Parks Patrons and Officials Celebrate One Year
Anniversary of Official Off-Leash Hours Policy
On June 7, 2008 hundreds of New York
City park patrons gathered in Brooklyn's verdant Prospect Park
to celebrate the one year anniversary of Off-leash Hours
policy as official NYC Parks Department regulations.
The 20+ year
successful policy was saved and strengthened following a
, an in
2006, and in NYC
Parks regulations in 2007.
Parks Department Assistant
Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey attended the celebration on behalf
of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation to thank responsible dog owners
for continuing to make the Off-leash Hours policy successful
in the 88+ parks where it now exists.
Jeffrey (pictured left center with white shirt and mustache)
talks with a family in Prospect Park enjoying the Off-leash Hours
Assistant Parks Commissioner Jeffrey
(second from right) and two Parks Enforcement Police (PEP)
officers, together with members of
FIDO of Prospect Park.
Also pictured is Paula Van Meter (second from the left),
the attorney who argued the 2006 NYS Supreme Court case
successfully for the City.
Video clip of Assistant Commissioner Jeffrey praising responsible dog ownership and the
Off-leash Hours policy. Remarks also from NYCdog
President Bob Marino and FIDO President Tony
Families and neighbors appreciate the
opportunity to exercise and socialize their dogs early in the
morning, keeping the parks safer, and strengthening community.
Triumph in the Effort to Save and Strengthen
the Successful 20-year Policy
Effort Achieves a Legal Victory in NYS Supreme Court and a Public
Health Victory from the NYC Health Board.
the Way for the Parks Dept to Amend its Regulations to Explicitly
Enact a Limited Off-leash Hours Policy
Hails the Parks Department's Regulation Amendment
and Thanks the Tens of Thousands of New Yorkers Who Supported the
Off-leash Hours scenes like this one in Prospect
Park were threatened by a lawsuit that sought to end the successful
20-year policy of limited hour off-leash recreation in certain
sections of certain NYC parks. The lawsuit was rejected by
a NYS Supreme Court judge on November 30, 2006. On April 10,
2007, the NYC Parks Department ratified amendments to their
own regulations that codify the previously unwritten limited
Off-leash Hours policy. On May 10, 2007, the regulations went
10, 2007, New York): The Parks Department adopted amendments
to its own regulations known as the “leash law”
goes into effect today. This ends the debate about the
off-leash policy, and provides the third consecutive
victory for NYCdog, which already won in State Supreme
Court, and at the NYC Health Department.
After twenty years of this successful policy, a court
decision affirming the Parks Commissioner’s powers
to provide off-leash, and a unanimous Health Department
regulatory clarification illustrating that off-leash
is good public health policy, today the Parks Department
adopted amendments to the “leash law” that
clarify and strengthen the successful off-leash policy.
of Parks Dep’t Changes: The Parks Dep’t
adopted amendments to Sections 1-04 (i) and 1-05(s)(3)
of Title 56 of the RCNY. These amendments expressly
codify times (9 pm until parks close / when they re-open
until 9 am) and park places (never in a playground,
zoo, bathing facility, beach, pool, bridle path, fountain,
ballfield, basketball or tennis court, or other prohibited
areas) where dogs are permitted off-leash. As a condition
to being off-leash, dogs must wear NYC license and rabies
vaccination tags. Moreover, off-leash dogs must not
disturb, harass, or injure any park patron, animal,
or flora. Lastly, owners must leash dogs when directed
by police, health, or PEP officer. The
regulation changes (Notice of Adoption) can be viewed
Matthew Greller, attorney for NYCdog said:
“The off-leash battle is over, and all New Yorkers
won. The off-leash policy is now stronger and clearer,
and continues to provide a sensible and limited accommodation
for everyone to safely enjoy New York’s limited
park space. The newly clarified off-leash policy will
promote even greater compliance and responsible dog
Marino, President of NYCdog, stated, “Fully
clarifying the off-leash issue is a victory for everyone
- dog owners and non dog owners – who enjoy City
parks. We now have finality on this issue. I applaud
the Parks Department for their efforts, and for their
open and democratic process. This is the third act in
this long process. NYCdog is elated that the Parks Department
put this issue to rest, and we look forward to assisting
with the implementation of this strengthened policy.”
H. Parker, President of Friends of Hillside Dog Park
said, "Today's decision to clearly codify
a 20 year old policy is the culmination of a year long
effort that produced three huge wins. NYCdog is three
for three in the fight to preserve and strengthen the
off-leash policy. We accomplished these wins through
the help of tens of thousands of everyday New Yorkers
who volunteered to write letters, speak at the hearings,
and submit signatures of their support. As the recognized
umbrella organization of almost every off-leash user-group
in the City, NYCdog looks forward to working with the
Parks Dep’t to make the newly codified policy
even more successful."
