Thursday, February 22, 2007

Reasons to be Fearful

I'd like to thank Robert A. Marino for providing me with such a comprehensive list of reasons why dogs should NEVER be allowed to run unleashed in unenclosed areas of New York City parks. The following list of instructions is posted on his website. At the end of this posting is a map of Prospect Park with the offleash areas highlighted. The 90 acre Long Meadow is claimed to be the largest meadow in any U.S. park, and what better way to treat it. Keep in mind that there are no double-gates, fencing or anyway to prevent parents from pushing their strollers through the "dog park" unless they remain outside of Prospect Park for the 16 hours each day that are set aside to unleashed dogs.

Someone needs to point out to Bobby boy that he can't have it both ways; either unleashed dogs ARE a danger to the public or they AREN'T a danger to the public.

Dog Park Etiquette

In order that everyone enjoys their time in the dog park we ask that you respect the rules of the park and be considerate of your fellow dog guardians.

* Open and Close One Safety Gate at a Time when entering the park. Dogs love to meet and greet newcomers. Please pay special attention when entering and exiting so no dog has a chance to run out.

* Unleash your dog within the safety gates before releasing your dog into the dog park. A leashed dog can excite problem dogs into aggression. Dogs can also be more aggressive when leashed due to the loss of control over their environment. They may feel frustrated, anxious and or threatened and since they can’t do what they instinctually do (flee or fight) to protect themselves and/or their owners they do what they can, they bark and lunge. It is safer to leash your dog up within the safety gates and not in the dog park itself.

* Stay conscious of the environment. Using headphones in the dog park is not a good idea.

* Keep an eye on your dog. Always keep your dog in view and under control. Be especially aware of your dog when children are near.

*No aggressive dogs. At the first sign of aggression please remove your dog from the dog park. When a dog park is open to all (non-membership) we and our dogs could be vulnerable to dogs that don’t know their physical boundaries. The dog that knows good physical boundaries can play without shoving the other dog. There is a difference between rough play and fighting. Dogs at play often mouth, jump on and/or nip each other. It can look like fighting, but no blood is drawn and the biting is inhibited as it doesn't break the skin. A dog in play will play without accentuated or obsessive physical contact. If your dog begins to get aroused divert his/her attention before it escalates and if necessary leave the dog park.

* Know the signs of aggression. Although difficult to define on certain breeds, the conflicted or overly confident dogs’ ears are usually up and/or forward. They face and stare directly at the other dog or human with whom they are interacting. Eye contact is sustained hard and direct. Their brow is furrowed. The tail carriage is likely to be high up and arched over the rump. The (hackles) fur along their back stands up like a ridge and the chest and stance is forward. Dogs with shorter tails might be straight and wagging stiffly.

* If a fight breaks out, all involved dog owners should immediately help break it up.

** First and foremost – Please try and remain calm and never put a body part between the fighting dogs. Here are some suggestions: Ask the steward at your dog park to provide a container that could permanently hold some blankets, water bottles, horns, whistles etc. so you will always have an aversive handy.

At the first sign of a fight take one of the items from the container and get as close to the fighting dogs as possible without endangering yourself and either:

- bang 2 large garbage can covers together like cymbals

- spray water bottle

- grab a blanket, shirt and/or jacket and throw it over the dogs and when they separate take your dog and leave the dog park.

- use the water hose in the summer

- For the experienced guardian only- take your dog by its hindquarters – just below the rump – and raise them up like you are holding a wheelbarrow and start backing up slowly as you pull the dog with you. Be very careful as you pull because if one dog has another by a body part and decides to hold on you risk tearing the skin.

Once the dogs have separated themselves take yours away.

- If you suspect damage has been done to you or your dog exchange vital information with all involved parties as you leave to get vet care.

*If your dog consistently harasses other dogs or people by intimidating, mounting, or annoying another dog, correct that behavior immediately. If it continues please take your dog out of the dog park at least for a short time out.

* Closely supervise intact males. If your intact male is involved in any altercation, regardless of which dog started it, please leave. (Intact males commonly provoke aggression.)

