After an Official Warning, A Dog Longs for an Off-Leash Romp


Maggie (on the left) and friends during more care-free days.

By Carol (and Maggie) Tannenhauser

“Why are you keeping me on the leash? Hey! Wake up! This is the spot where you always let me off. We avoided the maniac cyclists. We’re safe now. I’m not moving.”

“Oh, Maggie, I’m sorry, I can’t. There are these poor raccoons running around with distemper. I don’t trust that you won’t go after one — even though your distemper shots are up to date. I called the vet twice to check. Come on, we’ll take a nice, long walk.”

“Hey, look! Bailey’s off the leash, and so is Goldie and Ringo and Popcorn! Why am I the only one tethered?”

“Come on!” my human dog-mates cajoled, as their dogs played freely.

I stood, frozen with indecision. Maggie looked up at me, panting. Our Eden awaited; our friends beckoned. But the Parks Department and Central Park Conservancy had issued a joint advisory saying keep your dogs on the leash at all times. Two people had been attacked by raccoons — although, in truth, their dogs had attacked the raccoons first, and the owners were trying to pry them apart when they were scratched or bitten.

“Come on,” my friends urged.

What to do?

I had already talked to several other dog owners, most of whom were also choosing to ignore the advisory.

“Aren’t you worried?” I asked the first one I came upon. Her answer reminded me why I love New York City.

“I used to work for an international relief organization. I’ve seen some of the worst conditions in the world. Raccoons with distemper when my dog is vaccinated? I don’t think so.”

“What about you?” I asked a man, who called his dog “Big Nose”?

“He never goes further away from me than that.”

He pointed at Big Nose, who was trotting further away.

“Come, Big Nose! Right this minute! Come!” he shouted, frantically, running after him.

“The bottom line is, you’ve got to know your dog,” another woman observed. “Mine’s 15. She’s not going anywhere.”

Later, I emailed the Health Department. They responded “[We are] continuing to monitor the duration and extent of the situation and the advisory will be lifted once the situation deescalates.”

I’m not sure Maggie can wait.

COLUMNS, OUTDOORS | 23 comments | permalink
    1. nyc10023 says:

      I’m one of the ones who still lets my dogs stay off leash. This morning we came across one, just staring and not moving (thank God) near the entrance to the zoo.

      So yea I’m gonna keep a closer eye on them from now on. The conservancy guy said they were mostly sick in the north end of the park, now they’re really starting to pop up down in the south end

    2. Kitty H says:

      If allowing one’s dog off-leash is necessary in order to make life worth living, then a move outside the city might be in order. Leash laws protect humans and dogs and should be both obeyed and enforced.

      • Alex says:

        For readers who do not know (i.e. do not have dogs), the parks on the West Side allow dogs off-leash before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. This has been part of park policy for many years.

        • ruffian says:

          Then there are those with dogs who do know, and yet blithely ignore Riverside Park policy, where DOGS ARE NOT PERMITTED OFF LEASH SOUTH OF 79TH STREET AT ANY TIME.
          For a reason. Because, alas, some off leash dogs do cause harm: to humans, kids in strollers, bicyclists, other dogs, and the flora and fauna of the Parks themselves.
          Wear and tear that require endless restorations of Park lawns and gardens due to the degradation caused by our four footed friends.
          Why is it that off leash dogs in the parks, at times and in places where they are clearly not permitted, are the most likely offenders?

      • TRGC says:

        Kitty, the original article concerned leashing your dogs during off-leash hours. The Central Park Conservancy’s rule regarding those times is as follows: “Dogs are allowed off-leash when the Park is open from 6:00 am to 9:00 am and from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am when the Park closes. Dogs must be on-leash at all times from 9:00 am until 9:00 pm.” So Maggie and many hundreds of other dogs are legally off-leash in the morning. Nobody is breaking the law, so calm down.

      • EricaC says:

        There are areas and times at which off-leash is permitted by law. This is talking about the fact that the city is strongly cautioning people not to exercise that right under the law because of the illness among the raccoons.

        This poor critters. And no, my dogs will not be off leash except in dog runs. Just not worth the risk.

