Volume 20, Number 42 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | October 13 - 19, 2010

Downtown Express photo by Andrea Riquier

Madison, a Great Dane, trying to slip beneath the fence to play on Battery Park’s Great Lawn.

Dogs in Battery Park get help from task force

BY Andrea Riquier

Madison, a 106-pound Great Dane, stood looking longingly at the Great Lawn of Battery Park. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and the lawn had long been one of her favorite places to play. But other than two homeless people asleep under trees, the lawn was completely deserted. Dogs have not been welcome off-leash in the park since the summer.

In June, the Battery Park Conservancy began circulating flyers explaining dogs would no longer be allowed off-leash on the lawn, and shortly afterward the Parks Department began issuing summonses to dog owners who did not follow the rules. The change in policy has not been officially explained.

Cathy Yee, a real estate agent who lives in the Financial District, said, “A lot of dog owners had been using it peacefully so when they started ticketing people it was disruptive.”

Yee owns a rescue dog named Piper and said that letting Piper play off-leash showed her how important it was for dogs.

“When I got her she had some issues,” Yee said. “She would get really anxious when she would meet other dogs on the leash — she would spaz out. I would walk her three hours a day but she would still get spazzy. But when I started taking her to the great lawn I think she built up confidence. She’s mellowed out a lot.”

Yee and other dog owners founded the Downtown Dog Owners Association and began to reach out for support. They asked Community Board 1 to send a letter to the Parks Department. asking that the summonses be stopped until a meeting could be held. Yee said she didn’t believe that Parks had responded to the letter. But neither have they responded to several requests for a meeting with the Community Board and the dog owners, they did not respond to meeting requests for July and September, and did not come to a scheduled meeting in early October.

Yee and other dog owners have prepared a presentation listing five reasons dogs should be allowed off-leash: dogs make the park safer, exercising and socializing dogs benefits the community, it brings the community together, and dog owners advocate for their parks. A fifth reason specific to the Financial District is that having dogs off-leash addresses the needs of an area that is increasingly residential and family-oriented, rather than commercial or tourist-centered.

Marcello and Cathy de Peralta, Madison’s owners, know having Madison off-leash is best because although there is a small dog run in Battery Park, it is paved with concrete. When Madison plays there, she often winds up with cuts and scrapes on her legs. The de Peraltas have taken to driving to Prospect Park on Saturday mornings to give her a chance to play off-leash. Marcello de Peralta loves the sense of community that dog owners in Prospect Park have, and wishes for the same in his own neighborhood.

“We have to go to someone else’s community – and lose our parking spot!” he said.

At the most recent C.B.1 Financial District sub-committee meeting, the committee voted to create a new task force made up of a representative of the Community Board, the Battery Park Conservancy, the Parks Department, and the dog owners; and to support a trial period of off-leash hours from 6-9 a.m. starting November 1. The dog owners are glad to have the support of the Community Board and hope the task force and trial period come to pass. Since the Parks Department hasn’t responded to the requests for a meeting, it’s not clear how they will respond to this resolution, which still has to be approved by the full Community Board. The Parks Department did not return a call requesting comment for this story.

“I’m psyched about the task force because we’ll finally have a role, and the ability to answer whatever issues come up,” said Marcello de Peralta. All the dog owners believe the trial period will be a success. Kathleen Daly, a lawyer who has been using the park to let her dog Champ play off-leash since 2007, said, “The beauty of off-leash is that it has a self-regulating effect.” She added, “You’re talking about an expanded use of the park, not taking away someone else’s enjoyment.”

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