Let the dogs in! Dog owners demand mayor reopen city’s dog runs

Amy Willard (second from left) and other Bushwick dog owners are locked out of the Maria Hernandez Park dog run.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Brooklyn dog owners are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to reopen dog runs as COVID-19-related restrictions loosen during Phase Two of reopening, saying that if officials can unlock playgrounds for kids, they should do the same for the city’s pups.

“Dog runs are open areas, they have plenty of space for people to social distance. To go ahead and open up playgrounds where kids are going to be interacting with kids from different households — it doesn’t make sense,” said Amy Willard, who heads up the Maria Hernandez Dog Run Pack, a volunteer group which maintains the Bushwick park’s dog run. “I can go to my dog run and stay six feet away from other dog owners, and my dog can get exercise that he needs.”

The borough’s pet parents have not been able to let their puppers play with their fellow four-legged friends in dog runs since the beginning of April, when Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver closed them down due to overcrowding at the height of the pandemic, Curbed reported.

The Parks Department locked the gates to and near the dog run at Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick.Photo by Kevin Duggan

When asked about reopening them at his June 22 daily press briefing, the mayor said that his office and Parks gurus are still evaluating dog runs together with other facilities like basketball courts, soccer fields, tennis courts, and handball courts.

“There’s additional considerations for that,” de Blasio said at his Monday press conference. “We want to get it right. We’re trying to figure out what’s going to be necessary to make it right, make it workable, and that’s what we’re working on right now and we’ll have more to say on that in the coming days.”

While Willard agreed that it made sense to initially close them down, she has been urging local electeds and officials to unlock the gates again, saying that there are few spaces to let the hounds roam without disturbing others.

“We don’t have yards, parks that have a dog runs don’t have off-leash hours,” said Willard, who owns a Beagle-Collie mix rescue named Binkley.

Some city-owned lawns allow dogs to be off-leash from the park’s opening until 9 am and again after 9 pm until closing, but dog owners say it isn’t nearly enough. Letting the pooches run around freely is important to tire them out and to keep them happy, said one Greenpoint dog mom.

“If we’re going to be humane, we have to give our dogs the chance to run free,” said Chana Goodman. “If you don’t give your dogs a space, they’re going to be unfriendly and start barking and biting.”

Meanwhile state-run greenspaces never closed their dog runs during the viral outbreak, according to a spokesperson for the agency, which explains why the dog run at East River State Park in Williamsburg is open while the one in nearby McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, for example, isn’t — the two are managed by different government agencies.

What’s more, the city-owned Hillside Dog Park in well-to-do Brooklyn Heights has been open since last week, according to a nearby resident and dog owner who helps maintain that space, who claimed that it was Parks officials themselves who unlocked the gates there.

“I was told by someone who was there that the Parks Department opened it saying they expect the park to reopen next week anyway — we lucked out,” said Tony Soll who regularly visits the space with his 13-year-old Border Collie Izzy.

Tony Soll and his Border Collie Izzy at Hillside Dog Park in Brooklyn Heights.Photo by Kevin Duggan

Soll also questioned the reasoning behind reopening playgrounds but not dog runs, saying he felt more secure at the latter.

“It seems illogical and crazy,” he said. “The playgrounds are complicated it seems to me, whereas at dog runs, dogs play and people are standing around. [The owners] tend to socialize — but very carefully. I’m 73 so I’m sensitive to those things.”

One dissatisfied New Yorker has even taken their frustration with de Blasio online by launching a dedicated Twitter account, posting photos of locked dog runs around the Five Boroughs with signs decrying the mayor on the fences with the hashtag #deBlasioHatesDogs.

When asked about a more detailed timeline for reopening the dog runs, spokeswoman for the city’s Parks Department Anessa Hodgson referred to the mayor’s statements.

The spokeswoman did not provide comment by press time why the Hillside Dog Park was already open.