* No dogs in heat in the dog park. Since most females go into heat only 2x a year and are considered to be “in heat” for 21 days (7 days going in, 7 days in heat and 7 days going out), it is advisable not to bring them to a dog run during this time. Male dogs can sense females in heat through pheromones. These are airborne chemical attractants that are liberated from the female when she is cycling. They travel through the air for great distances.

* Teach your dog to be quiet. Some barking is fine, expected and normal. However incessant barking can be annoying to those around you. Try and find creative ways to discourage barking by changing your dogs focus towards something more fun, like a game of chase and interaction with you.

* During slow hours please limit your stay to 20 minutes if another dog owner is waiting to use the dog park. Dog owners who have dogs with behavior problems will often bring them late at night or very early in the morning, when the dog park is likely to be empty. (These dogs need to be exercised also.) Always ask if it is safe to join another dog if it is the only dog in the dog park.


* No prong, spiked collars or choke chains in the dog park. The ring ends can get caught on other objects as well as other dogs’ collars. Leave on your dog's regular collar with ID and license while in the park.

* Do not bring rawhides and toys to the dog park. Many dogs are so crazy for rawhides and toys that they will fight over them. (This does not apply to special events.)

* The small blue balls for playing handball are dangerous for medium and large dogs as they can easily get lodged in their throat. If you bring a handball or any small ball to the dog park and a larger dog is interested in playing, please refrain from using them and be sure to take them with you when you leave.

* Don't bring dogs that are ill into the dog park.

* Shared water bowls can cause dogs to get sick if one of the dogs drinking from the bowl is sick. Refresh the water bowl as often as possible or bring your own water bowl.

* Put dog hair in a trash can if you groom your dog in the dog park.

* No glass containers in the dog park.

* Pick up after your dog. Alert others if they miss a pick up.


* Bring your children into the dog park at their/your own risk. However we recommend that children under 8 years of age not be permitted in the dog park but if you choose to please, for their safety, keep children under your supervision and within arms reach at all times.


* KEEP BABIES AND TODDLERS OUT OF THE REACH OF DOGS! Dangling feet are stimulating to dogs. They may jump up as if playing with a toy.


1. Do not run or scream in the dog park. (Running and screaming are invitations for dogs to chase.)

2. Do not touch or take a dog's ball without speaking to the owner first.

3. Ask an adult before petting an unfamiliar dog. All dogs are potential biters no matter what size. Just because a dog is small it does not mean he is safe and can’t do damage. Wait for the dog to approach you instead of offering your hand.

4. Do not touch dogs while they are resting or sleeping, especially if they are under a bench.

5. Do not hug or kiss dogs that are not your own, however friendly they may seem.

6. Avoid rough play with dogs or other children while in the dog park.

7. If a dog growls at you, avoid eye contact by looking immediately away. Do not run away. Instead, back slowly away, continuing to avoid eye contact. If you have something in your pocket like a ball toss it to distract the dog as you continue to back away.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fact and ficition

So, let's see if I can summarize the offleash lunatic fringe arguments for opening the parks to unleashed dogs.

"It has been a successful 20 year experiment"

- Documents posted on this blog have former park commissioner Henry Stern declaring that in 1999 they had to make a concerted effort to crack down on the dog problem. His efffort was applauded by the AKC.

- Current commissioner Adrian Benepe, in an article in New York Magazine in 1998 stated, "Ten to fifteen years ago, observes Adrian Benepe, the no-nonsense Parks commissioner for Manhattan, the parks were rife with crises: crime, drug dealing, graffiti, homeless encampments, rotting infrastructure. Many were resolved. “The dog problem is the only real problem we have,” he says. [...] “People are almost compelled to let them off the leash, because they need so much more exercise and space,” says Benepe. Dog owners make these choices and then expect their fellow New Yorkers to live with the consequences. “They say to us, ‘You need to allow us to exercise hunting dogs in crowded nineteenth-century parks.’ “

"Unleashed dogs have reduced crime in parks"

- We learned that, until last year, the NYPD did not keep separate statistics on crimes in parks. The information just doesn't exist to make their claim

- Crime began going down in NYC in 1991 as a directly result of new procedures under the Giuliani administration

"Socialized dogs are happier and healthier"

- By nearly all trainer's definition, socialized refers to people, places and things, not other dogs

- The title "animal behaviorist", or similar titles can be used by anyone, regardless of their background

- No ABS Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists thinks that allowing large groups of dogs to interact in an unenclosed environment is a positive decision

"Allowing thousands of dogs to run, unleashed in city parks has reduced dog bites"

- More like, all the unleashed dogs have chased more people out of the parks

- How many dog bites are too many?

