Has San Francisco gone to the dogs? That’s an issue that’s up for debate as the city grapples with the complexly intertwined issues of crime, homelessness and drug use. The opening of a luxury dog cafe and the city’s plethora of dog parks makes some wonder whether canines have it better in San Francisco than some humans.
What is clear, however, is that San Francisco dog owners are a unique breed of voter.
Results from The San Francisco Standard’s new voter poll show 22% of SF voters own at least one dog. Stack that figure up against the 17% of voters who have kids under 18 at home, and the poll proves San Francisco has more dog owners than parents.
The Standard’s poll suggests that plenty of pups are enjoying the sweet life with their pet parents. Only 4% of SF voters have dogs and kids, leaving 18% of SF voters focused exclusively on their canine dependents.
Demographically, dog-owning voters in San Francisco stand out in several ways. They are more likely to be female, married, own their residences and have household incomes of $100,000 or more compared to SF voters overall. Pooch parents are also an educated bunch, with 75% of dog owners holding college degrees. And compared to all SF voters, dog owners are more likely to be aged 50 to 64 while parents are much more likely to be aged 35 to 49.
Unsurprisingly, both parents and dog owners are fans of outdoor activities in the city. Eighty-seven percent of dog owners like going to local parks, 70% like visiting beaches, 61% like visiting the Presidio, and 57% enjoy hiking.
Given their need to be out walking their canines a few times a day, dog owners have strong feelings about the safety of San Francisco’s city streets.
“I can't walk my dogs without encountering drug addicts and their dangerous behavior,” wrote one 52-year-old male poll respondent.
Fully 83% of dog owners feel less safe in the city compared to a year ago compared with 64% of all SF voters overall. Almost 60% of dog owners have changed their personal routine because of safety concerns compared with 47% of all poll respondents. Dog owners are more likely to say SF public transport has become more dangerous as well, and more likely to say SF needs more police.
Lower Nob Hill resident and poll respondent Heather Geller doesn’t feel safe going out after dark without her canine companion Cooper and is concerned by syringes strewn across city streets.
“Being a dog owner, I'm very concerned about that. I don't want my dog walking, stepping on those, getting stuck with these needles,” said Geller, noting that she’s also concerned by the presence of passed-out individuals in her neighborhood.
“I never know if they're, like, alive or dead,” Geller said. “I don't want to startle someone who has been using. You never know what their mental health or what they're going to be like.”
A series of high-profile French bulldog-nappings in the Bay Area over the course of the pandemic has made Leanna Dawydiak, a retired SFPD sergeant and owner of two dogs, reticent to even walk her Frenchie, Teddy, for fear of being targeted.
“As a lone person by myself, I'm afraid to go out,” Dawydiak said.
Both Geller and Dawydiak expressed frustration with the city’s handling of public safety issues and homelessness, and their views are not unlike that of fellow dog owners.
“I get so sad. It's because this is such a great city, and excuse my language, but it's becoming a shithole,” Geller said.
“I consider myself a liberal Democrat, but I can't stand some of the things that I've seen happening,” Dawydiak said.
SF dog owners also appear to support tough-on-crime policies at a higher rate than the general pool of survey respondents.
Nearly 70% of dog owners believe that SF needs more police compared with 54% of all poll respondents, and a whopping 80% of dog owner respondents support charging drug dealers with murder if a user dies compared with 69% of all voters.
But do these stances on public safety mean that San Francisco dog owners are moving to the right of center, politically?
According to The Standard’s poll, just over 60% of dog owners say that crime, homelessness and drug use in San Francisco have caused their political views to become less progressive over the last three years.
But saying that SF dog owners are conservative or becoming less progressive would be too much of a leap, says Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State who specializes in urban politics and voting behavior.
More likely SF dog owners are simply homeowners and “mainstream Democrats” who’ve lived in the city for a while and are frustrated with the city’s handling of homelessness, crime and drug use, says McDaniel.
“San Francisco residents are not conservative. [...] They’re liberals. [...]They're the mainstream Democrats,” McDaniel said. (Nearly 70% of SF’s dog-owning voters identify as Democrats.) “They want the government to work. They care about homelessness, but they probably do see it as a situation that makes them uncomfortable; the crime is something that bothers them. The fact that the government is not focusing on these issues in the way that they would want them to be is a problem.”
So does this mean that dog owners are firmly in the Brooke Jenkins, tough-on-crime camp when it comes to the upcoming District Attorney race in November? As of today, Jenkins is leading the race: 36% of dog owners polled will likely vote for Jenkins compared with 25% of all respondents.
Geller, a Republican, says she probably will vote for Jenkins.
“I likely will just because I like her stance on trying to be tough on crime,” Geller said.
Dawydiak, says it’s “too early to tell” how she feels about Jenkins.
While Mayor London Breed’s approval ratings among dog owners are consistent with that of SF voters overall, the Board of Supervisors is in the dog house: 84% disapprove of the board’s job performance, a level even higher than the average voter (77%).
“If the supervisors had to run, citywide, they would be in trouble,” McDaniel said. “The residents of the city as a whole are not happy with the Board of Supervisors.”
Liz Lindqwister and Maryann Jones Thompson contributed additional research for this story.
Christina Campodonico can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org