Sullivan, President of the Juniper Valley Dog Owners
Association said, “Today’s action
by the Parks Dep’t is a confirmation that this
twenty year policy is a success. Clearly, the Juniper
Park Civic Association miscalculated in their attempt
to overturn this successful policy. After losing three
times – in court, at the Health Department, and
now at the Parks Department, it’s time for the
folks at Juniper Park to work with NYCdog to ensure
that this policy is successful for everyone.”
video of the May 10, 2007 Parks Department press conference
in Central Park. NYC Parks Department Commissioner Adrian
Benepe speaks about the newly codified successful 20-year policy.
NYCdog President Bob Marino expresses thoughts on the policy
and dog owners' responsibilities when using the parks.
of the Year-long Effort
to Save Off-leash Policy in NYC:
A Story with Three Acts.
LAWSUIT: A judge ruled in favor of the
City and the Parks Department in November 2006 and handed
a resounding legal defeat to those who oppose the Limited
Off-leash Hours Policy.
BOARD OF HEALTH: The NYC Board of Health
proposed changes to the Health Code known as the "Leash
Law." The Board accepted public comments and hosted
a public hearing. In December 2006 the Board voted unanimously
to pass the amendments which strengthen and clarify
the limited Off-leash Hours policy.
PARKS DEPARTMENT: On February 22, 2007
the Parks Department held a public hearing for comment
on their proposed amendments to codify the previously
unwritten 20-year Off-leash Hours policy into Parks'
Statement on the NYC Parks Department's Public Hearing
for Regulation Amendments Concerning a Limited Off-Leash
Hours Policy in Parks.
22, 2007, New York, NY: The New York Council of Dog
Owner Groups (NYCdog.org)
commends the NYC Parks Department for conducting a fair
and orderly public hearing at the Chelsea Recreation
Center in Manhattan.
public hearing was part of the City Administrative Procedures
Act (CAPA) process that allows the Parks Department
to amend its own regulations with proper public notice
and opportunity for public comment. The hearing was
to solicit public comment on regulation amendments that
would formally codify the successful 20-year Off-leash
Hours policy in New York City parks. Over 60 speakers
presented their views of the Off-leash Hour policy and
the Parks Department’s proposed amendments
NYCdog presented over 20,000 letters and petition signatures
from New Yorkers who support the limited Off-leash Hours.
An hour before the hearing, NYCdog held a press conference
outside of the Chelsea Recreation Center covered by
Eyewitness News (ABC), NY1, the Daily News, New York
Post, and several local Queens newspapers.
has been a dramatic and apprehensive year for supporters
of the parks Off-leash Hours policy. In May 2006, the
Juniper Park Civic Association, the second largest civic
association in Middle Village, Queens, sued the Parks
Department and the City of New York contending that
the Off-leash Hours policy violated the “Leash
Law” provision of the Health Code, in an attempt
to end the successful 20-year policy.
the NYS Supreme Court denied the JPCA’s lawsuit
on November 30, 2006, and ruled that the Off-leash Hours
policy has always been and continues to be legal. Six
days later, on December 5, 2006, the NYC Health Board
voted unanimously to amend the “Leash Law”
to explicitly grant the Parks commissioner authority
to promulgate a limited Off-leash Hours policy in NYC
parks. This action was, in part, to prevent further
frivolous lawsuits against Off-leash Hours policy in
two historic wins for the Off-leash Hours policy in
November and December 2006 set the stage for today’s
Parks Department public hearing. Today was the beginning
of the third and final act of this year-long drama to
save and strengthen the Off-leash Hours policy in New
that the hearing is over, the Parks Department will
consider all written and spoken comments to their proposed
regulation amendments. We expect the Parks Department
to formally ratify the amendments within the next 30
days. Following that, the Parks Department will send
the ratified amendments to the City’s corporation
counsel for approval. Once approved, the ratified amendments
will be published in the City Register and 30 days following
that the amendments that formally codify the Off-leash
Hours policy will become official NYC Parks regulations.
We expect the whole process to be completed sometime
in April 2007.
generally supportive of the Parks Departments proposed
amendments, NYCdog submitted written comments and oral
testimony at the hearing advising the Parks Department
to change some wording of the amendments to avoid potential
ambiguity which might lead to issues in the future.
