BY LYNN PACIFICO | People think that it is cruel to have a dog in the city and I see their point, but we cannot live without them. Dogs are here to stay and civic leaders need to understand this. Doing dog rescue made me realize how important it is for dog owners to have recreational facilities.
In 1992 I rescued a husky mix that was so wild no one wanted him. I took him home and called him Harry. Every morning and evening I brought him to J.J. Walker ball field, used for decades by neighbors and their dogs. There he ran and played till the wildness left. A tired dog is a good dog. After a week, he was a normal happy puppy. A year later the Parks Department took the field away from our community without providing anything to replace it. (We were able to use the field in the winters until 1999.)
Harry and I would stand outside, looking through the fence at the field that we once depended on, but there was no more playing frisbee catch or ball fetch, no socializing with human and canine friends. We were relegated to sidewalks, walking around and around, usually alone.
The frustrations created when dogs are not allowed to socialize with other dogs and to get their energy out creates behavior problems that often cause dogs to be abandoned. As such, dog runs help keep hearts from being broken since they keep dogs from developing behavior problems. The loss of our field spurred me to lobby for dog owner recreational facilities and to study what makes a dog run work well.
It took years of lobbying to get the Leroy Street dog run. The Hudson River Park Trust didn’t want dogs. Thirty years later our neighborhood still doesn’t have what is needed for its amount of dogs and its lack of parkland. We do not have off-leash below 57th Street because Downtown there are no parks that are appropriate. We don’t have a run for small dogs in the West Village (only in Washington Square Park). There is nowhere a person can legally play frisbee with their dog. There is nowhere a family with a dog can go to play together since dogs are not allowed in playgrounds and children under 12 are rightly discouraged from entering dog runs.
There has been an explosion of dog ownership in the past three years. “Pet parenting” is very popular and more people are getting dogs than having babies. Carriages carry dogs and commercials are geared more toward pets than children. Social cultures are growing around puppy cafes, pools and parties and athletic, agility and obedience competitions. The already profitable pet industry is rapidly growing.
Yet, the Hudson River Park’s dog runs are much too small. I have witnessed 35 dogs and 35 owners at the Leroy Street run at peak times and am amazed that there are not more problems since having numerous dog owners trying to play fetch forces dogs and owners into each other’s face/space.
There is a misconception about who dog runs are for: They are for tax-paying humans who love their dogs. According to a study done about Central Park, besides sitters (on benches and lawns), dog owners comprise the largest single-user group for parks. Yet dog owner taxes are spent on other’s recreation while dog owners spend years fighting for space and must often raise money to build and maintain runs that are too small and poorly designed to function safely.
Dogs are not a luxury. It has been well established that interaction with dogs provides physiological benefits. This is why so many therapy programs, based upon interaction with dogs, are included in nursing home, hospital and school programs. A dog is often a child’s best friend and protector, especially an only child. Dogs also provide companionship for people who live alone. Visiting dog parks is a free daily activity that connects seniors to community. As our population ages, we need runs for small dogs.
Another misconception is that if there is a dog run, off-leash areas are unnecessary. But off-leash hours and dog runs serve different functions. Runs are for dogs who are not under voice control, including puppies. Off-leash is used for people with trained dogs, as well as families who are outside with their dogs.
Off-leash is necessary for obedience training. Try training a dog in a run, with balls and other dogs flying by. It doesn’t work, especially if you are using treats or a 30-foot leash. (A 30-foot leash is actually illegal to use outside of a run.) Without off-leash hours, runs need to be large enough for a few people to play frisbee safely, and for dog owners to bring their dog to the side to practice obedience.
I miss my park and being able to play with my dog in the field. I know what it means to have this and then to lose it and to lose my community, as well. We need places large enough to enjoy our dogs. Dogs belong with us, in the city.
Pacifico is a fourth-generation Villager who loves dogs, nature and New York City.
Yes, dog runs are needed in every neighborhood. For example young baseball players slide into the dog poop due to dogs off leash on the East River Park ball fields. Dog owners let their dogs off leash in the grass areas of Tompkins Square Park as well. Since there is no dog run in Baruch Housing, it is clear the Lower East Side needs at least one new dog run, too.
