Community Board Calls on City Agencies to Enforce Dog Leash Rules, With a Special Well-Known Guest

Community Board 7’s Parks & Environment Committee was joined by birder Christian Cooper (lower right corner) during its June meeting.

By Alex Israel

The Community Board 7 (CB7) Parks & Environment Committee called on Central Park Police and the city Department of Parks & Recreation to add more resources for enforcing and educating park visitors about dog-related rules and regulations.

During Monday’s meeting of CB7’s Parks & Environment Committee, conducted over Zoom, committee member Susan Schwartz proposed a resolution—which passed nearly unanimously—to provide support and encouragement for the enforcement of dog-related regulations that are currently in place as outlined by the city.

The agenda item was tied to the story of birder Christian Cooper, who asked dog owner Amy Cooper to leash her dog in the Ramble last month. She called the police and repeatedly said an African-American was threatening her, a claim widely condemned as a racist provocation. Tensions between birders and dog owners had been bubbling well before that incident went viral—in fact, a week prior to the incident, Christian Cooper had approached the committee to request that they call on the city for increased enforcement of leash laws. He was also present (via Zoom) at the meeting on Monday.

While NYPD and Park Rangers have the authority to write summonses for park visitors disobeying such laws, typically the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers take the lead when it comes to dog leash violations, according to Edwin Rodriguez, Assistant Commissioner for Urban Park Service with the Parks Department. On a daily basis, PEP employs four officers per each day and night shift, as well as a ‘mounted unit’, made up of two officers on horseback, he said.

Rodriguez did not have specific data about that to share during the meeting, but “we do issue a lot of dog-related summonses for Central Park,” he said. Despite this assertion, the majority of committee and community members said that more public enforcement and education is necessary.

Some of the rules the committee hopes the Parks Department will continue enforcing. 

“Dogs off leash and in prohibited areas has been an ongoing issue, but the incidence of off-leash incidents and other dog rules violations appear to have increased in recent months with increased usage of the park,” reads the text of the resolution. Its key call to action is below:

Be it resolved that Community Board 7/Manhattan calls on the Central Park Police working together with the Department of Parks and Recreation (PEP and Rangers) and the Central Park Conservancy, to allocate their collective resources towards education and enforcement of existing dog leash rules and other dog regulations to protect the beloved park’s extraordinary wildlife, landscapes, and park users, thus reducing conflicts among park users and ensuring the enjoyment of the park by all members of our community.

Christian Cooper joined the meeting to advocate in favor of the resolution. “I think it’s long overdue. This is not about a race issue—it became about a race issue in this particular instance—but what it really is was a conflict between a birder and a dog-walker,” he said. Cooper added that he believed the conflict would never have happened if there had been a culture of more regular enforcement in the park—a sentiment echoed by members of the committee.

Molly Adams, Advocacy & Outreach Manager for NYC Audubon—the avian advocacy nonprofit of which Cooper is a board member—shared the organization’s support for the resolution. “It’s important for us that community members understand the importance of keeping their dogs on leashes to protect people, other dogs, birds, and other wildlife,” she said. Adams also called on the committee to support an increase in the overall city budget for park safety, so that the Parks Department can allocate more resources to educating park visitors about the proper rules and regulations.

Ken Chaya, President of the Linnean Society of New York also shared support. “The solution should be simple: issue a summons to everyone who is in violation of the law.” Do it for two weeks, he suggested, “and you will have sent a clear message that Central Park is not anyone’s private dog run.”

While committee member Ken Coughlin suggested the removal of any call for police enforcement—something he felt might be seen as “tone deaf” during a time of heightened unrest over police brutality—the request was not seconded by another committee member, and thus unincorporated into the final text.