An interesting side story in this drama is the newly
uncovered petition fraud on the Juniper Park Civic Association's
anti off-leash petition website. This issue has been
dubbed "PetitionGate." The JPCA's online petition
hosting company, iPetitions, after many complaints from
NYCdog and its member groups, removed over 4,000 names
when the company confirmed that rather than individuals
signing the online petition, one user entered phony
names. The New York Post wrote an
article about the petition fraud here.
nearly a year long fight in NYS Supreme Court, the NYC
Board of Health, and now the Parks Department, off-leash
advocates have proven that the Off-leash Hours policy
is legal, good public health policy, and now the previously
unwritten policy should be codified into Parks regulations,
thereby assuring its continued existence and strengthening
the policy to encourage responsible dog ownership.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe speaks to the press on May
10, 2007 to announce the new Off-leash Hours Regulations are
(From left to right: Deputy Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey,
NYCdog President Bob Marino, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian
Benepe, NYCdog attorney Matt Greller, Parks Enforcement Police
Chief Mike Dockett)
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Parks Enforcement Police
Chief Mike Dockett pose with a few Off-leash Hours policy
users. Chief Dockett is the recently appointed head of the
Parks Department's Dog Task Force to implement the newly codified
Off-leash Hours policy
President Bob Marino speaks about the newly codified regulations
for the successful 20-year Off-leash Hours policy. Marino
holds up a dog license card to make a point that all dog owners
must license and vaccinate
Parks Department executives and NYCdog advocates enjoy a moment
with Off-leash Hours users
Mike Dockett discusses the education initiative for the public
to become aware of the newly codified Parks Off-leash Hours
An Off-leash Hours user surveys the assembled press corps
Benepe reminds the public that dogs are welcomed in NYC Parks
according to the rules
A few Off-leash
Hours policy users listen on the side
Benepe thanks the NYC dog owning community for making the
20-year Off-leash Hours policy successful
effort to save the successul 20-year Off-leash Hours policy
has generated much local press interest as well as national
and international attention
100 people attended the Parks Dept hearing on Feb. 22, 2007
to present their views on the proposed amendments to codify
the 20-year limited Off-leash Hours Policy
Bob Marino, NYCdog President, speaks to the news media at
a press conference before the Parks hearing on new regulations
for Off-leash Hours Policy.
TWO: Successful Effort to Amend the NYC "Leash Law" to Explicitly
Permit Off-Leash Hours Policy
5 , 2006, New York, NY: The New York Council of Dog Owner Groups
cheers today’s NYC Health Board unanimous vote to amend Section
161.05 of the City Health Code commonly known at the "Leash
Board vote grants the NYC Parks Commissioner explicit authority
to permit off-leash recreation in the New York City parks at certain
locations and at certain times. The amendments also put new requirements
on dog owners who take advantage of the Off-leash Hours policy,
thereby further encouraging responsible dog ownership.
comes just six days following a legal victory in New York State
Supreme Court where Judge Peter J. Kelly ruled that by law the NYC
Parks commissioner has discretionary authority over off-leash dogs
in New York City parks. In his ruling, Judge Kelly encouraged the
NYC Health and Parks Departments to modify their regulations to
prevent future lawsuits and to better publicize the rules regarding
The New York
City Health Board took the first step as recommended by Judge Kelly
to modify the Health Code to clarify the authority of the Parks
commissioner and to stipulate that the NYC Parks Department must
establish clear and well publicized rules regarding off-leash recreation.
The New York
City Parks Department is now expected to begin its own rule amendment
process following a similar procedure as specified in the City Charter's
City Administrative Procedures Act (CAPA). That process is expected
to begin in January 2007 and run through February 2007.
forward to working with the Parks and Health Departments to promote
responsible dog ownership in New York City.
from Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden: "The overwhelming
majority of comments received on this proposal were in favor [13,268
in favor vs 202 against]. We have devised a rule that balances our
mandate to protect the public’s health and safety with the
need for a formal off-leash policy for dogs in City parks."
from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe: "The Parks
Department looks forward to codifying the successful, long-standing
"courtesy hours" policy. For the last two decades, this
policy has allowed dog owners to exercise and socialize their pets
in designated areas during certain hours. The daily presence of
dog owners during early morning and late evening hours and fewer
reports of dog bites have also made parks safer."
A brief review of what got us to this point:
In May 2006,
a small Queens civic association filed a lawsuit in State Supreme
Court seeking to end the successful 20-year policy of allowing
dogs off-leash during the limited hours of 9pm-closing, and opening
to 9am in designated locations in NYC parks that don’t have
a dog run.
29, 2006 the case was heard in State Supreme Court and the judge
has said he would rule in the case. Typically, rulings are issued
within 12 weeks of hearing oral argument.
