TREMONT — Crotona Park is a canine wonderland — there are fields for romping, sticks for fetching and squirrels for terrorizing.
But one thing stretches between pups and park bliss — a taut, inescapable cord that can only be removed at inconvenient hours, lest their owners receive dirty looks or summonses for letting their dogs off-leash.
“He’s from Georgia. He’s used to the freedom,” Jeffrey Burke, 25, said of his pit bull VJ. “Then he comes here and he’s like, ‘Why do I have to stay on the leash?’”
The largest park in the South Bronx, 128-acre Crotona Park has 20 tennis courts, a dozen playgrounds, a 3-acre lake and the borough’s largest swimming pool, but no dog run.
In fact, while at least 60 city parks have dog runs, only two South Bronx parks have them: Franz Sigel Park in Concourse and St. Mary’s Park in Mott Haven. (There are at least five other dog runs in the northern Bronx, according to the Parks Department's website.)
Around Crotona Park, some dog lovers are saying their pooches deserve a pen.
“With the increase of four-legged residents, it [is] time they have a designated area to run, exercise and play freely,” Carol Robinson, who lives with her Yorkshire Terrier, Holden Caulfield, just north of the park, wrote in a recent email to the local community board. “Please assist them in getting a dog run in Crotona Park North.”
Many Crotona-area dog owners can describe a time when they were almost slapped with a ticket for unleashing their pup outside of the park's designated off-leash hours — before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
Burke had only recently arrived in New York when he received a stern warning from an officer who spotted VJ relieving himself sans leash, Burke said.
“I learned my lesson,” he said.
Now, he only frees VJ after dark — often around 11 p.m. or later — and only inside a fenced-in synthetic turf soccer field. (Burke said he makes sure VJ does his business before he lets him on to the field.)
Other owners said they meet with their mutts at that soccer field around 7 a.m., treating it as a de facto dog run. Still others use the park’s walled-in baseball diamond.
A real dog run, owners say, would allow the humans to unleash their pets at any time of the day, guilt- and ticket-free, while letting the dogs exercise and socialize.
“There needs to be a space for dogs to interact — and people too,” said Barbara Fleury, 43, owner of two rescued terriers, Rocky and Jesse, on whose behalf she recently asked a city councilwoman to fund a dog run.
In order for the city to build a new dog run, a dog-owners group must commit to maintaining one, then submit a proposal to the local community board, according to Parks Department spokesman Nathan Arnosti. Elected officials must then set aside money for its construction, he added.
Since Robinson has submitted a dog-run request to Community Board 3, the board’s parks committee will discuss the matter at its 6 p.m. meeting Oct. 16, district manager John Dudley said.
If the Crotona Park dog owners seek some inspiration, they could turn to the all-volunteer South Bronx Dog Owner's Group, whose motto is, "Making the Bronx happier, one dog at a time." The group secured city approval for a dog run, won a grant and held fundraisers until it was finally built in St. Mary’s Park in 2010.
Today, the run at the south end of the park by Cypress Avenue fills with pooches and their owners every morning, said Jesus Fontanez, 58, who doesn’t own a dog but likes to watch them play — behind a fence.
Ana Diaz, 69, praised the dog run’s plastic bag dispensers, which seem to keep the rest of the park cleaner as well, she said.
But, she admitted, her “Chihuahua-mutt” Phoebe and her “mutt-mutt” Gypsy really do not care for the dog run.
“They go around once and they want to leave,” she said. “I guess they realize it's a cage.”