- There are no statistics on the number of injuries other than bites that were caused directly or indirectly by an unleashed dog

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dog Park Rules

I find it inconceivable that the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation would even CONSIDER allowing unleashed dogs in the city parks. Below are the posted rules for Hillside Dog Park in Brooklyn. It is a 2 acre dog park surrounded by a fence. After you read the rules, explain to me why they do not apply in places like Prospect Park, where hundreds of dogs are unofficially allowed to roam free. Also keep in mind that some "professional" dog-walkers regularly bring 10 or more dogs EACH into the city parks and release them. Though managed by a "NYC Dogs" membership organization, this parcel of land is owned by the parks department. It's interesting how "NYC Dogs" thinks that it's perfectly acceptable to have dogs running around unleashed in city parks but have very strict rules for this park.

Hillside Dog Park Rules
Friends of Hillside Dog Park encourages responsible dog ownership. The following rules are not to limit anyone's enjoyment of the park, but to make Hillside a better place for people to congregate and socialize with their dogs.

1. Users of the park do so at their own risk. Entering a dog park has an inherent risk, and sometimes even normally docile dogs can become excited and behave unpredictably when exposed to other dogs or unfamiliar situations, which can result in serious injury to people and other dogs.

2. Parents who allow their children to come into the dog park do so at their own risk. This rule exists for the safety of children. Tragic accidents can happen quickly. The dog park is designated to be a recreation area for dogs and their owners; it is not to be used as a children's playground. Dogs often perceive children running, or a child's laughter or shrieking as play or alarming and will often chase and jump on a child.

3. Do not leave your dog alone or unattended in the dog park.

4. Remove dogs from the dog park that behave in an aggressive or annoying manner.

5. Dogs involved in a fight must be separated immediately and removed from the park, regardless of which dog provoked the confrontation.

6. Dogs with a known history of aggressive behavior against other dogs or people are not allowed to enter the dog park.

7. You are responsible for supervising your dog at all times. If your dog inflicts an injury give your name and phone number to the injured party before leaving the area.

8. No more than 3 dogs per owner allowed in the dog park at once. It is not possible for a single person properly to supervise and control more than 3 dogs at a time.

9. Dogs with known contagious medical conditions are not allowed in the dog park until the condition has been treated and has passed.

10. Always clean up after your dog. If someone points out that your dog has defecated, thank them and immediately pick up the the poop. The park has recycled plastic bag dispensers if you haven't brought your own bags. Deposit all waste in the trash cans provided.

11. Refill holes caused by your dog's digging. Holes are dangerous for people and for other dogs.

12. Clean up after yourself. Do not leave litter in the park. If you groom your dog in the park, pick up all hair. Trash cans are provided.

13. No female dogs in heat allowed in the park.

14. Closely monitor unneutered male dogs. They can be more aggressive than neutered dogs and they are also more often targets of attacks.

15. Remove prong and spike collars from dogs while in the dog park. These collars can injure other dogs while at play.

16. Do not allow your dog to run free still wearing its leash in the dog park. This is dangerous to your dog, other dogs in the park and people.

17. Dogs with a history of inflicting bite injuries must wear a muzzle.

18. Dogs in the dog park must be properly vaccinated and licensed. Their tags should be visible.

19. Puppies must have their full course of vaccines before using the park. Don't bring puppies under 4 months old to the park. They don't yest have all the necessary immunities that allow them to play safely with other dogs in a dog park. Many puppies die every year of Parvo and other viruses because owners put them at risk before they have had all their shots.

20. Exercise caution with food and dog toys in the dog park. Dogs competing for food or toys can become protective or aggressive.