The Health Board Public Hearing
On November 1st, 2006 the NYC Health Board held a public hearing
from 2pm-5pm at the Health Department at 125 Worth Street in Manhattan.
The NYC Health Board is a group of public health professionals that
work for the NYC Health Department who have the power to amend the
City Health Code.
Prior to the
2pm hearing, the New York Council of Dog Owner Groups (NYCdog.org)
held a news conference in Foley Square Park, across the street from
the Health Department. TV crews and reporters from NY1, CBS, NBC,
FOX, UPN, Daily News, 1010WINS, and 880 WCBS Radio attended, in
addition to several other smaller news outlets. NY City Council
Member Gale A. Brewer, among others, spoke at the NYCdog press conference
strongly in favor of the proposed amendments. News coverage has
been extensive and generally supportive of the amendments.
Inside the Health
Department 2nd floor auditorium, the Health Board brought the hearing
to order at exactly 2pm. Health Department Commissioner Thomas Frieden,
a supporter of the amendments, attended part of the hearing. A total
of 39 speakers had a maximum of 5 minutes each to present oral testimony
to the four members of the Health Board in attendance. The Board
also accepted comments from the public in the form of emails, letters,
and faxes up until 5pm on Nov. 1st.
were in favor of the proposed amendments. In general, the pro-offleash
speakers could be categorized as either 1) representatives of dog
owner groups, 2) public health professionals, 3) dog behavior experts,
and 4) general members of the public who support the amendments.
from the following organizations strongly supported the Health Department’s
proposed amendments: the New York City Bar Association’s Committee
on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals, Friends of Animal Care and
Control and the Veterinary Medical Association of New York City.
Moreover, former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern spoke at the hearing.
Alluding to the 9 PM to closing, and opening to 9 AM Off-leash policy
that he initiated twenty years ago, Stern stated that the “allocation
of space and time within the parks” for both dog-owners and
non dog-owners represents “common sense”.
were cogent, intelligent, reasonable, accurate, at times passionate,
but covered the gamut of reasons why the successful 20-year Off-leash
Hours policy should be preserved and strengthened by the proposed
Health Code amendments:
statistics are at an historic low, despite the fact that dog ownership
is at a historic high level in NYC. (Prior to the off-leash policy,
40,000 bites occurred annually. Since the off-leash policy, less
than 4,000 bites occur annually, and only 2.2% of them –
exactly 86 – occurred in City parks in 2005).
and vigilance of dog owners provides an effective deterrent against
crime in NYC parks during early morning and late evening hours.
policy generally makes parks safer for both dog-owners, and non
bonds are strengthened by responsible dog-ownership, and friendships
across all socio-economic lines are forged among dog-owners in
properly exercised and socialized, and as a result, are better
adjusted for urban living. As many studies detail (click
here to view the studies) a tired dog is a good dog,
as dogs that are properly exercised and socialized are less aggressive.
designated park space during limited hours is necessary, since
there are only 44 dog runs Citywide. More dog runs would be helpful,
but, in addition to the high cost to build more dog runs, there
is little space available to devote solely to dogs on a 24/7 basis.
That is why
the limited hours and designated locations within City parks is
necessary, and why it presents an equitable policy that is good
for both the dog-owning and non dog-owning public.
fact-based, and statistically-driven arguments from health care
professionals, licensed veterinarians, licensed dog behaviorists,
responsible dog owners, dog owner group spokespersons, and attorneys
intimately familiar with the applicable Parks and Health regulations
presented a clear and strong argument in favor of the Off-leash
policy and the Health Department’s proposed amendments to
the Health Board.
nine people out of thirty-nine in total that testified at the hearing
spoke against the amendments. Among those most represented opposing
the amendments were board members of the Juniper Park Civic Association,
the un-elected, private, rapidly dwindling and beleaguered civic
organization in Middle Village, Queens. This is the same group that
misguidedly brought the lawsuit to State Supreme Court in May because
they misinterpreted the powers and duties of the Parks Commissioner.
Perhaps they only read the Health Code, and didn’t bother
to read the City Charter, or the Parks Department regulations?
Prior to bringing
the lawsuit, the JPCA rejected a dog run in Juniper Valley Park,
which would have been the only off-leash area for dogs in the park.
Instead, because the JPCA rejected both Off-leash Hours and a dog
run in Juniper Valley Park, they chose to initiate a costly and
frivolous lawsuit against City.
NYCdog was expecting
stronger arguments from the anti-amendment people. Instead, the
infamous JPCA board members spent a significant amount of their
allotted time haranguing the Health Board for even considering such
an amendment to the Health Code. The JPCA board did their side of
the debate a disservice at the Health hearing, but showed their
true colors. They came across as illogical, shrill, pedantic, uncompromising,
and some speakers a bit unhinged.
