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Best and Worst Dog Parks on the Upper West Side

By Emily Frost | May 6, 2013 7:28am
  Everyone has a favorite dog run in the neighborhood; find out why each makes or misses the mark. 
Guide to the Upper West Side's Dog Parks
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Sandwiched between two parks, the Upper West Side is considered by some the ideal New York neighborhood for owning a dog.

"For me, being able to have two parks so close is a great benefit and areas that are off-leash are essential — I have dogs that need to be off-leash," said Upper West Sider Laura Diaz, the proud owner of a Weimaraner, an Afghan hound and the frozen dog treats company, Yappy Treats Cart.

There are also six dedicated dog runs spread across the neighborhood, and each has its own detractors and enthusiasts. 

DNAinfo.com sniffed out each of them for this guide on where to head for Fido's next romp.

Morningside Park Dog Run (between 114th and 117th streets in the park)

This hillside dog run has lots of shade and is secluded from the busy university it sits beneath. To manage the slope of the hill, the run has a built-in, three-step terrace, which effectively creates two separate pooch play areas.

Saramanda Swigart, 38, brings her terrier mix Titus Maximus to the run daily. In warm weather, there are always small dishes of water set out for the dogs — a nice touch she said is unusual. "Someone brings it," she said. "That's not at every dog run."

There are also plenty of benches for owners along the run's perimeter and there's always plenty of room, she said. "I never feel like it's too crowded," Swigart said. 

The black plastic bags for poop that are posted on the fence also go a long way toward promoting peace and harmony, regular visitors said.

Terry Maggott, 24, said some people avoid the run because of the number of pit bulls that frolic there. "They're here every day," said Maggott, who has no qualms about letting her Labradoodle Tinga play alongside the muscular terriers.

Not everyone shares her tolerance, she said. "When pit bulls come, people just leave," she said.

Bull Moose Dog Run (81st Street and Columbus Avenue, in Theodore Roosevelt Park)

Even the head volunteers who assist the Parks Department in maintaining this dog run call it a dump and a "blight" on the neighborhood.

But it's a well-loved dump that's become home base for one of the strongest dog owner communities in the neighborhood. These motivated owners have plans for a bright — and expensive — future for Bull Moose, and are hoping to raise $500,000 to cover high-end improvements, including the city's first swath of artificial dog turf.

For now, dirt and dust from the surface of the dog run that's adjacent to the American Museum of Natural History are the major sticking points for owners. 

"We often leave with filthy, filthy dogs. We also walk away with lots of dust and dirt on our clothes," said Erin Porter, a Bull Moose Dog Run board member.

"When you go there, you come home and you're all dusty an dirty," agreed Laura Diaz, who takes her two large dogs to the run. 

But there is a hose "so you can have fresh water available," Diaz said.  

Board members and supporters pushing for the $500,000 overhaul want to install a water play area, better lighting, sound barriers — and specialized K9Grass that can be pressure washed and sprayed with chemicals to dissolve waste. It would be the first of its kind in the city and cost an estimated $250,000 to buy and install.

87th Street Dog Run (Riverside Park at 87th Street)

Like Bull Moose Dog Run, the 87th Street Dog Run has a strong community of invested owners interested in making improvements to spiff-up their aging dog run. 

According to their website, the volunteers want to "elevate the storm drain, restore the run surface, install erosion control, repair fencing, add and repair masonry, prune and replant the perimeter, install covered garage cans, and replace the storage locker." The pricetag for the makeover is $60,000 of which $40,000 has already been raised.

Many dog runs have two separate areas, but owners at the 87th Street Dog Run said the small-dog zone here is truly respected as off-limits for larger breeds.

"This is perfect. It's nice when they can separate them — it's better," said Jack Reilly, 29, as his 1-year-old French bulldog Hambone played by himself in the smaller dog area. The gravel ground is not ideal, admitted Reilly, who said Hambone prefers sand.

Christine Willard said the respect other owners pay to the run makes a big difference. 

"People seem to really take care of it," said Willard, who visits regularly with her dog Wally.

"I like the owners here," Willard added. "They love their dogs, so they're taking care of them and watching them."

There's typically between 10 to 15 dogs in the run and "dog walkers never come in with more than three dogs," she said.

72nd Street & Riverside Drive Dog Run
(managed by FLORAL, Friends & Lovers Of Riverside Area Life) 

This relatively new dog run, created and operated by the volunteer group FLORAL, has views of the Hudson River and lush landscaped areas surrounding its perimeter. 

"It's gorgeous at sunset — it's quite beautiful," said Elaine Evans, 75, who comes to the run to walk Alfie, her shih tzu/poodle mix. 

The pebbled run has large old trees in the middle, with benches that surround them to offer pleasant seating. The benches were donated by FLORAL members in loving memory of deceased dogs. 

"The surface is considered very good," said Evans. "Other dog parks come and look at our surfaces [for inspiration]."

Dog lovers touted the commitment of the owners who use the space . "It's totally volunteer and all the money is raised by us," said Martha Grossman, 72. "The [surface] pebbles are paid for and spread by us."

Pattee Schnitzer takes her dog to the run every day at the same time in order to meet up with dog pals. "Everyone always says this one is the nicest," she said. 

Riverside South Dog Run (72nd Street, under the highway)

Riverside South Dog Run sits almost directly beneath the 72nd Street dog run. Owners are quick to say it's the underdog in many other ways as well.

"The only reason I come here is to be alone. Otherwise, it sucks," said Romio, 32, who gave only his first name.

The surface — mulch, dirt and support beams from the highway above — are spread throughout the long run that's ringed by barbed wire on the east and a crumbling fence on the west. 

Romio said he brings his three large and energetic dogs here because he knows he'll generally be alone and undisturbed. "I let the dogs go nuts," he said. 

He said he sometimes encounters dog walkers who bring large packs of 20 or more dogs to the run. He also said he's seen people climb the fence at night, and he doesn't think the run is well maintained by owners.

"I think I'm the only one who picks up poop," he said. 

A complete renovation of the run is under consideration as part of the plan for the $2.5 million that's been allocated by City Councilwoman Gale Brewer for Riverside Park South. 

105th Street Dog Run (Riverside Park at 105th Street)

This spacious dog run, situated across from the Hudson River Beach cafe, is very popular with owners. 

Sarah Schloat brings Red, her 8-month-old Miniature Australian Shepherd, to the 105th Street run, which she prefers to the 87th Street run. 

"The sand is lighter — it's less messy. There's tons of dust kicking up [at 87th Street]. This is rock," the 27-year-old said of the small gray pebbles lining the run's surface. 

The extra-large space also means it draws loads of dogs, said Jonathan Botta, 30.

"Sometimes there's 35 dogs here," Botta said between tosses of the tennis ball his 6-year-old Golden Retriever, Oscar, was chasing.

Oscar enjoys the company, and doesn't mind the wide variety of breeds that frequent the run — a quality that can be off-putting to other owners.

"Goldens are kind of the bartenders of the dog world. They like to meet everybody," he said. "A lot of dog walkers come here — so there's a lot of different dogs."

Emily Stine, 30, has been coming to the dog park since she got Ella, a miniature Australian Labradoodle who is now about 6 months old.

"People here are very responsible about their dogs," Stine said. "We always come here now."