When it came time to vote, all committee members voted in favor of the resolution aside from Coughlin. The resolution will be up for a vote during its next full board meeting, Tuesday, July 7, 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 45 comments | permalink
    1. Kevin Schwartz says:

      I’m a dog owner who walks my dog in CP regularly, and this issue of some owners letting their dogs go off leash is a serious problem. I’m glad the CB is addressing it. That said, I think asking for the police to get involved is appalling, and am glad to read at least one member (Ken Coughlin) spoke out about this. The answer to all our problems is not more overpolicing- especially for minor issues where volunteers or other staff could easily intervene with requests to put dogs on leash. We know the police department has unequal enforcement based on race, and we are now seeing an eruption of condemnation of racist policing and lack of accountability for police violence. So yes, let’s stop off leash dogs, and let’s do it in ways that don’t involve the police. I hope the full CB meeting ensures that what is eventually passed enforces the rules in ways that don’t call for more policing.

      • KittyH says:

        When people do the right thing without being compelled to do so, then, yes, we might leave the police out of it. In the mean time, enforcing the law would seem to fall to the NYPD. I’d be interested to hear alternative ways of handling this ever-increasing problem, though.

        • Ish Kabibble says:

          Agree, Kitty. I too am a dog owner, and am tired of the bad owners/walkers ruining an otherwise easy-going policy. Show some respect – both for other dogs and their owners, and yourself!

        • Lisa says:

          There are PEP officers who can enforce the rules. We don’t need armed police officers handling these issues.

      • Lisa says:

        I encourage you to join the meeting and voice your thoughts/concerns about over-policing. We don’t need armed police officers to enforce leash laws.

      • Lucille says:

        Agree with you. I hope volunteers will have some success. The handful of times I’ve politely asked owners to leash their dogs, I’ve been met with nasty looks at best and snarky and nasty remarks. Not sure when it became unacceptable to make a polite request of a fellow New Yorker that they follow the rules that are in place to keep us safe. It’s a big bummer.

      • Greg S says:

        How are off leash dogs a problem? Perhaps you need a friendlier dog?

        • CP Walker says:

          Everyone’s dog is “friendly”. Just ask them. But many of us don’t want your “friendly” dog approaching or jumping on us. So take your “friendly” dog for a run before 9am or after 9pm in designated areas. Please. Thank you.

        • Michael says:

          They attack and harass other dogs. Sometimes they are trying to play, but some dogs (like mine) are getting old and get scared. But even worse, there are children and toddlers who can be terrified of a large dog. Or, they may try to play with these dogs and get bitten or scratched. Trust me, first hand experience of both.

    2. Back to the Park says:

      Excellent. We can enjoy a walk through nature in Central Park again without being accosted by loose dogs. As can the birds fly free. Yay. Good news so needed these days!

    3. Garrett says:

      Yep, just where the city needs to dedicate resources in the middle of a pandemic and amidst calls for historic police reforms — more leash law enforcement! What a bunch of pandering fools. These Community Boards get more useless by the minute. Cooper should leave the dog biscuits at home next time.

      • Ish Kabibble says:

        My, oh my. You sound very angry.

        • Michelle says:

          No, actually, Garret sounds reasonable and practical. You on the other hand sound like you have some serious privilege given that you think so many resources should be allocated to this issue when there are bigger problems happening all around you.

    4. lynn pacifico says:

      If the issue has been worse during the last few months, while the dog parks in the areas surrounding the park have been closed, wouldn’t it make since to reopen the dog runs?

      I went by the Leroy st run, which has been open for a few weeks to check. The Hudson River park was crazy crowded, esp the park’s lawns and the paths. The run was also crowded, but people were more distanced then the people on the lawns and the paths. Dog owners were also waiting outside till people left before going in to avoid overcrowding. The concentration of dogs was in and around the dog run, instead of in the rest of the already overcrowded park. The HRPT was smart by opening the dog run.

      I am writing to remind you about the essential role dog runs serve. Reopening the dog runs will reduce the amount of crowding on park pathways as well as dogs illegally unleashed.

    5. Aaron g says:

      Central Park – where you can get a fine or summons for unleashing your dog in a wild habitat like the Ramble but you can deface a statue of Daniel Webster without any violation. How exactly do you intend the citizens of this city to take rule of law seriously?

      • chris says:

        @AARONg this is part of the double standards like breaking curfew if you are protesting. I see crime climbing because of the economy and more dog walkers out at night in the park generally make it safer.

