Wednesday, September 10, 2008

All the News That Fits

Last week, the New York Times helped author Frances Sheridan promote her new book by letting her answer questions in the Times’ blog. The final round of questions and answers is here. One of the questions is by our friend Datnioides, writing (fancifully) through her dog, Pashelle:
Frances, do you have any empathy whatsoever for people who are nervous around off-leash dogs or afraid of dogs? I’ve had to give up using Prospect Park since it became overrun by off-leash dogs. Encountering the off leash dogs and the owners who seem to feel that the park belongs to them and no one else just became too stressful for me. I don’t trust off leash dogs bounding up to me, I don’t know strange dogs or their owners. Can you give me one good reason why I should have to endure interaction with off leash dogs as a condition of enjoying the park?

I have a very well-trained large breed dog. My dog has never been allowed off leash and never will be. Yet she is living proof that a dog can be happy and well adjusted without off leash time. Guess what, I used to hand walk my dog for miles in Prospect Park, a block from my home, before the prevalence of off leash scofflaws became too much to take. Thanks to the selfishness of the Prospect Park dog contingent and their acolytes, both myself and my dog have been deprived of a beautiful place to exercise.

I’d move, but in my travels I have discovered that indulging the “demands” of dog owners who want off leash space for privately owned animals to be provided by the government has impacted parks and open spaces across the country. There’s more empathy for dogs than people, it seems. If you dare to raise your voice against the emotional appeal of Fluffy Running Free, then you’re an evil dog hater. Yet I have a lovely dog who is universally praised by all who meet her for her sweet temperament and vibrant physical health, despite 10 years of life without “doggie socialization” or off-leash time. How would you respond to this?
There followed this semi-literate comment (which we can no longer find on the Times’ website; typos and grammatical errors in the original):
When answer Pashelle and the diatribe against off leash in Prospect Park, could you please explain the off leash rules in New York City?

Of the 88+ parks with off leash rights,dogs are allowed off-leash under the following rules:
1. Dog must be under visually and verbally under control of owner.
2. Hours are limited to 9 am - 9 pm when the parks are least used.
3. Off leash areas EXCLUDE all playgrounds, ballfields, nature preserves, flowerbeds, tennis courts, etc. In fact, off-leash areas are very limited.
4. Dogs must be licensed and vaccinated. (Note that the City now allows licensing on-line to speed up a process that often took months by snail mail.)
5. Dog owners are 100% responsible for their dogs and actions by their dogs.
It seems to me that Pachelle has a strong bias against off leash. That is fine, but isn’t the question -as worded- biased to make it appear that dogs are running wild all over parks?

Prospect Park is one of the most dog friendly parks in the nation. It is surrounded by diverse communities. There are thousands of dogs and owners that use the park daily.

Sure there are those who violate rules and they should be fined. When I am in the park with my dogs, I am always mindful of those who might be afraid or uncomfortable around dogs. We do not impose ourselves on others, but are always ready to introduce ourselves when parents ask if their children can say hello to my dogs.

Pashelle can walk through most of Prospect all the time, and can avoid the off-leash areas when it is off leash time. One would not walk dogs through a ballgame in progress, so think of the off-leash areas the same way.

Of course, some dogs should not be allowed off leash. No one disputes that. Frances, you have written wisely and obviously love dogs. Can you please explain to all readers the value of dog-dog, dog-human socialization?
Here, in part, is Ms. Sheridan’s response:
Pashelle, I do have a great deal of empathy for those who are nervous around or afraid of dogs. I am sorry you have had unpleasant experiences in your park. The rules must be followed regarding the unleashed hours and you should alert the parks police if you are finding them broken. The few who break the rules should be fined and not be allowed to ruin an entire program for everyone. The great majority of dog owners are sensitive to other people and do not want their dogs to make them uncomfortable. This need not be a black-and-white issue where you love or hate dogs simply because you want the rights of all park users respected. \

Also, reiterating what [the commenter] posted, the rules show that there are specific areas and times for unleashed activity. You are by no means being forced to endure any interaction with off leash dogs.
[Italics are ours.]

