Yesterday was the hearing with the Board of Health where public comments were presented to the advisory board. I will post a summary of the hearing, time permitting, either tonight or tomorrow. For some very good coverage of and responses to the proceedings check out this website:
Below is the letter that I submitted to the Board of Health. I also had 16 images attached to the letter:
"Ms. Rena Bryant
Secretary to the Board of Health
125 Worth Street, CN-31
New York, NY 10013
Subject: Notice of Intention to Amend Article 161 of the New York City Health Code
I am writing to express my deep concern and opposition regarding "Notice of Intention to Amend Article 161 of the New York City Health Code."
The mission of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is to ensure the health and welfare of all New Yorkers. Below are three excerpts taken from the "Statement of Purpose" listed in the "Board of Health Notice of Adoption of Amendments to Sections 161.03, 161.04 and 161.05 of The New York City Health Code":
"The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (the “Department”) is authorized and required by law to promote and protect the health and safety of New York City residents and visitors by ensuring an environment free from animal-borne diseases and hazards, as well as those caused by other vectors. Article 161 contains various provisions related to issues of public health concern in ownership and management of animals in the City of New York."
"New York State and New York City animal control laws are intended to safeguard the health and safety of the public. In addition to having their dogs actively vaccinated against the disease of rabies, responsible dog owners must obtain a license (New York City Dog License Law, Ch. 115 of the Laws of 1894, as amended); attach a dog license tag to the dog’s collar when the animal is in a public place (see, Health Code §161.04); hold the dog on a leash no longer than six feet when the dog is in a public place (see, Health Code §161.05); and remove their dog’s feces from any public areas (see, Health Code §161.03 and New York Public Health Law §1310)."
"Licensing companion dogs is increasingly seen as an important indicator of responsible dog ownership, reducing the numbers of strays, biting incidents and homeless, unwanted animal over-population. It enables owners of stray dogs to be more easily be identified so that lost dogs may be returned to their owners. It makes it possible for the Department to identify and control biting and dangerous dogs, and to control rabies."
According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, an estimated 4.7 million Americans will be bitten by dogs this year. As many as 800,000 people annually require medical treatment for dog bites. About 12 people each year die from dog attacks. According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurance companies paid $317.2 million for dog bite liability claims in 2005 alone. The primary victims are children. The median age of patients bitten was 15 years, with children, especially boys aged 5 to 9 years, having the highest incidence rate. Children seen in emergency departments were more likely than older persons to be bitten on the face, neck, and head. Severe injuries occur almost exclusively in children less than 10 years of age (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
In addition to these concerns is the increasing incidence of rabies in both New York City and New York State. This year the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has already issued three health or medical alerts (2006 DOHMH Alert #11, #25, #36) regarding the current rabies outbreak.
The latest estimates put the New York City dog population at 1.5 million (Robert A. Marino, Vice President, NY Council of Dog Owners Groups). Of that number only 84,547, or 5.6%, are licensed (Department of Health, CAP, year to date April 2006). Last year there were 5,385 dog bites reported in New York City. As unacceptably high as that number is, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health Newsletter states that "Dog bites have long been recognized as one of the most under reported of all injuries". It should be noted that the city does not maintain statistics on the number of dogs injured by other dogs, dogs lost, dogs killed by automobiles, injuries other than bites or injuries incurred as a direct result of an uncontrolled dog.
On April 14, 1999 the then commissioner of parks, Henry J. Stern had a press conference where he announced a comprehensive program to increase compliance with the NYC leash laws. Present at the event was Noreen E. Baxter, Vice President of the American Kennel Club. The President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Kennel Club, Alfred L. Cheaure, wrote to the commissioner and commended Parks & Recreation for its attempts to curb irresponsible and reckless dog owners. He also called for new enforcement efforts "...to protect the rights of dog owners as well as city residents." (Department of Parks & Recreation Newsroom Media Advisories, Thursday, April 14, 1999, no. 72). In addition, the Department of Parks and Recreation website (Things to Do, New York City Dog Runs In New York City - Tuesday, October 3, 2006), states:
"To the dog owners who still gripe about leash laws, Parks & Recreation enforces the health code laws for several reasons. First, unleashed dogs pose potential danger to people and to other dogs. Many park users, horses, park wildlife and leashed dogs have been attacked and bitten by unleashed dogs. Second, many park visitors are frightened by dogs and may find unleashed dogs to be intimidating or annoying. Third, unleashed dogs are more likely to leave behind waste that is not picked up by their owners; canine waste is a known source of several pernicious zoonotic diseases. Finally, unleashed dogs destroy lawns and flower beds: areas used as informal "dog runs" have been severely damaged by the combination of wear and uric acid, a known killer of plant life."
