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Dogs Versus Babies 'Turf War' Breaks Out in New Waterfront Park

By Meredith Hoffman | February 6, 2013 8:25am

GREENPOINT — When Transmitter Park swung open its gates this August, Jane D'Arensbourg raced in with her toddler who climbed the jungle gym, darted through the sprinklers, rolled in the grass and gazed at the East River.

"It was so gorgeous, an enchanting place," D'Arensbourg, 41, recalled of the brand new family hot spot. "All the parents in the neighborhood were so excited for it to open."

But months later, D'Arensbourg said, most parents with small children have been scared away by another type of playgroup: rowdy unleashed dogs.

"My friends stopped going there because there are so many dogs. There's a whole pile of dogs there running around without a leash," D'Arensbourg said. "The owners couldn't care less, when I confront them. It's not fair, it just takes over this area."

D'Arensbourg and other parents said they have urged the city to enforce rules against unleashed pets in the park and against dogs playing on the grass — but canine owners claim their pups have a dire need for the rare green space. 

Paul Duey, who let his dog off its leash at Transmitter Park one recent afternoon, claimed it was only fair for dogs to have an open space to play as well as humans.

"We need a dog run," Duey said of the neighborhood, and added that the only runs were in distant parts of Greenpoint and Williamsburg at McGolrick and McCarren Parks. "All dogs get are crappy mud pits."

Duey acknowledged that the law prohibited dogs playing off-leash after 9 a.m. in parks and from playing on Transmitter's grass. But he said that his pet was not disturbing anyone, especially since there was no one in the park on the freezing day. 

And local couple Danielle and Greg McGunagle, who take their dog Lola to Transmitter Park to play in big puppy groups Saturday mornings, agreed that the need for a dog run was prompting the park battle.

"Anything west of McGuiness Boulevard has no dog run, every dog owner talks about it," said Greg McGunagle. "The only other run is McGolrick Park so on weekends we have to drive over there. I understand people's concerns, but what I'm concerned about is the lack of planning to get a dog run in the neighborhood." 

McGunagle also said he had felt such animosity from anti-dog people in the neighborhood that one man had threatened to make his dog into a piece of clothing.

"This crazy man came in and said 'You should all get fined, what you're all doing is illegal,'" said McGunagle. "Then he said 'Your dog would make a really nice hat.'"

Danielle McGunagle said that she had only seen dog owners following the rules in the park, and she said the thought that dogs and kids could not "peacefully coexist" was "ludicrous."

"When the park is being used by the community during summer months, all dogs I've seen have been on their leash and off the grass," she said, noting that she had never seen any kind of aggressive action by a dog in Transmitter, where she visits "almost daily."

And McGunagle, who feared losing Transmitter altogether for use by her puppy, insisted that the neighborhood needs a dog recreation space above all.

"The neighborhood has a significantly higher dog population than children," she claimed. "For example, there are three pet stores within three blocks of each other. The closest toy or children's store is about a mile away. I view that as an indicator of community demand for product and space."

But local mother Deborah Sprzeuzkouski said that she and other concerned parents did not have anti-dog sentiment in general — they just wanted the space for their children.

"I don't even feel comfortable bringing my daughter there any more because there are packs of dogs," Sprzeuzkouski said. "I'd be fine if they put a dog run in part of Transmitter Park...but I don't think that [the dog owners'] taking over in an anarchy kind of way is the solution."

A spokeswoman from the Parks Department declined to comment on dog enforcement in Transmitter Park. She said that new dog runs were considered in each park and neighborhood based on community feedback and on finances.

"We consider community requests and funding," said the spokeswoman Meghan Lalor, who would not comment on whether the city had received such requests for Transmitter Park.

To Heather Roslund, chairwoman of Williamsburg Community Board 1's land use committee, the dog-child rivalry echoed years of similar conflicts in an area deprived of adequate green space.

"Being that there isn't enough open space in North Brooklyn, it will always be that there are conflicts or 'turf wars' if you will, in every park," Roslund said. "There always has been and there always will be."