City Tells Dog Owners to Keep Pets On-Leash in Central Park, After Two People Injured By Raccoons

Dogs hanging out on the Great Hill in Central Park.

Sorry, off-leashers, but we’ve got some bad news. The city is advising dog owners to keep their dogs attached to the leash during off-leash hours in Central Park. The warning comes after two people were hurt during encounters with raccoons in the park over the past two days. (There is no similar warning for Riverside Park.)

A disease called canine distemper has been spreading in the park. Humans can’t get the disease, the city says, and most dogs are vaccinated against it. But given the recent incidences the parks department wants people to take extra precautions, said Crystal Howard, a parks department spokesperson, in an interview.

“We want people to be safe, we want their animals to be safe,” she said.

On Wednesday, a dog attacked a raccoon in the park and its owner was bitten while trying to split the animals up, the parks department said. A tipster who witnessed an attack on Wednesday told us that three to four dogs were involved and one of the dogs bit the raccoon. It’s not clear if it was the same incident described by the parks department.

On Thursday, another dog attacked a raccoon and the owner was bitten and scratched by the animal, the parks department said.

NY1 got a video of the raccoon from the second incident being captured:

The parks and health department sent out the notice below on Thursday:

Dog owners encouraged to keep dogs safe and away from wildlife especially during dusk and dawn, off-leash hours

NYC Parks and Health Department, in relation to the distemper outbreak affecting raccoons in Central Park, today issued an advisory strongly recommending that visiting dogs be kept on leashes. The two agencies are specifically concerned about dogs in the park during dusk and dawn, off-leash hours, after two incidents where dogs had encounters with raccoons. Parks and Health have been working in coordination since raccoons in the park first tested positive for the virus. Distemper does not cause a threat to humans, but unvaccinated dogs and other wildlife can be affected.

To date, 85 sick or dead raccoons have been collected by NYC Park Rangers. None of the collected raccoons submitted for testing have been positive for rabies.

If the public sees a sick or injured raccoon they are asked to call 311 and request the NYC Parks Rangers to address.

Central Park off-leash hours are from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.; park hours are from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Left unanswered is why the raccoons have suddenly been getting into scrapes with dogs. Public health agencies in other states have noted that distemper can cause raccoons to become aggressive if they are approached. Oregon Fish & Wildlife, for instance, released a notice about distemper several years ago that included this warning: “Keep children and pets away from sick raccoons. As the disease progresses, the animal may appear calm, but can become aggressive if approached too closely.”

Howard, of the Parks Department, said that raccoons tend to get lethargic when they have distemper, but referred further questions about the behavior of the raccoons to the Health Department. We have not received an immediate response to our inquiry to the Health Department about whether the disease may have led to the conflicts with humans, but will update this if/when we do.

Howard said that the Parks Department has not received any other alerts about raccoon conflicts since the distemper outbreak was discovered a few weeks ago. The two incidences this week compelled the city to send out the warning.

“Even though so far the raccoons have not tested positive for rabies we still don’t want people or their animals to be in conflict and get bitten and/or scratched by raccoons because there’s always the chance that they could become sick,” she said. “Once we saw there were issues like that happening, which started yesterday to our knowledge, we immediately jumped into gear to put an advisory out.”

NEWS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Robert L Gery says:




    2. Yael says:

      85 sick or dead raccoons??!! I did not enjoy watching the video of the raccoon being trapped. This was mainly because I know they promptly euthanized the raccoon, in order to test his/her brain for rabies. Don’t go near the park wildlife, just leave ‘em alone! Also, be sure to get your dog their distemper vaccination and/or better yet, keep your dogs out of the park until this disease is under control!!

    3. Mary says:

      Incidents, not incidences. (No need to post this, just a friendly pedantic copy editing note.)

    4. BillyNYC says:

      Ever since the warning started a few months ago I have leased my dog when we are in Central Park at all times. Zac is very smart to stay away from them and the rats and he listens.
      Thank you WSR for the warning. I’ll pass it on to the dog walkers I know and to my veterinarian.

    5. Larry K says:

      So where in the park are these incidents occurring?

    6. James Cohen says:

      Why are these dog owners letting them ATTACK raccoons? They should be fined! The dogs and people DESERVED to be bitten for having out-of-control dogs. Your dog must be under control or be on a leash!!

      I’m disgusted by such irresponsible dog owners. Dogs attacking raccoons and squirrels is NOT OKAY, nor legal.

    7. Chrigid says:

      WSR did a more thorough job of reporting this story than CBS or NBC.

