Sunnyside's First Dog Run Opening After Decade of Pet-Lovers' Planning
QUEENS — Sunnyside is adding a little bark to its park.
The neighborhood's first dog run opens Saturday as part of a $1.4 million overhaul of Lou Lodati Park and Torsney Playground, which neighborhood pooch owners have been working toward for over a decade.
"This is something that's been 12 years in the making," said Rick Duro, who owns a German Shepard and corgi mix named Matilda and is president of SUDS, the Sunnyside United Dog Society, which advocated for the park upgrades for years.
The facelift is sure to get a few tails wagging: The new asphalt dog run is bordered by plants and features designated areas for both small and large dogs, plus doggie drinking fountains, benches and a poop bag dispenser.
"They did a beautiful job," Duro said of the Parks Department's overhaul.
The renovation project, which broke ground in the the fall of 2012, also included upgrades to the park's softball, basketball and Ecuadorian volleyball courts, which have all been resurfaced.
"Our mission wasn’t just to build a dog run — our mission was to get enough funding to fix up the entire park for everyone to use," Duro said, adding that they plan to host events in the park, like animal adoption fairs, and to plant a butterfly garden to honor neighborhood dogs who passed away.
SUDS formed in 2001 by neighborhood dog owners who got to know one another while their pets sniffed around Lou Lodati Park. At time, the park was littered with trash, Duro said.
"We took it upon ourselves to clean the park on a nightly basis so our dogs would be able to use it. There'd be broken bottles — it was a mess," Duro said.
The group bonded quickly, and began organizing events like park clean-up days, marching in neighborhood parades with their dogs or raising money for a neighbor whose pet fell ill.
"SUDS is a very close-knit organization. People have met through the group and married and had kids," Duro said.
"People tend to think a dog park is just about dogs, but the reality is it's just as much about the people," he added. "While the dogs are running around playing, the people are socializing, forming a sense of community."
Without a formal dog run, the group could only bring their pups during the city's early-morning or late-night off-leash hours, when they would block off the park entrances with garbage cans to thwart doggie escapes.
In 2003, they started formally organizing to get a dog run — but the project hit a number of roadblocks over the years.
Queens Community Board 2 turned the proposal down twice because they didn't like the park locations the group first picked, and funding that was supposed to go toward the run in 2007 was lost after the economic downturn.
The money finally came through from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who allocated $700,000 each.
"This whole thing has taken a long time. We've been through so many ups and downs," Duro said.
"I think phrase to would be 'dogged determination,'" he quipped. "We never gave up because we knew it was the right thing, not only for us but for the neighborhood."