Thursday, May 1, 2008

Off-Leash Racism, Part II

We have dealt with this issue before (see our Feb. 23, 2008 post), but particularly for the benefit of those new to this blog, why do we continually point out the race--or, more specifically, the skin color--of those who run their dogs when or where they are not permitted to?

A caveat: we are not accusing anyone of racism simply for unleashing a dog in a park. Those who do so legally are, by and large, simply taking advantage of a law intended for their benefit, foolish as that law may be; and those who do so illegally are, by and large, nothing more than selfish scofflaws, with an agenda and moral level no different from those who smoke on subway trains. Our wrath here is directed at off-leash activists and officials such as Commissioner Benepe and Tupper Thomas.

Our correspondent was in the Nethermead one afternoon last week around 5 P.M. There were about 30 unleashed dogs some people trying to play soccer. Our correspondent approached one kid who was desultorily kicking around a soccer ball off to the side corner and asked why he wasn't playing. The kid explained that he had given up; the dogs chase the ball, making playing impossible. The soccer players were Jamaican; all of the dog owners were white.

This is only one example of a phenomenon we keep pointing out: those who take advantage, legally, of the off-leash rules and, even more important, those who take advantage of the city’s refusal to enforce what leash law remains in the parks, are almost exclusively white; while outside dog hours, park users, particularly in the DOPR’s “crown jewels” of Prospect Park and Central Park, are to a large extent—in the case of Prospect Park, the greatest extent—black. The presence of unleashed dogs is inimical to most of the park activities others engage in: playing soccer, picnicking, jogging, bicycle-riding—unleashed dogs have bitten runners and bicyclists, and caused bicycle accidents—and quiet nature study such as bird-watching; and one would be irresponsible to bring small children, particularly those in strollers, into an area with unleashed dogs. In short, unleashed dogs are designed to keep other park patrons away. In the case of Prospect Park, officially, that means, all of the park’s open spaces during dog hours and, unofficially (since there’s no enforcement) anywhere in the park during dog hours and much of the park at various other times. In the case of Central Park, it means at least nearly all of the park during dog hours. When one adds to this the proposition, for which I have (so far) only anecdotal evidence, that as a group inner-city black people by and large do not like dogs or even fear them (they are not the only such group), the message is clear: black people are not welcome in the parks, at least during dog hours.

So, you say, “New York City isn’t Selma, Alabama in the early 1960s. That can’t possibly be.” Think again.

The DOPR recently released a “pet owner’s guide”, which you can find at Here are all of the reasons they give for off-leash: “Over the past twenty years, this policy has kept parks and neighborhoods safe, allowed owners to exercise and socialize their dogs, and reduced the number of dog bites.” The last two reasons are pure nonsense: dogs do not need to be unleashed to exercise—the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Animal Welfare advises on its website, in a brochure entitled “Jogging and Other Aerobic Exercising with Dogs”, “Use a leash. When exercising outdoors, keep your dog on leash for his safety and the safety of others. By using the leash, you stay in control, even if you encounter a surprise on the hiker-biker trail”; the city neither keeps records of dog bites in the parks or has any evidence that letting dogs loose in the parks affects the number of reported dog bites for all dogs everywhere, whether or not they are ever let loose in the parks. These reasons also totally fail to explain why dogs must be permitted to run off-leash in all of Prospect Park’s open areas and in nearly all of Central Park 365 days a year before 9 A.M.

So that leaves the notion that off-leash “has kept parks and neighborhoods safe”. The proposition that allowing dogs off-leash in the parks is responsible in any way for the precipitous drop in the city’s crime rate, citywide—your read it right; that’s what it says—is beyond laughable. We are certain that the former Mayor Guiliani and various police commissioners would be quite interested in this proposition, and perhaps they could correct Commissioner Benepe on that score. The notion that the crime rate in the city’s parks has dropped at all may itself be false; see the post “Park Crime Statistics” at, which questions the notion that such statistics even exist. But the very idea that any decrease in crime in the city’s parks is attributable to off-leash true or false is itself pernicious. Dogs running off-leash will not scare away people with guns or knives. But they will scare away law-abiding people who are uncomfortable with dogs or whose use of the park conflicts with unleashed dogs. Quite simply, “kept parks and neighborhoods safe” is a code. The idea seems to be that a higher crime rate is associated with the presence of more black people; and therefore that one can reduce the appearance of crime or the appearance that parks or unsafe—not real crime-- by reducing the number of black people in the parks, in relative or absolute terms. Off-leash certainly brings white people into the parks, and for reasons we’ve discussed is bound to reduce the number of black people in the park. If that’s what is intended, it is completely rational to make this policy effective in as much of the parks as possible, 365 days a year, and for as long as possible. Completely rational, and as racist as unleashing dogs on civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama.

