Upper East Siders Feel Persecuted For Walking Dogs in Central Park

By Victoria Bekiempis on March 11, 2013 7:02am 

UPPER EAST SIDE — They're "persecuted" for their pooches.

That's what some neighborhood dog owners claimed at a recent Community Board 8 Parks Committee meeting.

They want officials to extend the hours when Fido can run free because of claims they're getting unfairly ticketed for letting their pups prowl even minutes outside of Central Park's permitted off-leash hours, from 6 to 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Local resident Becky Spector said that the current off-leash hours in permitted areas, such as the East Meadow, don't do her any good because she has to ready her kids for school in the morning and doesn't feel comfortable walking in the park at night.

She claims the present regulations suggest that Park administrators mistrust responsible dog owners, who she said are getting hit with too many tickets, she claimed.

"We're not going to let a dog off leash if it's uncontrollable or if our dog doesn't come when called, so I think the assumption is like we're not responsible," said Spector, owner of a lab named Ozzy, who is said to have been ticketed multiple times.

"The dog community is feeling persecuted. There is ill will and I know many people who feel the same way. It seems like a very targeted, mean-spirited thing and we're kind of at the point where it's changed our lives."

"We're just easy prey," added Becky's husband, Brett Spector.

The Spectors pointed to CB8 member Elizabeth Ashby, who recently received a $100 ticket in the Park, as an example of many horror stories circulating within the dog community.

Ashby said she was walking her long-haired daschund, Pegoty, alone in 15-degree weather — and that no other dogs or people were around — when she got slammed with the citation.

"Parks enforcement has become overactive," Ashby said Thursday at the CB 8 meeting. "Over the years, we've lost access to about half the park. I think that additional time and space should be considered for off-leash dogs. Dog owners are a big consistency in the park, and they are the constituency that seems to desire this constantly."

"Of all the things they can enforce, off-leash dogs are the least dangerous," Ashby added later in an interview.

"Last summer, a blind man was hit by a bicycle and after that, what do they crack down on? Off-leash dogs. An elderly woman was raped in the ramble. What do they crack down on? Off-leash dogs. It's a sad situation that's arisen."

Officials from the Central Park Conservancy, which works with the Department of Parks and Recreation to manage Manhattan's most famous open space, said that they understand dog owners' concerns — but that it's difficult to find a happy medium.

"We don't have anything against dogs. We've worked with the dog community in Central Park for over 20 years," said Neil Calvanese, the Conservancy's vice president for operations.

"It's really a balancing act, and the way the park is managed is about sustaining the park. There are many different constituencies in the park. We try to accommodate, in the space that we have, all those different activities."

Calvanese warned, however, that adding dog runs would be aesthetically ruinous to the park.

"I haven't seen a dog run yet that really looks good," he said. "It's barren areas. It's woodchips. It's dust."

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