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After 35-year ban, dogs are allowed back in downtown Santa Cruz

August 25, 2011 |  2:11 pm

Over the years, the city of Santa Cruz has called for impeachment of a president, termination of a war and an end to nuclear weapons.

But allowing people to walk their dogs downtown? Never!

Until now, that is.

At the urging of businesses that felt they were losing customers to more dog-friendly communities, the city has lifted a 35-year ban aimed at keeping dogs -- even leashed, licensed dogs -- from setting paw on Pacific Avenue, downtown’s main commercial thoroughfare.

"This was an opportunity to say yes to something," said Ryan Coonerty, Santa Cruz’s mayor and owner of an aged yellow Lab that has always had to enter and leave the family business, Bookshop Santa Cruz, by the back door.

Until today, downtown "hosts" -- volunteers who greet visitors and answer questions -- have had to tell roughly 300 people a month that Fido was canis non grata on Pacific Avenue.

"That’s a lot of people to be turning away," Coonerty said.

It’s especially surprising in a famously liberal university town where dogs are at least as common as surfboards, bikes and off-key street musicians. An estimated one in four Santa Cruz County families have a dog, as do some of the panhandlers who congregate downtown and, according to one version, were the target of the ban in the first place.

"A lot of opposition to dogs was because they didn’t feel we’d properly leashed the homeless," said Whitney Wilde, leader of a Santa Cruz pro-dog group called Woofers and Walkers.

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-- Steve Chawkins

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