We know how to keep pit bulls on a leash, but homeless campers aren’t going to like it

Dog threats concern cyclists and other users of American River Parkway

Illegal camping on the American River Parkway has brought garbage, fires and other problems. Add to the list: dog attacks.
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Illegal camping on the American River Parkway has brought garbage, fires and other problems. Add to the list: dog attacks.

For every cyclist and runner who avoids the American River Parkway west of Sacramento State, what happened to Gabriel Frazee is a powerful reason to keep it up.

His story of “bleeding like a stuck pig” could’ve been anyone’s story. But it was Frazee who was riding his bike on the parkway last month when two pit bulls ambushed him.

The first dog, Wally, shot out from a homeless encampment, first sinking his teeth into Frazee’s ankle and then his leg, hitting bone. Wally wasn’t on a leash. Then, a second dog, aptly named Felony, chomped on Frazee’s arm when the owner let go of the dog’s leash trying to stop the first attack.

Understandably shaken and incensed, Frazee posted pictures of his mangled leg to the Facebook page of Sacramento County Regional Parks.

“Since your chief won’t do his job and enforce the no camping laws,” he wrote of Chief Ranger Michael Doane, “I was just attacked by a pack of pit bulls belonging to a long-standing homeless camp.”

Frazee has every right to be outraged, as does every resident of Sacramento who would use the parkway if not for the squatters’ camps and their sometimes vicious pets. No one who walks, jogs or bikes on the parkway should have to worry about being attacked by dogs.

But it happens far too often. In the last three years, there have been 17 reports of dog bites along the city’s section of the parkway, Sacramento Chief Animal Control Officer Jace Huggins told The Bee’s Brad Branan. Most were the result of unleashed dogs.

Homeless people own dogs, particularly pit bulls, for protection and companionship, teaching them to attack anyone who gets near their owner’s meager possessions. Sometimes the dogs are on leashes. But a lot of times, they aren’t, which can become a problem for runners or cyclists who encounter a pit bull while the owner is passed out in a tent.

Ideally, no homeless people would be living on the parkway. Frazee, for one, blames park rangers for not issuing enough tickets for illegal camping. Doane thinks the tickets aren’t much of a deterrent, and he’s got a point.

Homeless people camp on the parkway because there aren’t enough shelters, particularly for those who refuse to part with their pets. The machinery of government is starting to work, with the city and county dedicating more resources to homelessness than they have in years. But it’s going to take time.

In the meantime, homeless people must sleep somewhere, and with the parkway’s proximity to Loaves & Fishes, they’ll probably keep doing it on the parkway.

Where park rangers can have an impact is with compelling campers to keep their dogs on leashes.

Currently, they cite about a half-dozen people every month for not having dogs on leashes in county parks; most are let off with a warning. It’s time to give more tickets and fewer warnings. Plus, rangers should be given more discretion than what’s currently allowed under county ordinances to insist that animal control officers impound potentially dangerous dogs, particularly if they are seen off a leash and snarling at strangers.

Getting a ticket is one thing. Having authorities seize one’s beloved pit bull is another.

It’s the same tactic park rangers used a few summers ago to deter homeless campers from starting fires while cooking. Rangers seized stoves on sight, no questions asked.

Word got around about that and the fires slowed. Word would get around over unleashed dogs, too.