-- Be Responsible. -- Be Alert

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Denis Hamill column

Here's a good piece by columnist Denis Hamill from today's "New York Daily News"

-"Barefoot in the Park?"-

Monday, February 12, 2007

Department of Health Alerts

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene commissioner Dr. Frieden, in the decision to allow the parks department discretion to let unleashed dogs in the parks, asserted that rabies wasn't a problem in NYC. Just in case the health alerts regarding rabies is removed from the DOH website (like the parks department removed the leash law page), here are some alerts from last year:

-Sharp Increase in Animal Rabies Cases on Staten Island-

-Animals Testing Positive for Rabies in New York City in 2006-

-Rabid Raccoon Found in Queens-

-Rabid Kittens Found in Staten Island-

-Bronx Woman Bitten by Rabid Raccoon-

Sunday, February 11, 2007

New York Magazine Article

I thought that it would be an appropriate time to re-post the following article:

From New York Magazine, May 18, 1998

Turf War

Big dogs vs. little dogs, dog owners vs. the canine-deprived. Can we learn to co-exist in this town?

By Tony Hendra

Auschwitz!” snaps the less-than-fully-haired dog lover as he views the fenced-in South Lawn at the 72nd Street entrance to Riverside Park. He points to the Parks Department prohibition on the fence: quiet zone: no radios, no team sports, no barbecues -- and, most important -- no dogs. He ratchets up from snap to snarl: “Auschwitz-on-the-Hudson!” He declines to give his name and turns to leave, barking polysyllabic commands at two fully haired golden retrievers. Lucy comes to heel; Max continues hunting the elusive Upper West Side black truffle deep beneath the battered roots of a maple tree. I make the observation that his analogy is perhaps a tad intemperate. It was, after all, at Auschwitz that dogs, specifically German shepherds, were encouraged by their SS handlers to rip Jewish prisoners to pieces. He tells me to fuck off. I continue my ramble up the delightful strip of riparian real estate and several minutes later arrive at the Holocaust memorial near 83rd Street, upon whose discreet plaque an adorable poodle, her hind legs in demi-plié position, is releasing a bladderful of piss.

Another fine morning in Riverside Park.

Turf battles in the city’s parks between dogs and people (or more fairly between dog people and ordinary people) are neither uncommon nor new. The Parks Department has correspondence going back half a century from canophile New Yorkers demanding or cajoling special treatment for pets frolicking in the city’s commons. Almost all involve allowing them off the leash either in specific places or at specific times. Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park, foresaw that his splendiferous rus in urbe would be a magnet for dogs; he promulgated strict regulations about leashing that were subsequently adopted by the city and remain in force today throughout the system.

Betsy Barlow Rogers, founder of the Central Park Conservancy and the leading force in the park’s transformation from seventies moonscape to nineties grandeur, says administrators are “always under pressure to give away pieces of the park to special interests . . . many of them extraordinarily worthy.” (One of her favorite examples: a proposal at the end of World War I to re-create the trenches of Verdun in North Meadow.) At the beginning of Rogers’s fifteen-year tenure (she resigned in 1996), Parks quietly began enforcing the leash laws after decades of non-observance. This became a major factor in the dramatic restoration of Central Park’s green spaces.

But now dogs are becoming one of the department’s biggest physical-management problems -- it’s not simply the damage they do but the added enforcement the refuseniks, whose numbers are increasing, make necessary.

Ten to fifteen years ago, observes Adrian Benepe, the no-nonsense Parks commissioner for Manhattan, the parks were rife with crises: crime, drug dealing, graffiti, homeless encampments, rotting infrastructure. Many were resolved. “The dog problem is the only real problem we have,” he says.

And it’s getting bigger:
What is strikingly new, says Benepe, is the size of the breeds people are buying. For many decades, the typical New York dog tended to be a handbag baby -- Pekingese, Maltese, Yorkie, Pomeranian, etc. -- no doubt because rules against pets in apartments were pervasive and strict, and the little fellas were easier to smuggle in and out. Now, says Benepe, he and his staff are seeing bigger and bigger dogs coming into the parks: the obvious retrievers, German shepherds, St. Bernards, Rottweilers, huskies, and Labs, but also Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Irish wolfhounds, Great Danes. Several of these appear on the American Kennel Club’s top ten breeds of last year (the top two are Labs and Rotts). The Big Dog syndrome can be seen as an invasion of suburbiana into the city’s culture -- the priorities of Westport, White Plains, and Saddle River abroad in Central Park. Benepe, however, believes they’re “a fashion statement.”

