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Pet Owners and Parents at Odds Over New Dog Policy at John Jay Park

By Shaye Weaver | April 12, 2017 3:45pm
 Clancy (at left) and two other dogs at John Jay Park.
Clancy (at left) and two other dogs at John Jay Park.
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Serena Liu

YORKVILLE —  John Jay Park is going to the dogs.

The city's Department of Parks and Recreation put up signs banning dogs from entering the park, located between East 78th and 76th streets on the East River, earlier this month in response to parents complaining about the safety of their children while using its playgrounds.

But after receiving backlash from dog owners, the agency this week moved the signs to the fenced-off playground areas and ballfield inside the park, allowing dogs back into the unfenced open spaces.

"A lot of us had been in the neighborhood for decades, and the park, as far as anyone can remember, has been dog-friendly," said 49-year-old Serena Liu, who walks her pitbull-mix Clancy there. "We were angry because it seemed arbitrary. There was no public meeting or discourse. For a lot of us, this is the only local green space to enjoy peace and quiet."

Liu, who is a veterinarian, walks her dog in the mornings with a group of other dog owners, some of whom would have a difficult time bringing them to Carl Schurz park in the upper 80s, she said. 

"The park is stratified by time of day," she explained. "In the morning you see guys using workout stations, but it's 100 percent dog owners. Midday it's parents with kids, and later in the evening dog owners are out again."

In general, dogs aren't allowed in the city's playgrounds, including those on the north and south sides of John Jay Park and its open space. Since there is unfenced play equipment within the main area, it's considered a playground as well, the Parks Department said.

But for years, the policy went unenforced and parkgoers have been allowed to walk their dogs there.

"In response to community requests, due to the unique design of John Jay Park and historical patron use, dogs will be allowed in designated areas of John Jay," said agency spokeswoman Crystal Howard.

The signs have been adjusted to prohibit dogs from fenced-off parts of the playground, ballfield and fitness area. Visitors still won't be able to let their dogs off-leash.

But local resident Yvette Stephanopolos, 36, who was at the park on Tuesday evening with her 5- and 8-year-old children, said that kids should be able to play without worrying about dogs coming up to them, or worse — getting bitten.

"My kids aren't used to dogs and they do have a fear with the big ones," she said. "There's so much space to take dogs, but here they run back and forth... and in the summer it's very crowded when the pool is open and kids are on their roller skates. We're not relaxed as parents here."