a haul to go down to the Marina twice a day, if you’re a responsible dog person,” she said.


Though dog owners and advocates say walking a dog off-leash is the responsibility of the owner, and most owners take that responsibility seriously, making sure their dog is under voice control, there have been past alleged incidents that have occurred outside university grounds that can raise alarm bells about unleashed dogs. In August 2015, Berkeleyside reported on a North Berkeley couple who tied the body of a fawn to a fence to raise awareness about its killing which they believe was caused by an off-leash dog.

But such incidents are rare.

Elsewhere around the Bay, the issue of off-leash (and on-leash) dog privileges has become a hotly debated topic for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Run by the federal government, the GGNRA has taken steps to make significant changes to areas where off-leash and on-leash walking is permitted. In response, a group of citizens has raised more than $30,000 for a legal-defense fund to halt the proposed changes to the dog regulations.

UC Berkeley’s new ruling does not apply to off-leash dog areas on university-owned property such as the Strawberry Canyon fire trail.

Related:
Berkeley couple takes death of fawn into their own hands (08.28.15)
Berkeley dog owners ask city to mow foxtails at Cesar Chavez park (07.01.14)
Do Berkeley dog owners need to be put on a leash? (02.10.12)

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