Henry, a corporate lawyer who lives “in the Eighties just off Park,” laughingly agrees. Henry had a good year in ‘97 and bought himself a colossal Great Dane we’ll call Dog Doe. But it’s not just fashion, says Henry; he likes “the feeling of walking along the street with a big dog in tow.” Perhaps it’s akin to that earlier-nineties chic: being trailed by a large bodyguard with a wire in his ear. Or perhaps -- big dog being current media slang for an Alpha-male over-achiever -- owning one makes you, by association, the meanest predator in the pack. Like sports utes, these often dangerous, always expensive dogs are symbols of boom times:

They mirror the bulging pecs of an economy on steroids. Henry also bought a Range Rover last year, mainly to have something to transport Dog Doe around in. Big cur, big car.

Henry’s self-image is his own business, his choice of cur -- and car -- a private one. Until he goes outside. Then it becomes a public affair. Benepe points out that New Yorkers, charmed by the unquestionable grace and heft of these animals -- many well in excess of 100 pounds -- fail to realize that they’re working dogs, bred to be hunters, trackers, shepherds, and guards. (The Rhodesian ridgeback, for example, was bred to protect livestock and hunt lions.) No matter how steely your buns, if you’re a lissome 110 pounds, you’re going to have trouble holding back a Siberian husky whose vocation in life is pulling fully loaded sleds with large Alaskans standing on them.

“People are almost compelled to let them off the leash, because they need so much more exercise and space,” says Benepe. Dog owners make these choices and then expect their fellow New Yorkers to live with the consequences. “They say to us, ‘You need to allow us to exercise hunting dogs in crowded nineteenth-century parks.’ “ New Yorkers who grew up in the late fifties, sixties, and early seventies -- okay, boomers -- were accustomed to minimally managed parks whose work force, hidebound by union rules, did desultory maintenance. The most significant influence on the parks, up until then, had been Robert Moses, a modernizing commissioner who installed projects like skating rinks in Central Park that would have made Olmsted shudder. Moses’s guiding principle was: If the People want it, it’s probably fine.

By the mid-seventies, this anything-goes attitude had reached the point where you could do pretty much whatever you liked in the parks, according to your lights, short of mass murder. (Individual murder was frowned upon but tolerated.) A generation of dog owners came to see the parks as giant dog runs, and who could blame them? There was no grass in Sheep Meadow in those days, no flower beds and saplings to be destroyed, little wildlife beyond rats to be slaughtered. And, of course, far fewer users. Indeed, it was said that the presence of dogs at all hours helped to make the parks a little less dangerous.

Then along came Rogers. She was quite the opposite of Moses. Her vision was Olmsted’s vision. Restoring Central Park’s myriad natural components, all of which Olmsted had designed as deliberately as if he were building a cathedral, was her priority. Getting the park back to the nineteenth century would make it new again. This approach was open to the criticism that it was mainly for the benefit of the Park’s rich neighbors on Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. But Rogers, like Olmsted, was a true democrat: “The Park is for all the people.” No one group could be allowed exclusive use of it or any part of it.

The Rogers way worked. At Harlem Meer, heroin gave way to herons. A newly burnished angel rose over a gleaming Bethesda Fountain -- formerly known as the largest outdoor urinal in New York City. As grass and trees were replaced, and hydrology upgraded, the awesome contrasts and contours of the original design reappeared. People came flooding back. And with them came much less freedom of movement for Rover.

Central Park’s rebirth was so dramatic that, says current commissioner Henry Stern (himself the owner of a golden retriever named Boomer), Rogers’s restorative approach has been adopted throughout the system. When last fall it came to be the turn of easygoing Washington Square, and new lawns sprang into being where dogs and dopers had lately tarried, tempers got extremely short.

“They want to make the park into some kind of grass museum,” snapped one cheesed-off dog matron -- the common reaction of a certain kind of liberal New Yorker confronted by what is essentially a patrician aesthetic. The twin prongs of the Rogers strategy -- intense restoration followed by vigilant maintenance -- require vigorous enforcement. This is bound to create new conflicts with those conditioned by decades of anything-goes, who see their “freedoms” shrinking.