      • Ish Kabibble says:

        Wow Kitty. I’ve never met you and already don’t like you.

    3. Kathryn says:

      “You’ve got to know your dog…” much easier said than done. We like to think our animals are well-trained and fully predictable, but this is rarely the case. That is why, in a city of this size with an ever-increasing number of dog owners, that leash laws are necessary and must be observed (and enforced.)

    4. nyc10023 says:

      How did this turn into a discussion about leash laws?

      Sheesh.

      If you don’t like the dogs being off leash just avoid the park before 9am and after 9pm.

      There’s no harm being done with allowing dogs to have some free reign a few hours a day.

    5. whatsupduck says:

      Cute story, WSR.

      To my neighbors who let their dogs off-leash in areas that are clearly demarcated with a leash law sign:
      Leash laws exist for a reason! It’s great that your dog is friendly; but what if mine isn’t?

      I have the **right** to walk my dog without fear that yours will approach. I love dogs, but I have the right to run in the park without your dog thinking we’re a fun object to chase.

    6. Brenda says:

      Dogs off the leash pose a danger to themselves, other dogs, bicyclists and people who do not have great reflexes. We are lucky to have many dog parks in the city for owners who feel their dogs need to run free.

      And…YES, I am a dog owner.

      • MJ says:

        Thank you for being one of the few considerate dog owners out there! As a mom of two young kids I get LIVID when I see dogs off leashes. There are ample dog runs and spaces (paid for by tax payers) for dogs to play safely. And yet nearly every day I see several dogs off leash and owners just waiting to hear about it.

        Only now are these selfish dog owners paying attention – and only because it could affect their dogs (raccoons and dog snatchers.)

        This city works when people work together. Some dog owners just refuse to be decent.

        And yes…I’ve had dogs. Children take priority. They just do. And those who don’t agree – enjoy your lawsuit when your “gentle” dog bites a child.

    7. Ren says:

      Wait, aren’t the dogs required by law to be on a leash anyway? Why do these owners think they are above the law? Do we have to wait for your dog to charge and bite some kid?

      • free spirit says:

        Looking forward to the raccoon epidemic being solved asI love off leash time for my dog. Sorry to those who don’t understand a dogs need to be be able to be able to have some off leash time to run and play. Ren, do you realize there are off leash hours in Central Park? Just to note 6am – 9am and 9pm to close.

      • EricaC says:

        There are times and places where a leash is not required.

    8. debra weiner says:

      I took my dog off leash yesterday in CP after weeks in Riverside Park. My dog is a hunter by nature and she came nose to nose with a sick raccoon in a bush, barely off the walking path. Lots of barking but as the raccoon wasn’t moving my dog eventually found a treat more compelling. It was a scary moment, but after she was back on leash, I really just felt sympathy for these sickly animals. I will head back to RSP and return to CP when the situation is better. It’s really sad.

    9. Banjo2013 says:

      What a cute post. We need more like this WSR!

    10. Kat French says:

      It should be a rule that people have to read all the existing comments before posting the same uninformed thing someone else posted earlier that has already been debunked.

    11. Lundy says:

      Yep. Many dogs are off leash at all hours. Summit Rock has been turned into a de facto, anytime dog run. No enforcement.

    12. James says:

      Pretty sure that picture is of my golden from 2012??

    13. JB says:

      Haha that’s my golden on the left! Her name is Fin, not Maggie, so at least get the name right!!

    14. I am a dog walker and am paid by some of my customers to walk their dogs off leash in the morning during off leash hours. However, for the sake of my business and sanity I am keeping ALL my four legged wards on leash until I hear from the Parks Dept that its safe to do otherwise. I am also a dog parent and understand its vital for my pups to get their exercise and therefore I will take my own dogs off leash here and there to play fetch and trot around a bit. That being said, my dogs are not runners, hunters or explorers, so I feel the risk factor for us is fairly low. You have to know your dog, be hyperaware and have some common sense.

    15. William Raudenbush says:

      I love the conversation format. So many of us have these conversations with our dogs and they communicate in their own way.

      -Needing exercise is right at the top of the list of easy to understand dog communications.