Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Adrian Benepe, Birder; Poopslope

We went birding in Central Park's Ramble this morning, and for our bird of the day we saw none other than DOPR Commissioner Adrian Benepe, with a pair of binoculars, accompanied by a person we suspect is a major CPC donor. Mr. Benepe allowed that this was his first time birdwatching in Central Park--a shocking admission given that according to this profile he's been commissioner since 2002, served as DOPR's Manhattan borough commissioner for six years before that, and previously spent time as an urban park ranger in Central Park.

We hope Mr. Benepe noticed all of the illegally off-leash dogs. In just an hour in the Ramble in a persistent drizzle, we saw eight, one of which came over to menace our group until the owner called it off. Mr. Benepe seemed to be headed towards Turtle Pond, another leashed-dog-only area that is a veritable highway for unleashed dogs, so we have no doubt that he at least saw them.

Here are some videos and one still from today. The first two are of a white dog that ran unleashed into the ramble from the Boathouse area. The owner of the black dog then unleashed his pet, but soon thought better of it.

This woman leashed her dogs only when instructed to by an adamant CP staffer in a truck. He stayed around to make sure she finished the job.

And here are two of the three unleashed dogs we encountered at the north end of the Ramble near the castle.
On the way out of the park, with no camera handy because of the rain, we saw a legally unleashed dog irrigating some daffodils and tearing through the plantings north of the Delacorte Clock, and then saw three unleashed poodles just north of the zoo, well within an area where signs say "dogs must be leashed in this area at all times."

Not so many years ago Mr. Benepe was no supporter of letting dogs off-leash in the parks. In fact, he thought they were a problem--a big problem. See this 1998 New York Magazine article, "Turf Wars", by Tony Hendra:
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."

"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.' "
But by 2007, he had done an about face, in this 2007 DOPR press release:
“Through a public process, the Parks Department codified the successful, long-standing “courtesy hours” policy for the benefit of all New Yorkers,” said Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “We know that a tired dog is a good dog and for the last two decades, this policy has made parks safer and has allowed dog owners to exercise and socialize their pets.”
and a sickening video in which he praised off-leash dog owners as the parks' "most loyal supporters." It would be really helpful if Mr. Benepe, by all accounts a career public servant, explained in public just what or who caused him to change his mind.

In any event, we've sent Mr. Benepe the following email, to which we expect no response:
Dear Commissioner Benepe:

I hope you enjoyed your birdwalk this morning and didn't get too wet in the process.

I also hope you took the opportunity to view all of the illegally off-leash dogs that no doubt crossed your path. Attached is a picture of just two that crossed mine; you can view many others, on video, at http://credo-ny.blogspot.com . These are just some of the dogs, and owners, that increasingly make birdwatching in NYC's parks such an unpleasant experience at best-- for the birdwatchers and, I would assume, the birds--and thanks to your foolish off-leash policy, their numbers keep increasing. Ultimately, the birds will stop coming--as many have; I recommend that you read this post http://www.calvorn.com/blogger/2009/04/leash-lawlessnes.html by Cal Vorenberger, author of "The Birds of Central Park--and then the birders will stop coming as well, as many of them already have. And you'll be able to take the credit for it.

Sincerely yours,

* * *

Winston sent us a link to his new blog, http://poopslope.blogspot.com/, dedicated to "document[ing] the thoughtlessness of some of the dog owners in the neighborhood." We look forward to following it, as much as one can look forward to such a thing.

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