One result: militant canophiles like the Urban Canine Conservancy (Central Park), You Gotta Have Bark (Prospect Park), and FLORAL (Riverside Park) agitating over the past year or so for the department to set aside some of its more bucolic spots -- e.g., the southern half of Sheep Meadow -- for the pets to run free. These somewhat impractical proposals conceal a longer-term agenda: to get rid of leash laws altogether. In one sense, this is quite literally a turf battle. Meadowland and lawns make up only a small fraction of the park system’s 27,000 acres. Grass is therefore at a high premium; but it is grassland that dog owners want for their animals. Other than team sports (which are restricted to specific areas), no casual use of our common space destroys turf like unleashed dogs. That happy tumbleweed of gamboling fur that so delights the New York canophile of a dewy morn conceals myriad claws ripping the grass out by the roots; this is particularly the case when the grass is dormant or wet. And when Max or Princess or Sugarpie pauses for a quick tinkle or dump, the exhausted blades and the soil beneath them are clobbered yet again and, less retrievably, poisoned by their ultra-acidic waste. The costs here can be significant. Example: It took $17 million to restore turf in the Great Lawn. Just to repair dog damage in the relatively small Riverside Park last year cost almost $100,000 (on top of regular restoration and maintenance); the citywide estimate is at least half a million. Yet we all foot the bill. Dog-license money supports the licensing agency itself; dog tickets go into the city’s general coffer. Rover’s freedom isn’t free.

The problem isn’t just cosmetic. Dogless people -- bike owner, skate owner, or mere kid owner -- quickly learn to dread the honeyed assertion “It’s okay! He’s really friendly . . .” Friendly doesn’t quite cover the genome of a pony-size wolf-hound with the dentition of a teenage alligator. Flesh will be bitten, bones broken, picnic food stolen, small bodies exposed to ringworm, hookworm, and strep throat from slobbery tongues. A variant -- Rover Semi-Unleashed -- is the widespread use of the Flexi-leash, a tripwire that allows Rover’s owner to be anywhere up to a kilometer away from Rover. (If you square its length and multiply it by ?, you’ll get the acreage to which he/she believes he/she holds current title.) The reality here is not the cheery apology he/she yells as you crash to the ground; the booby-trap expresses, as so much else in our urban habits, hostility. Rover Semi-Unleashed is a weapon.

A subset of dog-as-weapon: dog-as-deterrent. Almost 40 percent of dog owners buy dogs, big dogs, because of fear of crime. At home, these animals may provide security; outside, off-leash, they can be a deadly menace. Parks officials say attacks by big dogs on smaller dogs are multiplying, but fast-moving dogs (and owners) are rarely apprehended.

The least admitted, most antisocial motive for letting Rover off the leash is that you won’t “notice” when Rover takes a dump. The preferred M.O. is to maintain (a) a minimum 50-yard lead on Rover and (b) an air of intense distraction, as if you’re utterly swept away by the Symphonie Pathetique of your inner life. You will soon develop the uncanny ability to turn as soon as the turds have been deposited, and to whistle irritably for your pet, feigning ignorance of his whereabouts.

None of these nuisances are altogether new. In some form, they’ve always existed in a densely packed, vertically organized city. But the harshness of the discourse is alarmingly new. Among militant canophiles, Holocaust imagery is rampant and by no means confined to the West Side. PEP (Park Enforcement Patrol) officers are routinely heckled when enforcing the laws as “Gestapo,” “Nazis,” and “Brownshirts” (actually, their shirts are green, and they’re unarmed). Charles McKinney, the administrator of Riverside Park, is referred to in flyers as “a dictator.” One somewhat confused canophile, enraged by the “storm trooper” tactics of the PEP officers arresting her, gave her name as Eva Braun. Carolyn Dolgenos, who was arrested two years ago by PEP officers in Central Park during a celebrated fracas over her unleashed bichons frises, compared herself, according to the Times, to “Jews in the concentration camps.” She also likened her arrest to that of “blacks in the South,” an interesting take given that both the arresting officers were black and Ms. Dolgenos is a countess (which is to say she’s married to a count). Racism is sometimes quite overt: A West Side flyer giving tips on how to deal with PEP officers, a large number of whom are black or Hispanic, sneered, “Remember: it takes an average of 30 minutes to write a summons. Spelling is hard for them.”