    8. Toni Stanley says:

      Allowing dogs off-leash is a hazard at all times to all creatures, whether wildlife is sick or not. Dogs chase raccoons, squirrels, birds, each other. Fights ensue. Dogs get bitten. People caught up in the fray get bitten. Owners think it’s great fun that their dogs do this. Well, two owners themselves were bitten in these recent incidents. Maybe they’ll learn a lesson. Having a dog on a leash keeps the dog and everyone else safe and happy.

    9. Kitty H says:

      Dogs should be walked leashed, always, in parks, on streets, in fact, everywhere except in proscribed dog parks. We have had three incidents, one requiring 23 stitches for our small schnauzer and another where her walker suffered a broken ankle when knocked down by a large unleashed dog on 87th St. near RSD. Authorities need to be more attentive since this law is violated daily in this area.

    10. EricaC says:

      Scary – I hope dog owners realize that this is for the protection of themselves and that of their own dogs, not only for the benefit of others. (It ought to be enough that it is for the benefit of others, but people are people.) if they don’t, it will be the kind of thing that used to make my father shake his head sadly and say,”oh, dear, natural selection at work.”

    11. Zulu says:

      Reminds me of a recent raccoon attack (in Pennsylvania?) where a teen was running on a trail and a rabid raccoon launched at her and clamped down on her hand. Not able to get the animal off her, the quick thinking teen submerged the raccoon’s face in a deep puddle until it drowned. Can’t remember if it was distemper or rabies but in either case she had to be treated for the bite and possibly other diseases. Raccoons look cute and cuddly until they’re not.

      On a side note, during the 60’s there was a cartoon in Japan that depicted a cute and cuddly raccoon. Since there are no raccoons in Japan, people “imported” them from the US and Canada as pets. Baby and juvenile raccoons are sweet and playful and very cute of course. But when they reach certain age they get nasty and can inflict a lot of damage to people and property. People would let them go in nearby wooded areas where they took over and became an apex predator. Now Japan has a major problem dealing with an invasive species with no natural predators. Raccoons in Japan have been known to den in ancient Buddhist temples and wreak havoc on the aging wooden structures.

      But I feel bad for the critters getting sick, the seizures look painful.

    12. Ted Todorov says:

      The raccoon population in NYC and Central Park in particular has exploded over the last few years. We have had raccoons show up in our 3rd floor living room (climb up a vine to the neighbors deck, cross over to our deck and then just walk in. Now that we have 2 mini schnauzers we are exempt from home visits, but Central Park is out of control – see:

      The reason these two are on their hind legs is that the tourists in the Rambles are feeding them – these were part of a raccoon family 2 parents – 5 children.

      Just like tourists were eventually forced to stop feeding bears in Yellowstone (they were all over the place in 1969 when I visited as small kid – up on their hind legs, pawing car windows begging for food) – NYC tourist need to be forced to stop feeding raccoons – they are dangerous animals.

      • BillyNYC says:

        I’ll come on feeding raccoons has nothing to do what’s going on with this disease that there carrying, wake up and focus on the story.

        • EricaC says:

          It does, actually – it leads to excessive populations, which increases transmissibility of diseases, and it leads the animals to be too comfortable with humans, making them come closer to us and to dogs.

          Feeding wild animals is wrong. Sometimes it is immediately harmful, as in which people feed bread to ducks, which can kill them.

    13. Kitty H. says:

      The threat of raccoons aside, all dogs should be kept on leash when in public spaces, other than in proscribed dog runs. On three occasions we have been attacked while walking on RSD and 87th Street, where the leash law is violated daily, it seems. In two of the attacks, injuries resulted for both the miniature schnauzer and her walker, so this is admittedly a sensitive issue. Nonetheless, it is one where more vigilance and enforcement would certainly be of service to the broader public.

    14. Can you please site where the most sightings of raccoons are in CP please? I take my art students, and campers to CP to sketch and paint, and would like to avoid, if possible, the areas of the most sightings.

      Thank you

    15. Hambone says:

      Here is a raccoon eating a crow….we play it for the kids to keep them in their beds at night

    16. M.L. says:

      Where were the dog owners at while their 4 dogs attacked one racoon? If your dogs act out of control like that then keep them leashed.

    17. Chris says:

      Please don’t continue to make this an issue where the raccoon becomes the problem. Leave the wildlife alone and leash your pets. Be accountable. Raccoons are minding their own business. It’s much more their Park then yours.

      I’m tired about hearing how Racoons and Coyotes are nuisances when it’s us that take over their territory. These wild animals should remain wild and left alone.

      Do your part.