The JPCA president,
the lead instigator of the lawsuit that began this entire process,
was particularly nasty to the Health Board and his arguments reflected
thanks to their NYS Supreme Court defeat and the unanimous ratification
of the Health Code amendments, the JPCA is the group most responsible
for helping to clarify and strengthen the Off-leash policy. Their
performance at the Health Board hearing illustrated frustration
at their losing cause and chagrin at how badly their misguided lawsuit
Legal Basis for Off-Leash Hours
The hearing was part of the approximately 90-day City Administrative
Procedures Act (CAPA) process in an attempt to amend the Health
Code. While the Health regulations state that animals must be restrained
by a leash no more than six feet in length, Section 1-04 of the
Parks regulations permits the Parks commissioner to allow animals
off-leash in City parks. Additionally, chapter 21 of the City Charter
empowers the Parks commissioner to establish and enforce Citywide
rules and regulations for the use of public parks, which shall have
the full force of law.
The Parks Department's
Off-leash policy in designated park locations and during limited
times (9 pm to closing, and opening to 9 am) represents a reasonable
accommodation for all park users, and has been successful and legal
for 20 years.
The Health Code (article 161.05) allows for discretionary enforcement
of the "Leash Law" by the Parks Department, and the Parks
regulations (section 1-04) clearly state that the Parks commissioner
may allow dogs to be off-leash in city parks. This stems from the
City Charter's mandate granted to the Parks commissioner (chapter
21), which allows the commissioner to issue and enforce rules and
regulations regarding the use of parks that have the full force
In other words, the Parks commissioner can legally issue a 9 PM
to park closing, and park opening to 9 AM off-leash policy within
certain designated spaces. So, the current off-leash policy is quite
legitimate, very much legal, and has been successful for 20 years
here to view the NYCdog memorandum of law
submitted to the State Supreme Court in August 2006 that details
the legality of the Off-leash Hours policy.
It should be
noted that the Health hearing occurred on November 1st, 2006, over
one month before the New York State Supreme Court denied the Juniper
Park Civic Association's lawsuit attempting to end Off-leash Hours
policy citywide. At that time it was not known if the Supreme Court
would actually rule in the case, because the judge was aware that
the Health Department was engaged in the process attempting to amend
the "Leash Law" to explicitly grant the Parks commissioner
authority for dogs off-leash in NYC parks. A successful Health Board
vote would, in effect, render the court ruling moot. However, despite
this, the judge did hand down his ruling on November 30th, six days
before the Health Board voted in favor of the amendments.
vs. Legislation The
Administrative Procedures Act (CAPA) is
a much faster, more streamlined, and clearer process than the sometimes
onerous and much longer legislative process favored by some. The
CAPA process is perfectly legitimate, and very democratic, as it
openly solicits feedback from the public and allows for an open
and public hearing on the issue. While NYCdog appreciates the support
of many elected officials, this issue is one best left for the agencies
involved – the Health and Parks Departments – and not
partisan politicians solely seeking to generate publicity for themselves.
We’re Not Done Yet!
The Health Board amended the Health Code in favor of Off-leash Hours
policy and responsible dog ownership. This, plus the successful
Supreme Court decision, provides a clear sign that the Off-leash
Hours policy will be strengthened, and that the City will be protected
against future misguided lawsuits.
The Parks Department
will initiate their own rule change to further clarify the Off-leash
Hours policy. Such a rule change would follow the Health Board’s
proposed amendments, which call for greater awareness among the
public about the limited hours and designated locations of the Off-leash
Hours policy. This will likely make things absolutely crystal clear,
and insure that both dog owners and non dog owners alike understand
the Off-leash Hours policy.
WHY WE’LL NEED YOUR HELP.
The Parks Department
will initiate their own CAPA process at the beginning of 2007, and
we still need your support. Your voice can be heard on how to further
improve the Off-leash Hours policy, and how to make sure that both
the dog-owning and non dog-owning public can safely enjoy City parks.
Denali, an Italian Spinone, appreciates his owner's strong support
to continue the Offleash Hours policy that have helped Denali become
a well-socialized dog.
and their dogs from member group FIDO in Prospect Park at the noon
press conference outside of the Department of Health.
NYC Health Board met on December 5, 2006 and unanimously amended
the "Leash Law" to specifically grant the Parks commissioner
authority to promulgate a limited Off-leash Hours policy in NYC
Dr. Edgar Butts,
NYC Health Department Assistant Commissioner for Veterinary Services
and Pest Control Services, and member of the NYC Health Board, poses
with an Off-leash Hours policy supporter immediately following the
unanimous Health Board vote.
