Monday, December 31, 2007

Courtesy Hours Are Back

“Courtesy hours” was what the NYC Parks Department (DOPR) called its not enforcing, and instructing the police not to enforce, the city’s leash law during certain hours in portions of at least some parks. (Apparently, this was done as a “courtesy” to dog owners. That there was a corresponding discourtesy to everyone else seems not to have entered the minds of DOPR’s bureaucrats.) In Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, “courtesy” hours were 9 P.M.- 9 A.M. on the Peninsula Meadow and Long Meadow, and 5 P.M.-9 P.M. on the Nethermead Meadow during the winter, 9 P.M.-9 A.M. during the summer. Depending on whom one asks, “courtesy hours” was a “20-year policy” or, far more likely based on published evidence, something that evolved over many fewer years. In any event, following several incidents, including at least one serious mauling by an off-leash dog, the Juniper Park Civic Association sued the city to require it to enforce the leash law. The suit was dismissed, in part on a technicality and in part because the judge thought that the DOPR might actually have the authority to permit “courtesy hours” under the leash law at the time.

But the city had seen the handwriting on the wall. So in December, 2006, following a travesty of a public hearing, it got the health department to amend the leash law (yes; the law is part of the public health code, which is issued by the Health Department, not enacted by any legislative body) to permit the DOPR to permit dogs to be offleash “during a specified range of time, that shall not begin earlier than 9:00 p.m. and not extend past 9:00 a.m.” (The amendment is here: And early last year, following an even greater travesty of a public hearing, the DOPR followed by amending its regulations to permit loose dogs during these hours—and these hours only—in “designated areas” of the parks. (Somehow, the DOPR allowed itself to choose these “designated areas” on its own, without any further public hearing, an issue we shall explore in a future post.) Prospect Park’s website ( says as follows:

Off-Leash Hours
· 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and 5 to 9 a.m. daily in these areas: Long Meadow, Nethermead, Peninsula.

(Notice that it says “Peninsula” and not “Peninsula Woods”. We shall discuss the significance of that in a future post.)

But at least the rules are now official, and with no loopholes for the DOPR to wiggle through: loose dogs are permitted ONLY after 9 P.M. --not 5 P.M. on the Nethermead; see the Brooklyn Eagle article here
--and before 9 A.M.; and ONLY in “designated areas”. So if the Long Meadow, Nethermead and Peninsula are ok, all other parts of Prospect Park, including the paths between these areas, are off-limits.

But that is all theory. The new 9 P.M. loose-dog hours on the Nethermead have been thoroughly ignored, the dogs’ owners untroubled by DOPR officials or the police. And in general, what remains of the leash law is widely flouted, at least in Prospect Park and Central Park. Apparently, and seemingly with good reason, those who would run their dogs loose at will no longer fear being ticketed. (Significantly, about a year ago, the first shift in Prospect Park of DOPR’s parks enforcement patrol, or PEP, which had begun at 8 A.M., moved to 9 A.M., assuring that nobody from the DOPR would be around to enforce the leash law when most of the loose dogs were around. But PEP seems since to have been disbanded.) There is, it seems, a new DOPR “courtesy hours” policy, except that (1) now it’s in effect at all times and in all places and (2) it is totally and unquestionable illegal.

Beginning today, we will document this apparent policy with a log of loose-dog sightings.

---For example, at around 3 P.M. today, at least 5 dogs were loose on the Nethermead and one other in the paths behind the pools.

And to catch up for lost time, note the following:

--On Thanksgiving Day, between 11:30 A.M. and 1 P.M., there were 31 loose dogs on the southeast side of the Prospect Park lake.

--On a drizzly morning about a week ago, of only 7 dogs observed in Prospect Park, four were illegally off-leash, 1 on Wellhouse Drive, 1 along the lullwater, and 2 in the ravine.

--On an equally drizzly morning a couple of days later, out of only 5 dogs observed in the park, 3 were illegally off-leash, 2 emerging from the peninsula woods and one coming down from lookout hill.