Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Great Adrian Benepe Flip-Flop

Prospect Park, 7:50 A.M., 1 big black dog, leashless, heading into woods behind Maryland Monument; 8:10 A.M., 1 big white dog, leashless, crossing the Binen Bridge. Both owners are white males.

Speaking of big dogs, catch this, from the May 11, 1998 issue of New York Magazine:

But now dogs are becoming one of the department’s biggest physical-management problems -- it’s not simply the damage they do but the added enforcement the refuseniks, whose numbers are increasing, make necessary.

Ten to fifteen years ago, observes Adrian Benepe, the no-nonsense Parks commissioner for Manhattan, the parks were rife with crises: crime, drug dealing, graffiti, homeless encampments, rotting infrastructure. Many were resolved. “The dog problem is the only real problem we have,” he says.

And it’s getting bigger:

What is strikingly new, says Benepe, is the size of the breeds people are buying. For many decades, the typical New York dog tended to be a handbag baby -- Pekingese, Maltese, Yorkie, Pomeranian, etc. -- no doubt because rules against pets in apartments were pervasive and strict, and the little fellas were easier to smuggle in and out. Now, says Benepe, he and his staff are seeing bigger and bigger dogs coming into the parks: the obvious retrievers, German shepherds, St. Bernards, Rottweilers, huskies, and Labs, but also Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Irish wolfhounds, Great Danes. Several of these appear on the American Kennel Club’s top ten breeds of last year (the top two are Labs and Rotts). The Big Dog syndrome can be seen as an invasion of suburbiana into the city’s culture -- the priorities of Westport, White Plains, and Saddle River abroad in Central Park. Benepe, however, believes they’re “a fashion statement.”

* * *

Benepe points out that New Yorkers, charmed by the unquestionable grace and heft of these animals -- many well in excess of 100 pounds -- fail to realize that they’re working dogs, bred to be hunters, trackers, shepherds, and guards. (The Rhodesian ridgeback, for example, was bred to protect livestock and hunt lions.) No matter how steely your buns, if you’re a lissome 110 pounds, you’re going to have trouble holding back a Siberian husky whose vocation in life is pulling fully loaded sleds with large Alaskans standing on them.

“People are almost compelled to let them off the leash, because they need so much more exercise and space,” says Benepe. Dog owners make these choices and then expect their fellow New Yorkers to live with the consequences. “They say to us, ‘You need to allow us to exercise hunting dogs in crowded nineteenth-century parks.’ “

* * *

Other than team sports (which are restricted to specific areas), no casual use of our common space destroys turf like unleashed dogs. That happy tumbleweed of gamboling fur that so delights the New York canophile of a dewy morn conceals myriad claws ripping the grass out by the roots; this is particularly the case when the grass is dormant or wet. And when Max or Princess or Sugarpie pauses for a quick tinkle or dump, the exhausted blades and the soil beneath them are clobbered yet again and, less retrievably, poisoned by their ultra-acidic waste. The costs here can be significant. Example: It took $17 million to restore turf in the Great Lawn. Just to repair dog damage in the relatively small Riverside Park last year cost almost $100,000 (on top of regular restoration and maintenance); the citywide estimate is at least half a million. Yet we all foot the bill. Dog-license money supports the licensing agency itself; dog tickets go into the city’s general coffer. Rover’s freedom isn’t free.

The problem isn’t just cosmetic. Dogless people -- bike owner, skate owner, or mere kid owner -- quickly learn to dread the honeyed assertion “It’s okay! He’s really friendly . . .” Friendly doesn’t quite cover the genome of a pony-size wolf-hound with the dentition of a teenage alligator. Flesh will be bitten, bones broken, picnic food stolen, small bodies exposed to ringworm, hookworm, and strep throat from slobbery tongues. A variant -- Rover Semi-Unleashed -- is the widespread use of the Flexi-leash, a tripwire that allows Rover’s owner to be anywhere up to a kilometer away from Rover. (If you square its length and multiply it by ?, you’ll get the acreage to which he/she believes he/she holds current title.) The reality here is not the cheery apology he/she yells as you crash to the ground; the booby-trap expresses, as so much else in our urban habits, hostility. Rover Semi-Unleashed is a weapon.

* * *

Parks officials say attacks by big dogs on smaller dogs are multiplying, but fast-moving dogs (and owners) are rarely apprehended.

Read the whole thing at Then read an April 27, 2003 New York Times article, “NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: UPPER WEST SIDE; Dog Owners Are Fighting The Yoke of Oppression” about summonses for unleashed dogs in Riverside Park, containing the following:

The leash-free rule, Mr. Benepe said, was an ''informal accommodation'' to allow dog walkers to skirt the city's health code requiring leashes at all times. The idea was to turn a purposeful blind eye when Central Park was empty of most visitors. But unlike Central Park, which has no dog runs, Riverside Park has four, so it made little sense to extend a similar courtesy, he said.

Finally, compare these articles with this video of Adrian Benepe’s press conference announcing the new off-leash dog rules, in which letting dogs running loose is now a “successful 20-year policy” (that is, big loose dogs were never a problem), these dogs and their owners are now the parks’ best friends, and it no longer matters that a park has dog runs or that Central Park is filled with non-canine vistors. Also, compare the statement in the New York Magazine article, “Ten to fifteen years ago, observes Adrian Benepe, . . . the parks were rife with . . . crime, drug dealing, . . . . Many were resolved. ‘The dog problem is the only real problem we have’” with the statement in the new DOPR pamphlet, “Dogs in Parks: A Guide”, that “[o]ver the past twenty years, this [off-leash] policy has kept parks and neighborhoods safer,” indicating that unleashed dogs were the solution, not the problem.

Our question is: who paid off whom, and how much did it cost?


We put in a call today to the 68th Precinct and asked the person who answered the telephone, Detective Tal, why dogs were being permitted to run unleashed in the afternoon on the Nethermead. He was clueless. He asked, “Are they allowed to?” We told him no, they were not, until 9 P.M. “Did you call?” We reported that we had called 311 but that calls were routed to the DOPR, who didn’t seem interested. We also reported our conversation with the cop last Saturday, and how there were five cops on one end of the Nethermead doing nothing about the dozen unleashed dogs on the other end. He said he didn’t have an answer but would “take it up” with his commanding officer.

Stay tuned.

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