The Parks Department moved quickly last week to write into law its 20-year-old informal policy allowing dogs to run off-leash in city parks, after a judge ruled that the agency does indeed have the right to do so.
Phil Abramson, a Parks Department spokesman, said the agency is “in the initial process” of writing the regulations that would, in effect, turn city parks into a 9 pm to 9 am dog run, as they have been since Henry Stern was the toga-wearing commissioner.
The Parks Department move followed a Board of Health vote to amend the Health Code to allow for off-leash dogs throughout the city’s 28,000-acre emerald empire.
The veritable doggie-bone bonanza came as a triple-blow to the Juniper Park Civic Association, the Queens community group that sued the Parks Department earlier this year, yet had a “fundamental misunderstanding of the ‘laws’ at issue,” Queens Supreme Court Judge Peter Kelly wrote in his ruling last month.
The spate of dog-friendly developments was welcome news to owners and pooches gathered in Prospect Park’s Long Meadow on a recent Saturday morning for the monthly cake-and-coffee klatsch sponsored by the Fellowship in the Interest of Dogs and their Owners (FIDO).
“The dogs really love the off-leash hours,” said Phil Schwartz, who brings his labradoodle, Rainy, to the park every morning before 9 am. “And you feel so happy with your dog.”
Ironically, the Juniper park group’s lawsuit has inadvertently strengthened FIDO and other dog-owner groups, the very constituency it had been seeking to undermine.
“For the first time, we have a citywide dog movement, and the city is treating us differently,” said FIDO president Mary McInerney, who has two retrievers, Scout and Angie.
The strength of the dog-owner lobby was demonstrated by the tally of comments sent to the Health Department: 13,268 people wrote in support of retaining off-leash hours, while just 202 called for them to be curtailed.
Indeed, no less a luminary than Park Sloper Jonathan Safran Foer — who is not only the greatest writer of his generation, but also a dog owner — penned a Sunday Times op-ed in support of off-leash hours.
But Juniper Civic won’t let sleeping dogs lie.
“Our constitutional rights are at stake,” said member, Kathleen Gerritson. “The rights of citizens, pedestrians of all ages, are not as important as an impudent dog owner who wants to let dogs run wild? They have more than 40 dog runs in the city!”