Then there are the obscenities. Many letters received by Parks from people who have been harassed by unleashed dogs cite foul language on the part of their owners. Laura Meyer, dog lover and chair of the Parks Committee of Community Board No. 8, which serves the Upper East Side, says of Carl Schurz Park, “You ask people to pick up after their dog and they shout obscenities at you.” Big Dog and Tourette’s syndromes appear to be clinically linked. Passionate dog lovers like to think of themselves as gentle, genial, outdoorsy folks made even more gentle and genial by the love of a good dog. But let that love or its object be challenged and they adopt a snarling, bared-teeth defensive mode just this side of actual canine behavior. (Indeed, on several occasions, PEP officers have been bitten by dog lovers in the course of making arrests.) Call it Rover Rage.

To be fair, Rover Rage is more than just another wave of urban venting. It arises from a deeply felt conviction that great injustice is being done, that rights akin to, if not equal to, human rights are being trampled on. It’s here that the non-canophile enters territory entirely new and unfamiliar -- terra indognita. Unprecedented claims are being made for dogs that only a few years ago would have been regarded as preposterous, satirical, or the ravings of cranks but are now widely discussed, disseminated, and accepted. The cozy sentimentality of Lassie, Snoopy, and Toto, the cutesy-poo of Muffy and Fluffy in matching boleros, is dismissed as exploitative and/or condescending. We’re entering the Age of the Dog As Person, the Dog As Other, possibly even the Dog As Citizen. Jeffrey Masson, author of Dogs Never Lie About Love, takes this to his own extreme: The Dog As Living Saint.

Extreme dog advocacy has spawned its own literary genre. Total immersion in it quickly reveals that while everyone pays lip service to scientifically “demonstrating” canine consciousness, a leap of faith in the Dog As Other has already been made. What is being formulated here is religion. “The dog is love,” writes Masson. “Dogs are all about love. . . . If any species on earth shares this miraculous ability to love the other for its own sake it is the dog, for the dog truly loves us beyond expectation, beyond measure, beyond what we deserve, more indeed than we love ourselves.” Substitute God for dog in this passage and the meaning doesn’t change one iota. (Fun fact: The slogan of TheBerkeley Bark, a publication in Masson’s hometown, is “Dog is our co-pilot.”

Modern canophiles are illuminati. There is no way into such a world if you have not made the crucial leap of faith, nor are the illuminati to be persuaded out of it. As Marjorie Garber notes in Dog Love -- the only book I’ve come across that approaches its subject with some wit and self-awareness -- canophilia’s obvious anthropomorphism is actually embraced by its advocates. “Why should science insist that there is a fixed boundary between human beings and dogs? . . . Why should we reserve humanness for humans?”

It doesn’t take a constitutional lawyer to move from this postulate to the next step. If dogs share our humanity, they also share our rights. In New York City, where everyone is a constitutional lawyer, that’s an explosive idea. And if you happen to be one of the estimated million or so constitutional lawyers who also own a dog, the result is -- Rover Rage. There’s an unpleasant corollary here. If dogs are quasi-human, what conceivable right do full humans have to “own” them? Not addressed in the New York Dog Debate is the sadism of keeping a quasi-human in a confined space twenty floors up, with only half an hour’s exercise a day. Maximum-security lifers in Attica get better treatment, and they’re not -- currently -- being neutered.

But inconsistency never deterred an activist, and New York dog activists are the real thing. They’re overwhelmingly boomers, comfortable, settled people anywhere from early to late middle age. Their tactics -- confronting the PEP, scattering and regrouping when PEP vans hove into sight, ripping down fences, civil disobedience, graffiti, anonymous inflammatory leafleting, giving false names from their overeducated liberal-arts past like “Anna Karenina” or “Pagliacci” -- all echo the activism of their collective long-lost youth. “Parks belong to the people,” says Jeffrey Zahn of FLORAL (Friends & Lovers of Riverside Area Life), recalling the slogan chanted in Berkeley’s People’s Park almost 30 years ago. Perhaps what we’re seeing is the last gasp of activists who once expended their energies on liberating blacks, women, Vietnamese, gays, and Native Americans but became disillusioned when they discovered that such groups were just as capable of violence, corruption, and prejudice as the people from whom they were liberated. Now they’ve turned their attention to the one minority that won’t talk back, purchase firearms, or make embarrassing political demands -- dogs. It’s hard not to conclude that canine activists are people with far too little on their conscience.