    6. chuck d says:

      Counter point: Dogs deter crime. If people weren’t out walking their dogs off leash in central park or Riverside, no one would be in the park after dark except criminals. Walk around Central Park after 9 PM. It is completely safe because people are walking their dogs.

      • CJ says:

        No one said people shouldn’t walk their dogs in the Park. Just that they should adhere to the rules of the Park.

    7. Jeff Berger says:

      Seriously, the city has been under lockldown since March, people are out of work, stores closed thanks to a world wide pandemic. Mass protests with no social distancing. Your children and Grandchildren are going all Chinese Cultural Revolution on our cities monuments. The city is being run by a mayor who is asleep and high most of the time. And the Council thinks dogs running without a leash is the big issue? Will the last person turn of the lights as you leave the city!

    8. JRose says:

      Less concerned about dogs off leash, more concerned about getting hit by bicyclists with no regard for lights or clearly marked pedestrian crosswalks. We can’t even walk to Pier I in riverside park south without almost getting hit by a bike. It’s totally out of control and enforcement is needed.

      • JB says:

        Not relevant that you are less concerned about dogs on leash. It’s the law and needs to be enforced.

        Bike misbehavior is a different matter which also needs to be addressed. But. It’s not a choice of which is more important to you.

    9. UWSer says:

      Leashing is a law. Just because other people completely unrelated to the leashing issue are breaking other laws (and someone somewhere always will be) does not excuse the nonleashers. Do the right and the legally required thing. Leash your dog. Then we don’t have to debate who enforces it.

      And yes this was an issue long before the dog runs closed for COVID.

    10. BronxBoy says:

      Back when one actually went to work, I used to walk through Central Park on my way to the office. There were always a lot of dog walkers toward the southern end of the park, and I enjoyed their little society-within-a-society. I like dogs, wish I could have one.

      One day, this huge sheepdog walked up behind me, sort of in my blind spot, and proceeded to bump my legs, causing me to fall to the ground. I’m sufficiently spry so that the thing I was most worried about was whether I’d ripped my suit, which, like the rest of me, was fine.

      The dog’s owner said “You have to watch out for them,” and I was thinking “No, I don’t, you have to keep them on a leash.”

      Anyway, that seems to be the mindset of dog owners, if one anecdote is worth anything.

    11. LEE APT says:

      HOW ABOUT WEAPONLESS “PARK POLICE” FOR ALL LAW-BREAKERS – BIKES, DOGS,… TICKETS FOR OFFENDERS (NAMES AND PHOTOS TAKEN) WHO MUST COMPLY.

    12. Fine With Me says:

      Central Park needs some enclosed dog runs. There seems to be plenty of wide-open space that is currently unused or under-used that could be repurposed for exercising dogs off-leash. Once these areas are identified and available, there should be NO off-leash hours.

      Longer term, and depending on the level of compliance, I would also be in favor of establishing an Animal Control facility in Central Park, where dogs could be taken temporarily (48 hours) while waiting for owners to pay their fines.

    13. Janet Wasserman says:

      What does this mean for dog owners who walk in Riverside Park between 6am and 9am with their dogs unleashed? There has been a long-standing “unofficial” policy following litigation in Queens County that dog owners could follow that 3-hour rule for unleashed dogs without getting ticketed. What has the NYC Parks Department, NYPD and Riverside Park Conservancy said about this CB7 resolution as it may be applied to Riverside Park?

      • Juan says:

        As I understand it that should be OK. There are supposed to be specific carve outs when having a dog off leash is OK. I have a child who is very afraid of dogs but I am also a dog lover. There have been times when I want to take my child to the park before 9 am, but I hold off, as those with their dogs off leash are within their rights to do so.

        It is all about mutual respect. I think that having those hours in the morning is an adequate solution, as well as carving out certain locations where that rule does not apply.

    14. gigi says:

      And in Riverside Park? The city Department of Parks and Recreation doesn’t care about the people and birds and environments and LAWS in other Park locations? Obey the laws, people.