Are the East River Park’s ball fields plastic turfed? Is so, better “sliding into dog poop”, than sliding on and breathing in the poisonous fumes out-gassed from the FieldTurf that the city has blanketed our fields with. People have lived alongside animals for forever, even using animal dung for fertilizer and fuel. Fumes from plastics made from chemicals, on the other hand, will get you sick. FieldTurf doesn’t last long and it isn’t recycled either — a lose-lose for all.
Yes, Allie, we do need more dog owner facilities on the LES and all of Lower Manhattan. Are there any fields on the LES that are appropriate for off-leash hours? As far as I know, below Central Park, only Battery Park City had off-leash for a while. I do not think that they still do. (BPC residents please let us know.)
I’m not so sure “dogs are here to stay,” as the author puts it. Why shouldn’t there be fewer dogs in the city? Its simply a fact that there are many irresponsible dog owners who neglect and mistreat their pets… so maybe they shouldn’t own them. Second, insofar as dogs do get a bad rap it is largely because many of their owners selfishly do not respect leash laws. Some don’t even respect the rules of dog runs! Better enforcement all around would surely help us all.
Our nabe has few natural areas, there is no grass or soft surface, not one lawn in the West Village that dogs are allowed on. Dogs are only allowed on cement and asphalt surfaces here.
One of the reasons I rehomed my last dog is because she was going lame from playing ball on the hard surface of the Leroy St. run. She lived to play ball but she would cry getting up after a visit to the run, because her joints hurt so much. and I had to limit her visits. Washington Sq run is just too far to visit regularly so she did without. There are many dogs and owners going without in the West Village.
But you are talking about scofflaws. Every law has scofflaws. There are traffic scofflaws, for instance, who actually injure and kill people. Do you have a car? According to your logic, you shouldn’t because there exist irresponsible car owners and too many cars. Maybe your car doesn’t defecate but car emissions poison all of us.
There are many inept / irresponsible parents. What should be done about them?
Dog owners are asking for what is already their due, what we have already paid for with our taxes. We do not have nearly enough dog owner facilities for the amount of dogs here. Dog owners need more space, so it is no surprise that some of us will take advantage of any space available. The city creates a problem for us by not giving us adequate places to go, and then blames us for the problems that this shortage creates.
Could dog owners be better at training their dogs? Of coarse. Where is the place to train them? The dog run (but this is impossible if the run is crowded or too small.)
There is a new dog park “airbnb” company – Sniffspot (sniffspot.com)
This is an excellent article and very true. Many dogs that play perfectly well off leash in a park cannot play within a dog run because the confined space leads to anxiety and aggression. Dogs fight over toys in a confining dog run, while they would happily share in open space. Not to mention the fact that most dog runs are paved with concrete or asphalt and become dangerously soiled with dog waste in a short amount of time because of too little space, too many dogs, and often no way to wash the ground, especially in colder weather when the water is turned off.
We need more dog-friendly spaces. It is outrageous, for example, that an entirely new neighborhood was created in Hudson Yards, along with a brand new park, Bella Abzug Park, and there is not a single dog run in the whole place! How nuts is that? There are many, many taxpaying dog owners living in these spaces, but we seem to never be taken into account.
In the fifth paragraph, the editor added “(only in Washington Square Park)” to the sixth sentence. I stand by my statement that “we don’t have a run for small dogs in the West Village” as Washington Sq is in Greenwich Village (and too far to walk there, then spend forty to sixty minutes playing at the run and then walk home to the West Village — a two to three hour outing.)
The community did not call JJ Walker field a “dog run” (that was added by the editor under the first photo) as it was simply a neighborhood field that we used. During the day it was used by ball players. We called it “the field.”
JJ Walker in those days was unique to all other dog runs I have ever seen. The large expanse of open sand (think “sandlot”) with some benches was an ideal area for dogs and families to hang out and have some play time together. Turning it into an asphalt field may have kept the ball players’ uniforms cleaner (one of the main talking points) but it destroyed year-round social and cultural phenomena that made the Village livable. Progress? Hardly.
Dog Owners last year were locked out of Sasaki Park @ NYU’s Washington Village. Since then Dog Owners are trying to get Off-Lease Run til 9AM on the big lawn in WSQ Park. Dog Owners are being ticketed by Park Rangers while Drug Addicts are permitted to shoot up and smoke crack a few feet away near a Children’s Playground. UGH!