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Eyes On the Dog Run

10:38 AM EDT on August 8, 2006


Talk about "eyes on the street," there is a group of New York City residents who patrol the city's streets and parks at all hours of the day and night, everyday. They are the city's dog owners and dog walkers. And they are under attack.

The boom in New York dog ownership owes itself in large part to an informal agreement that allows dog owners to take their dogs into parks between 9 pm and 9 am on any day of the week and let their dogs romp and roam parks unleashed.

Urban dog owners, like this one, know that their dogs are more well behaved when they have the chance to get a lot of exercise and socialize with other dogs and people. Where I grew up in suburban Staten Island, dogs were more territorial because, off the leash, they occupied only one small yard their entire lives, rarely interacting with other people and other dogs.

There is currently a lawsuit that would put an end to off-leash hours in city parks. Despite a 60 percent decline in the number of dogs bites in city parks over the past two decades, a Queens man wants the Parks Department and NYPD to enforce the city law mandating that dogs must be on leashes at all times in public.

That would be a bad enforcement policy. If the court rules that it must be enforced, many dog owners may be forced to leave the city for the suburbs. It also may encourage the return of criminals, drug dealers and anti-social behavior in park spaces that are currently well-used thanks to dogs and their owners.

The city's enforcement policy should continue to respect the current 9 pm to 9 am off-leash policy. The vast majority of dog owners realize that it is a privilege to let their pets roam free in the city parks and are good at self-policing. If a dog is particularly unfriendly or misbehaves frequently, an owner can be told to leash their dog. It's the sort of far sighted compromise that this city needs to do more often.

(Full disclosure: I was dog sitting an energetic Vizsla puppy this weekend)

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