Mayhem at Washington Heights Dog Run Irks Neighbors, Dog Owners

By Nigel Chiwaya on January 15, 2013 7:10am 

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Deborah Stucker says Fidel, her 4-year-old Havanese, doesn't much care for dog runs.

The pooch tends to leave the runs after only 30 seconds. So Stucker didn't expect much when Fidel begged her to enter the dog run at Washington Height's J. Hood Wright Park on Jan. 3.

It was empty except for a young couple and their three dogs that she said approached Fidel as they entered. Stucker turned her back to close the gate and then all hell broke loose.

"My back to was to him for two seconds when I started to hear screaming," Stucker told DNAinfo.com New York. "They had him and they were trying to rip him to shreds."

The three dogs were savaging Fidel, she said.

Stucker said she tried to pull Fidel away, but the attackers — which she described as pit bulls — wouldn't let him go.  One of the attacking dog's owners was also desperately trying to stop the savagery, she added.

"I remember he was holding onto the dog, he was pounding on the dog with his fist," said Stucker. "They were resourceless."

The attack lasted seven minutes. Stucker finally made it to a bench and shielded Fidel with her body — even biting one of the dogs on the nose when it came to attack, she said.

By the time other help arrived she said the dogs and their owners had fled, leaving Stucker alone and crying and Fidel in need of more than $12,000 dollars of veterinary bills for broken ribs and serious lacerations.

"I guess I’m just shocked that they left her on the ground crying and bleeding,"  said Craig Borchardt, who lives in Stucker's building and helped call a cab to get her to a vet.

Stucker's attack is just the latest issue at the troubled Washington Heights dog run. Residents complain that several dog owners abuse the rules there, letting their dogs roam off-leash outside of the run, refusing to halt excessive barking and leaving poop everywhere.

Fights aren't uncommon, said Borchardt, who lives directly across from the dog run on Haven Avenue and has a clear view of the run from his home.

The skirmishes are made worse because owners don't obey the rules, which state that dogs and owners must leave after a fight until both dogs have calmed down, he said.

"You hear them," said Borchardt about the dog fights. Over eight months, he recorded dozens of videos of the noise at the dog run.

"They were much more common during the summer. They fight and 30 seconds later they fight again."

Unlike many other dog runs that are located inside parks, the J. Hood Wright run sits along the park's western edge, allowing nearby residents to hear the noise at all times.

In most of Borchardt's recordings, a constant, steady barking fills the audio of the one- or two-minute clip, and sometimes can be heard with an echo.

Residents said that problems began in February when the run was expanded. Almost immediately, neighbors said the run became noisier much later into the night.

"The noise happens at all hours. It happens as early as 6 a.m. up until well after the park closes," said one resident, who asked not to be named.

Officially, the park is open between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., but residents say that people are in the dog run as late at 2 a.m.

A Parks Department spokesman said the city is working with cops to deal with problems.

"Parks is working with the 33rd Precinct to enforce the 11 p.m. closing time and our Parks Enforcement Patrol is monitoring the area to enforce the rule that dogs can only be off-leash within the dog run," spokesman Philip Abramson said.

Residents spoke about their concerns last year at a general meeting of Community Board 12.

A meeting among Parks Department officials, the Community Board, dog owners and Haven Avenue residents had been set for September, but was postponed and never rescheduled. In the meantime, Borchardt said he and other residents have sent more than 650 emails to officials complaining about the situation.

Abramson said that several improvements have been made in the months following the complaints.

Signs have been placed around the run stating the closing time, and a security camera is scheduled to be installed this month. Several dog owners have also been ticketed for noise violations, according to the Parks Department.

Stucker, meanwhile, is trying to learn the names of the owners of the dogs that attacked her pet in the hopes that she can get them to pay the vet bills that her pet insurance didn't cover. She would also like to see the owners take dog training classes.

Stucker is also looking to create an educational panel of dog trainers to speak at dog runs and teach owners how to keep their pets under control, something she says isn't happening at J. Hood Wright.

"People do not have control over their animals," she said.

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