In the publication, "New York City Parks/Parks and Recreation: Third Biennial Report, January 1998 – June 2000" (page 10), is the following section:
"Leash Law - Dogs are a wonderful presence in parks, but unleashed dogs can cause serious problems. They collide with joggers and bicyclists, frighten children and senior citizens, soil the landscape and trample lawns and fragile areas. Occasionally, they bite humans and small mammals. To help improve leash law compliance, Parks launched an initiative in March 1999 focusing on education, enforcement, and environmental restoration. Since then, citywide compliance has increased substantially."
Keeping one's dog(s) on a leash in public places is endorsed by no less than the ASPCA, the Humane Society, the American Kennel Club and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are countless animal and medical associations that sponsor annual "responsible dog ownership" and "dog bite prevention" education drives. Of the top ten most populous cities in the United States, New York City in number one in both total population and population density. All ten cities have municipal laws that require dogs to be leashed when in public places. Why the most densely populated of those cities would even consider allowing unleashed dogs in unenclosed areas defies logic.
Nothing in the physical properties of New York City's green spaces, population or the instinctive behavior of dogs has suddenly changed that would make allowing them to run, unleashed in public places a good idea. I live in Park Slope, next to Prospect Park. Since 1996 I have seen the number of unleashed dogs increase from several dozen to several hundred. On May 11, 2002 an article by Amy Sachs about unleashed dogs and "courtesy hours" in Prospect Park was published in "The Daily News". In the article she writes, "The 526 acre Brooklyn oasis offers the most generous off-leash privileges of any of the city's parks. Resembling an English countryside more than urban sprawl, the park provides [her] and hundreds of dog owners the longest off-leash courtesy hours and the largest spaces - including three meadows, where a spring Saturday attracts up to 700 free-range canines."
The unofficial parks department policy that permits dogs to run off leash in unenclosed areas between the hours of 9 pm and 9 am (and during certain months, 5pm to 9am) has created scores of problems in Prospect Park. First, neither the courtesy rules nor the leash laws are ever enforced. Dogs can be found running, unleashed on sports fields, horse paths, open fields, roads, woodlands and swimming in waterways. It has escalated to the point where the unleashed dogs prevent me, my wife and dozens of our friends from exercising in Prospect Park in the early morning or late afternoon. I have attached several photos that show how dog owners routinely ignore the rules. In addition, I have created a website that documents the problem and provides photographs, videos, articles, letters and informational links (http://brooklynparks.blogspot.com).
The Department of Parks and Recreation currently has 53 fulltime Parks Enforcement Patrol officers. They work eight hours a day, five days a week. Among other tasks, PEP officers are responsible for the enforcement of the leash law in the city's 1,700 parks. If they cannot manage the existing "unofficial" rules, what will happen if the Department of Parks is legally permitted to allow unleashed dogs in "certain areas at certain times"?
I respectfully appeal to the members of the Board of Health to use common sense and their oath to protect the health and welfare of all New Yorkers and reject the proposal to amend Article 161.
I have made it my policy not to respond to the obnoxious comments and threats aimed at me on various public forums. However, I'd like to go on the record and state that several "off leash" advocates have made threatening, intimidating statements directed at me. Obviously, it has had no affect on my objectives. However, if I'm ever injured by a dog owner or dog in a city park, given my vocal opposition to the illegal offleash policy, I assure you that it won't be accidental.