(right), NYCdog attorney and strategy architect for Acts Two and
Three: The Health and Parks Department CAPA processes, speaks to
a news reporter at the NYC Department of Health during the historic
December 5, 2006 Health Board vote to amend the City's "Leash
the Dream Team that helped win in Acts One and Two celebrates the
legal and Health Board victories during Prospect Park Off-Leash
(from the left) Paula Van Meter, NYC Corporate Counsel Attorney
who represented the NYC Parks Dept and presented oral arguments
to the NYS Supreme Court; Trudy Kawami, NYCdog Board Member; Mary
McInerney, NYCdog V.P.; Terri Sullivan, NYCdog Treasurer; Bob Marino,
NYCdog President; Matthew H. Parker, NYCdog V.P./Secretary; Dr.
Carmine Petracca, off-leash supporter.
Not pictured: Matthew Greller, NYCdog attorney and advisor for the
Health and Parks CAPA hearings, Andrew Otis and Dora Straus, NYCdog
pro bono attorneys for the NYS Supreme Court case, and many others
that make up the NYCdog group of constituents organizations who
have worked tirelessly to preserve the Off-leash Hours policy in
New York City.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz made a speech at a recent
Prospect Park Coffee Bark function during Off-leash Hours the weekend
following the amendment to the "Leash Law" Health Code.
Tupper Thomas, President of the Prospect Park Alliance, celebrates
during Off-leash Hours in Prospect Park's Long Meadow following
the amendment to the Health Code and the NYS Supreme Court victory.
Ms. Thomas is known as the "Godmother" of the NYC Off-leash
Hours policy. She, along with then Parks Commissioner Henry Stern,
first instituted the Off-leash Hours policy in Prospect Park over
twenty years ago.
NYCdog V.P. and President of FIDO in Prospect Park speaks to the
press in front of the NYC Health Department building prior to the
November 1, 2006 Health Board hearings. The hearing was to solicit
public comments on the proposed amendments to the Health Code known
as the "Leash Law" to clarify the Parks Commissioner's
authority to permit Off-Leash Hours in NYC Parks.
Members of the
NYC Health Board, including Health Department Commissioner Tom Frieden
(on the far left), listen to speakers at the public hearing held
on November 1, 2006. The Health Board's favorable ruling on the
proposed amendments strengthened and solidified the 20-year successful
park Off-leash Hours policy.
NYCdog Board Member, and President of the 200-member Juniper Valley
Park Dog Association in Queens gives her testimony in front of the
NYC Health Board while a Health Department stenographer takes the
Former NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern provided his testimony
at the Health Board hearing. Mr. Stern is the "Godfather"
of the Off-leash Hours policy. The policy was first promulgated
under his tenure and has been continued by two successive Parks
Commissioners for twenty years.
Strong support for the Off-leash Hours policy from three of
most recent NYC Parks Commissioners.
NYCdog President Bob Marino (right) talks to Dr. Carmine Petracca,
an Off-leash supporter and hearing speaker, before the Health Board
Matthew H. Parker, NYCdog Board Member and President of Friends
of Hillside Dog Park in Brooklyn speaks to the press surrounded
by NYCdog supporters before the start of the Health Board hearing.
Rissa Pickar, a member of the Marine Park Dog Owners Group, an informal
organization of local residents that have recreated with their dogs
during Offleash Hours in Brooklyn's Marine Park for many years speaks
at the Health Board hearing.
Parvene Farhoody, a noted
animal behaviorist from Manhattan, is interviewed by the news media
at the NYCdog press conference. Inside the Health Board hearing
Ms. Farhoody spoke strongly in favor of preserving and strengthening
the park Offleash Hours policy.
NYCdog's attorney from the law firm of Blank, Rome speaks with an
Off-leash Hours supporter from the Juniper Valley Park Dog Association
before the hearing began. NYCdog wishes to thank Mr. Greller and
Blank, Rome for their outstanding pro bono legal and advisement
services throughout the lawsuit and the subsequent City Administrative
Procedures Act process. NYCdog also greatly thanks Mr. Andrew Otis
and Ms. Dora Straus from the Law Firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost,
Colt & Mosle, LLP, the pro bono attorneys who drafted NYCdog's
Memorandum of Law and who presented oral arguments in front of Judge
Peter J. Kelly at State Supreme Court on Aug. 29, 2006. Thank you!!!
New York City Council Member Gale A. Brewer spoke in favor of the
Health Code amendments at the NYCdog press conference in Foley Square
Park, across the street from the Department of Health.
