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Benny_park.jpgThis is a post about a group of leash reactionaries in Queens who want to end ALL off-leash privileges for ALL dogs in New York City. They want no dog runs, no dogs running free in any park. They basically want no dogs. And they are suing the city to make that a reality. Don’t laugh. They’ve already won one lawsuit. As the Queens Times Ledger (registration required) said in an editorial about the President of the group bringing the suit: “Bob [Holden] makes the Grinch look warm and fuzzy.” Bloggers: please help me spread the word.
I’m gonna break my 300-word blog post rule and rant about an issue that effects me and at least a million other New York City voters – dog laws. You can stop reading right now if you hate dogs. Oh, and if you do hate dogs, please don’t come back.
Estimates of the New York City dog population vary widely, but one million is a good guess, according to the New York Times. Every day, me and approximately 6,000 to 10,000 other dog owners take their dogs to Central Park so they can run off-leash with other dogs. It’s not a law, exactly, but a more than 20-year tradition begun by then Parks Commissioner Henry Stern.
So, before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m., you can see all makes and models of dogs frolicking merrily through many areas of the Central Park. Now, a group in Queens is bringing suit against the City to end ALL off-leash privileges in ALL parks, 24/7, even though during those hours the presence of dogs and their owners makes the park safer for runners and others who want to use it.
The Central Park PAWS website says:

“The situation is this: As a result of conflict between dog owners and other park users in a small Queens park–Juniper Park in Middle Village, Queens–the Juniper Park Civic Association has filed a lawsuit against the city. They are challenging the right of Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to grant off-leash privileges in ANY city park. While Commissioner Benepe and the Parks Department have expressed their continued support of the off-leash privileges they grant us, the lawsuit could force them to suspend those privileges.”

Says an attorney who asked not to be named, “Tradition is a powerful precedent. It sounds like this group is just trying to make noise for some other purpose.”
Indeed, I’ve learned that Bob Holden has been nominated for a seat on the local community board, and it is rumored that he has larger political aspirations. The publicity, he apparently thinks, serves his ambitions well.

benny_6_mos.jpgSusan Buckley, president of Centrals Park PAWS, advisory group to the Central Park Conservancy, says that the Parks Commissioner needs the discretion to work with each park to make policy for that park.

“The most important aspect is that the park system if NYC is fabulous and unbelievably varied. To try and make the same rule for Central Park which is 843 acres, Juniper Park which is 20 acres, Washington Square Park, which is probably one acre, makes no sense.
Each park has its own needs. Off-leash works in Central Park and Prospect Park. That doesn’t mean it works in every park; it could work or not depending on how responsible the dog owners are and how much they educated themselves and others.”

Even the president of the newly formed Juniper Park Dog Group, Terri Sullivan, says that the answer for Juniper Park is probably a dog run. But the Civic Association says “No!” to a dog run. “I think Bob Holden just hates dogs,” Sullivan says.
The Ledger says “Holden is on a crusade against the city’s dogs and their owners.” The paper maintains that this is an issue for voters, not the courts, and I agree.

“Since this is a democracy,” they say, “let the people decide. …We’re guessing the anti-dog contingent will find themselves a small, albeit noisy, minority.” You got that right, sir.

Having dogs in Central Park is good for the park. Our presence makes the parks safer by bringing people into the park at off hours. Says Buckley, “

For off-leash to work, you have to have responsible dog owners who understand that not every dog can be let off leash. If you have an aggressive dog, it should not be off leash in the park with other dogs. There is no question about that. We can’t only focus on how good it is for the dogs.”

Says holistic veterinarian Dr Jill Elliot of New York City, Co-author with pet-care specialist Kim Bloomer, of Whole Health for Happy Dogs: A natural health handbook for dogs and their owners, says

“Dogs are social, pack animals, They need healthy dog-to-dog interaction. This alone makes them more sociable in general and less likely to get into fights with other dogs who do not have a lot of exposure to lots of dogs.
In New York City one of the best ways for this to occur is in the dog runs and other designated areas for dogs to be off leash and interact with supervision. Most healthy dogs have boundless energy. Leash walks just don’t cut it when it comes to getting enough exercise.”

It’s also a great way for dog owners to interact, and many friendships, business deals and even marriages are forged while the dogs are playing.
Holden, who owns a dog, told one reporter that he was attacked by a dog in Juniper Park. Interestingly, there is no police report to support the claim. “I don’t want to call bob a liar, but I’d really like to see that police report,” says Sullivan.
One thing you can count on, dog owners are voters and they are clearly passionate about their dogs. Every political candidate should remember that there’s a voter on one end of every leash.
New York Magazine article
NY 1 News