1 comment:

Datnioides said...

I have lived in Prospect Heights in a black neighbourhood for over 32 years. I would have to agree that on average my black neighbours are more likely to give me the stink eye or cross the street when they see me coming with my calm, well trained, leashed pit bull. Some even have the audacity to suggest I step into a busy street myself to give them the comfort of the entire sidewalk for their passing.

While some dogs are certainly cherished as pets in the ghetto, many others are not. I have often seen large dogs kept as guards or "bandogs", tied up to a tiny corner of an apartment, all day, every day. Of course, such frustrating confinement has an adverse effect on the animal's temperament. Bandogs, as they were known in medieval times, are encouraged to be fierce and unfriendly in order to to ward off outsiders and criminals. These tied up dogs are often beaten unmercifully as well and I have personally heard the horrifying sounds coming from neighbouring apartments. (Yes I called the authorities.)

When these uncontrollable, poorly socialized dogs are taken out for their single daily walk, the results can be imagined. I have been almost bitten by a Cujo-like monster dog owned by an older woman who could barely hold onto it. At least one beastly rottweiler walked by a 90 pound females has been known to attack schoolchildren and grown men, shredding their coats, on Lincoln Place. That rottweiler has since been gotten rid of, but I don't know why anyone would want to have a lawsuit waiting to happen in their possession to begin with.

City children who encounter these large, scary dogs or live with tied up dogs in overcrowded apartment conditions are not likely to bond emotionally with dogs and are more likely to grow up being afraid of dogs. They are more likely to be attacked by dogs as well. My toddler son was severely bitten by two shepherd mongrels that escaped their door unexpectedly as we were coming down the stairs of our apartment building. These unsocialized animals were never taken out by their elderly owner and viciously bit my son in the legs. To this day my son is wary of dogs and who can blame him, even though he loves my pit bull very much and has expended thousands of dollars on vet care for her.

Of course it is not just black children who are afraid of dogs. I will never forget the shrieks of terror coming from a young white girl on the sidewalk when my leashed dog turned in her direction while I was cleaning up dog mess. She wailed and clung to her mother, who apologized profusely for the reaction. She shouldn't have to apologize, of course, but in a society that venerates dogs and elevates them to human status, it isn't hard to see why she did.

I don't like unleashed dogs because they induce discomfort and anxiety due to my life experiences with my son being bitten and with the two huge shepherd mutts that cornered me in Prospect park in 1998 and almost bit me. (Their white female owner didn't even HAVE a leash. She had to grab the dogs off me by their COLLARS.) If growing up with dog show breeders hadn't given me a knowledge of dog nature and body language I may very well have been badly bitten myself, that morning nearly ten years ago in Prospect Park's Peninsula.

Instead I was infuriated by the utter indifference shown to my fright and distress by the police, the park officials, and others I went to for help. When I finally got the Prospect Park administrator on the phone later that week, she basically implied that I was a liar because I told her that, in addition to being nearly bitten, I had also seen several dog walkers, each handling four or five off leash dogs, entering the Peninsula woodlands. She had been there the same morning, she said, and had seen no such thing. So I must not believe the evidence of my own eyes.

It certainly is wrong that the dog unleashers need to be given the entire park for their recreation. What's wrong with fencing off a few small areas? True, those fenced off areas would soon become mudholes, but better that than trashing the entire park, or diminishing the quality of the park experience for everyone who isn't a rabid off leash fanatic dog owner. The tranquility that made the Nethermead a special place for me has been replaced by yelping dogs. For many many years I watched the Jamaicans play soccer in Prospect Park and that sport was also a delight to me. That too seems to be vanishing. Why can't dog owners have the empathy and compassion for other people that they claim to have for their dogs?