And here’s a portion of one reader’s response to Ms. Sheridan’s platitudes: “The few who break the rules should be fined and not be allowed to ruin an entire program for everyone.”
Yes, they should. But how do you identify them and fine them when both the dog and the owner run away after breaking a pedestrian’s knee or causing a cyclist to crash, trashing the bike and breaking a collarbone?

You can’t, period. For you to suggest so is unrealistic at best, possibly hypocritical. It’s “love me, love my dog,”
The brief answer to Ms. Sheridan and the person who replied to Datnioides is: the rules exist on paper only. It’s not just a few people who are breaking them. If Ms. Sheridan or the commenter believe that it’s just a few—and we don’t think they really do—we have a bridge to sell them. As we showed in a previous posting, the City’s own figures demonstrate that the vast majority of off-leash dogs are not licensed, and who knows how many are vaccinated, because any PEP agents who patrol off-leash areas never ask. As we keep posting, dog owners—not just a few—routinely let their dogs loose when and where they’re not supposed to, and—as we shall document in a few days with the City’s own figures—for the most part, nobody tries to stop them. We see them whenever we’re in a park. Some recent, random examples that we haven’t mentioned before:

1. Above are pictures taken at Oakland Lake in Bayside, Queens on Sept. 1 around 5 P.M..

2. This past Monday afternoon, in Central Park’s Ramble, some woman was using on the grassy areas as an unenclosed dog run.

3. This morning in Central Park around 7:25, we saw a guy help his large dog jump into a fenced-in area near the bandshell. The area is fenced in—nobody may enter it—to permit the grass to grow. The dog proceeded to tear around the area, using it as his own private enclosed dog run.

4. This morning around 8, we saw a large unleashed dog running around the Ramble.

5. Around 10, we saw a large unleashed dog entering Central Park around 79th Street. It seems to us that we’ve seen the dog (and owner) in the same place before, unleashed.

And, as we keep pointing out, while it is true that the neighborhoods around Prospect Park are ethnically diverse, the off-leash community is almost exclusively white.

1 comment:

Datnioides said...

In the remainder of her response to my questions, Ms Sheridan's starry-eyed response encapsulates the irrational, fanatical, sentimental Disneyworld mentality underlying the "animal rights", "doggies must run free and have doggie social play dates" philosophy:

"I have spent a great deal of time closely observing dogs, and I can tell you that there is a spark that shines through when a dog owns its own movements and engages in play on its own terms. It is a kind of transformative magic. For most dogs unleashed play is healthy for their bodies through exercise, their minds through strategies and independent thought, their emotions through their pet friendships, their hearts through strengthening the bond they have with their person, and their spirits through what a sense of freedom does for all living beings."

This is subjective opinion that is impossible to verify, but all this emotionalistic New Age babble sure makes people feel good and helps ameliorate their guilt for keeping large active animals captive in city apartments for most of the day.

I have closely observed dogs too, all my life, having grown up with dog breeders and dog show people. I have seen that dogs are happiest when they are in tune with their owners and know their place in human society. When you treat dogs as equals, as furry children, and impose lofty humanistic ideals on them such as "freedom" and "spirit" and "friendship" among equals , you diminish the animal in order to feel good about yourself. Dogs are simply incapable of understanding and using these concepts; whatever spark and magic one gets from letting the dog run off leash comes from imposing your own fantasy of freedom on a dog that can never understand that concept as a human does.

No doubt Ms Sheridan is familiar with "Merle's Door", a book by Ted Kerasote, which perhaps epitomizes the soft-headed imbecility of fanatical "off leash" adherents. Ted takes a dog, which looks to him for calm assertive pack leadership, and instead lets it decide how it wants to live its own life by allowing it to run loose all over the countryside in a Western state where stockmen routinely shoot dogs found at large. This criminally irresponsible form of dog ownership is lauded and presented as a high-minded experiment in deepening the dog-human relationship by giving the dog complete independence of movement. If you go to Amazon, you will be amazed at the ardent praise heaped upon this book. I really feel sorry for the poor dog in this book. How can a dog ever understand how to be "equal" with a human? It can only be confused by such an insane demand.

Not surprisingly, in 2006 the New York Times printed a gushy op-ed by Ted Kerasote in support of the off leash policy in city parks. I was astounded at the arrogance of this privileged man, with thousands of empty acres at his disposal, recommending that dogs be allowed to run loose in overcrowded city parks.