    15. Michelle says:

      I have been out with my dog multiple times in Central Park during AM off-leash hours in designated off-leash areas, and have had groups of birders be hostile and make rude comments about my dog to me and try to push me to leave when it’s only 7:30 AM. I know this happens to my neighbors with dogs as well. Some birders get upset over the fact that dogs even exist in “their” park. So, to the birders in this community who do this (and you know who you are) – check yourself! The park is here for EVERYONE to enjoy, and there needs to be mutual respect here. And as for talk of “no-leash hours” and “animal control facilities” in the park … seriously? Give me a break. We have limited resources that should be used on much more important things that taking all rights away from dogs.

    16. Upper Westsider says:

      My experience with birders is that they do not tolerate dogs EVEN during off-leash hours. I have had numerous encounters with birders who get angry that my dog is running (at 7-8 AM) and therefore “disturbing the birds”. I have been harassed to the point where I have to leave the area and cede it to overzealous bird watchers who have zero respect for those of us who are following the laws and allowing our dogs to exercise prior to 9 AM.

      • JDV says:

        Off-leash before 9am where? In a place where there is a rule for on-leash at all hours? Like the bridle path or the ramble?

        • Michelle says:

          Of course not. In designated “off-leash” areas only. I don’t take my dog to “on-leash only“ areas during off-leash hours. What would be the point?! In any case, the fact is that there are birders out there who are not respectful of dog owners who DO follow the rules. They make snide remarks and complain that my dog is ruining their experience even though it’s before 9:00 am and my dog is where he’s allowed to be. The person above is making the same point. He/she said they are following the law, and yet birders harass them. I have seen it multiple times myself and with others. So, those of you on here saying that some dog owners are nasty … well, birders can be nasty too. Birders can’t have it both ways. You have to respect dog owners and their dogs when they are getting their exercise during designated hours in designated areas, and not have a tantrum about it. It’s a two-way street.

    17. BJK says:

      Violent criminals With multiple offenses spin right back out on the street with the no-bail laws; fare-jumping is openly permitted; can’t do anything about the mentally ill and homeless threatening us on our streets. But enforce those leash laws!

      • Hello70s says:

        Yup, it would be helpful to have more people taking a step back for a second to see that the “lawlessness” they experience in Central Park is a small glimpse of a much bigger issue in this city, courtesy of DeBlasio and Albany (including Linda Rosenthal, who recently opposed minimally fixing a clearly-failed bail reform). I respect dog owners and birders and their needs but we have much bigger fights to focus on. Please bring your passion to these issues as well, thanks

    18. UWS Dog Owner says:

      I am a new dog owner and keep my dog on a leash at all times. I have no idea how other dogs, children or adults would react if my dog ran up to the and got close to them, jumped on them, etc.

      When dog runs re-open, I will gladly take my dog and let her run around. Until then, isn’t it simply a nice and respectful thing to do for our neighbors to keep our dogs on a leash when required to do so?

    19. Elizabeth Rodman says:

      What this story – and apparently, according to the report – completely leaves out is that dog runs around the city, have been closed up for most of the lockdown! I don’t even have a dog, but as a lover of all animals (including birds), it’s not hard to guess WHY there’s been an uptick in dogs off leash in Central Park. They need to run and play::. The Community Board needs to address THAT issue as well.

    20. Park lover says:

      Central Park has enforcement officers. But for 15 years there has been an unofficial non-enforcement policy (dogs, bikes, etc.) and the enforcement officers do nothing. Even when they are at a red light and pedestrians are trying to cross, they do nothing about speeding bikes. And the pandemic has made things worse as people act out. There are now many dogs on the Great Lawn, mostly off leash. And nothing is done!

    21. arlene mehlman says:

      West 109 st from Broadway to Columbus is a garbage dump. We need to teach our chldren not to litter and have a campaign for adults. i.e., I LOVE NY… to stop litter and pick up after dogs (I am a dog owner).

    22. HarperJones says:

      Why not make a dog run in central park where dog owners can take their dogs to? Unfortunately there are no parks near central park. They are mostly on riverside which can be a hike to get to for some. I would love to see some dog fenced designated areas in central park where people can unleash there dog at any point during the day.