ONE: The Lawsuit that Threatened to END OFF-LEASH HOURS policy in NYC
Final Outcome: A Legal Victory for Off-leash Hours Policy
2006, New York, NY: The New York Council of Dog Owner Groups (NYCdog)
applauds today’s State
Supreme Court ruling from Judge Peter J. Kelly denying
the Juniper Park Civic Association’s lawsuit to compel the
Parks Department and the City of New York to end the successful
20-year Off-leash policy (9 PM until parks close, and when they
re-open until 9 am, only in certain designated Park spaces).
This legal decision
strongly affirms the position NYCdog has argued from the beginning—
the Parks Commissioner has the legal authority to permit responsible
off-leash recreation on a limited basis in New York City Parks.
written decision also encourages the NYC Health Board to pass the
Health Department’s proposed amendments to Section 161.05
of the Health Code (the “Leash Law”). The Health Board
is expected to vote on the proposed amendments on December 5th to
further clarify the existing regulations, encourage responsible
dog ownership, and preserve the successful 20-year Parks limited
supports the proposed Health Code amendments and encourages the
Health Board to follow the Health Department’s recommendation
to modify the existing regulation.
forward to working with the Parks and Health Department to promote
responsible dog ownership in New York City.
May 2006, a small neighborhood civic association in Queens sued
the City, the Parks Department and Park's Commissioner Adrian Benepe
to end Parks' 20-year successful policy that permits dogs off-leash
in certain areas of certain parks during limited hours. This has
been commonly referred to as the "Off-leash Hours" or
the "9-9 policy" since the hours of relaxed enforcement
of the leash law are typically from 9pm until park close and then
from when they re-open until 9am.
Hours policy is a reasonable accommodation that allows the hundreds
of thousands of City dog owners to exercise and socialize their
dogs in the park off-leash. The policy started before the City's
first dog park was built and continues because most neighborhoods
do not have a dog park (also known as a dog run). In fact, fewer
than 50 dog runs exist in the City, which has 1.4 million dogs.
The Parks Department typically follows local Community Board advice
on the construction of dog runs, as was recently
the case in Marine Park, Brooklyn.
It has been
the Parks Department's longstanding policy that where dog runs do
not exist within a reasonable walking distance, designated NYC parks
would offer dog owners limited Offleash Hours in designated locations.
Former Parks Commissioner Henry
Stern recently said about the Off-leash Policy he enacted
20 years ago, "it’s worked out extremely well over the
many years that it’s been in place, and it’s never been
challenged before now.”
Park Civic Association (JPCA) originally brought suit against the
Parks Department in March 2006, but the judge refused to take the
case. The JPCA then re-filed the case against Parks in May 2006,
and that time the court granted an Order
to Show Cause.
What this meant
for the 500,000-plus dog owners of New York City
If the lawsuit
was ultimately successful (which it was not), the Off-leash Hours
policy would have be eliminated. That would have meant an end to
off-leash exercise and socialization in Central Park, Prospect Park,
Ft. Greene Park,Stuyvesant Park, East Side Park, Marine Park and
many other parks where dog owners rely on the parks to exercise
and socialize their dogs. A New
York State Supreme Court judge rejected the Juniper Park Civic Association's
on November 30, 2006.
Why the JPCA Has Brought Suit
(note: this piece was originally written before the
case was decided against the JPCA)
Contrary to the Juniper Park Civic Association's rhetoric about
a crisis of dogs running wild in NYC parks, in reality, this lawsuit
is really about power and who controls the parks.
But the president
of the JPCA doesn't see it that way. From his perspective, Juniper
Valley is HIS park, and he wants to control it. The JPCA's vitriolic
statements against Commissioner Benepe stem from the commissioner's
reluctance to give the JPCA carte blanche to control Juniper Valley
The kernel of
this lawsuit is Commissioner Benepe's power as Parks commissioner
to apply the rules uniformly across all NYC parks; in this case
a choice to the Middle Village community to retain Off-leash Hours
policy as it now exists or build a dog park in Juniper Park since
there's a sizable constituency
of taxpayers in the neighborhood who like to recreate
in the local park with their dogs offleash, as can all other New
York City residents.
The JPCA postures
that they are "being held hostage" by a Parks commissioner
who is tyrannizing the community by forcing dogs off-leash in Juniper
Park. The JPCA doesn't want either limited Off-leash Hours or a
dog park in Juniper Valley Park. The JPCA president was quoted
in the New York Times in April 2006 when asked about
a dog park in Juniper Park saying, ''Tell me why our park has to
be turned into a dog toilet."