I owned a dog once -- in the country, where dogs belong -- and I loved the old moron dearly. But make no mistake about it:
Freckles was a lower life form. All dogs are. We’re talking science here. Dogs don’t have opposable thumbs, they can’t walk upright, the size of their neocortex is a fraction of ours, and not one of them can make a passable crème brûlée.

Of all the parks in our quite extraordinary Parks system, Riverside is potentially one of the most exquisite. It shares with the others some of that inimitable grass-and-granite drama that is Olmsted’s aesthetic legacy to the designers who came after him, but what makes it unique is the majestic river that hurries or ambles past it, a river greater than all other city rivers, muscular and moody, a Robert Mitchum of a river, a river so generously huge and all-encompassing it even makes New Jersey look good. None of the turgid floods in more celebrated capitals can hold a candle to the Hudson. The Thames, the Seine, the pathetic trickles of the Tiber and the Manzanares, acquire grandeur only to the degree that it’s reflected on their murky surfaces. The Hudson’s grandeur is all its own. It’s a New York river. It owes nothin’ to nobody. And it deserves better in a park. Far better. For several decades now, Riverside has suffered terribly. The same fiscal misfortunes as elsewhere, the same social scourges, but more than any other park, it has been decimated by dogs. Hardly a square inch of it has not been ripped up by countless claws, pissed on and crapped on to the point of infertility by countless doggy loins. Not a block of turf can be laid in Riverside without being covered by the next morning with dumb chums; not a fence can be erected without being immediately ripped down by those pseudo-populists peculiar to the Upper West Side. The park’s configuration makes it susceptible to damage; for a lot of its narrow two-and-a-half-mile length, it’s a steep riverbank, descending to a causeway. Ironically, some of the damage is a result of Central Park’s rebirth in the Betsy Rogers years; a lot of dog lovers migrated west. As the West Side became richer and more fashionable, real-estate agents compounded the problem by telling new residents that the park was “dog-friendly.”

Which is all going to get far worse when the Trump Follies start debouching their well-heeled occupants into the park’s south end.

I have a dream. I see green from 72nd Street to 120th: riverbank and mini-meadows absolutely off-limits to dogs. I see flower beds in profusion, tended by volunteers, like the gorgeous spread that dazzles you all spring, summer, and fall at the north end of the Promenade. I see ample dog runs at each end (instead of the current ones at 104th and 87th, ridiculously long treks if you don’t live nearby) and at least two others, not in the park proper but in the occasional green medians above Riverside Drive. I see families finally able to play and picnic without fear of harassment. I see singles and couples strolling with their dog children, license tags on their collars costing $500 a year for dogs up to 50 pounds, $500 more for every extra 50 pounds. (Special dispensations for senior and low-income dog lovers.) I see signs forbidding dogs to urinate or defecate anywhere but in special conveniences in the dog runs. (To those dog parents who might protest, I would offer a crisp “Diapers.”)

I see the largest neighborhood park in Manhattan not having to be policed but run by its users with a modicum of decency, politeness, and give-and-take. But above all, I see the Hudson, hurrying downtown as if late for an appointment, or whipped into a frisky gray-green chop by a brisk nor’wester, or in one of its other hundred moods. And I see it without getting tripped, as I marvel, by a Flexi-leash.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Protecting Yourself from Unleashed Dogs

Unleashed dogs in Prospect Park Ravine

If you or your family members have ever been attacked, menanced or are afraid of being attacked by unleashed dogs in NYC parks you are within your rights to protect yourself. It is legal to purchase and carry pepper spray in New York. If you are in a city park and are charged by an unleashed dog you are completely within your rights to use pepper spray on the animal. Given the current situation, and the fact that city agencies are unwilling to protect the public from unleashed dogs, I recommend carrying pepper spray in city parks and not be afraid to use it to deter canine attacks.

-Find stores in New York to buy pepper spray-

-Click here for information on pepper spray-