The JPCA president
is determined to force power from the Parks Dept. to the local Community
Board (where, somewhat coincidentally, the JPCA president also happens
to be the vice chairman and believes he can control what goes on
at the Community Board level.).
If the JPCA
is successful in their lawsuit it would mean an end to the limited
Off-leash Hours policy citywide, as well as no dog park in Juniper
Valley Park. The 200+ dog owners of the Juniper Park Dog Association
would be defeated and not have a location in Juniper Valley Park
to exercise and socialize their dogs off-leash.
JPCA award winner, Commissioner Benepe is now one of the JPCA's
adversaries because he's telling the JPCA they need to accommodate
the 200+ members of the Juniper Park Dog Association who wish to
have either a dog park or Off-leash Hours in the park. It's clear
that the private and un-elected Juniper Park Civic Association isn't
interested in accommodating the needs of a
significant number of Middle Village residents. At a
recent meeting, a JPCA member who favors either Off-leash Hours
or a dog park in Juniper Park was told to "shut up."
By filing the
lawsuit, the president of the JPCA is vindictive enough to try to
take down a successful 20-year Off-leash Hours Policy that benefits
hundreds of thousands of people in the five boroughs of New York
City in his effort to teach Commissioner Benepe and anyone else
a lesson about what will happen in "his" park.
though the JPCA claims there's such a crisis of dogs running wild
off-leash and the reason the JPCA filed this lawsuit is to help
save their fellow New Yorkers citywide, a
JPCA press release states that the JPCA was willing
to drop their lawsuit if Commissioner Benepe cedes his authority
to build a dog park in Juniper Park to the local Community Board
(of which the JPCA president is vice chairman, and which the dog
park would most certainly be defeated, leaving Middle Village dog
owners out of luck in Juniper Valley Park.).
It has also
been rumored that the president of the JPCA has political ambitions
for elected office. He could also be using this issue and the lawsuit
to flex political muscle and generate publicity for self-aggrandizement,
possibly hoping to achieve what he would consider a political "victory"
that could be bandied about to garner votes in a future election,
perhaps for City Council.
Park in Middle Village, Queens.
The Juniper Park Civic Association said NO to a dog park and Off-leash
Hours in the park, then unsuccessfully sued the Parks Department
to end Off-leash Hours policy Citywide.
Chronicle & Documents
most recent to least recent)
30, 2006: Judge
Kelly rules against the Juniper Park Civic Association. In
Judge Kelly says that the JPCA president exhibits a "fundamental
misunderstanding of the 'laws' at issue." The judge rules
that the Parks Commissioner, under existing laws and regulations,
has discretionary authority to permit dog offleash recreation
in New York City Parks in certain areas and at certain times.
The judge further encourages the NYC Department of Health
and Department of Parks to amend their regulations to avoid
future lawsuits and to clarify the Off-leash Hour policy.
Heeding Judge Kelly's words, six days later on December 5th,
2006, the NYC Health Board votes unanimously to amend Section
161.05 of the NYC Health Code (the "Leash Law")
to explicitly grant the Parks commissioner authority to permit
limited Off-leash Hours policy in New York City Parks.
29, 2006: Judge
Kelly heard oral arguments. NYCdog
made a cross motion to intervene on the side of the Parks
Department. NYCdog holds a press conference on the steps of
State Supreme Court in Queens. Attorney for the City said
in court that the City would immediately begin a process seeking
to amend the "Leash Law" to eliminate any confusion
between the Health Dept. and the Parks Dept.'s 20-year Offleash
Hours policy. Judge Kelly closed the hearing and said to expect
8, 2006: JPCA
press release claims to have attempted compromise
as Judge Kelly had requested. Though previously claiming that
this lawsuit case is not a local issue and the JPCA was seeking
to eliminate Offleash Hours because it is a citywide problem
and crisis of critical importance to all New Yorkers, the
writer of this JPCA release says the group was willing to
drop the citywide offleash lawsuit if the question of dog
parks and off-leash in Juniper Valley Park would be put in
front of the local Community Board (which, of course, consists
of many JPCA members, virtually ensuring rejection of both
a dog park in Juniper Park and offleash).
27, 2006: State Supreme Court Judge Peter Kelly meets
with attorneys from the JPCA and Parks Department in chambers.
Judge tells both sides that neither side wants him to rule
in this case and encourages both sides to find a compromise.
The judge does not accept NYCdog's
Amicus Curiae "friend of the court" brief,
but says he would if the case moves forward. Sets next court
date for August 29.
attempts to start an Article 78 proceeding.
Article 78 proceedings are generally used to compel
a governmental body to do what it is required to do or refrain
from what it is not supposed to do or from acting in an arbitrary
and capricious manner. The attempt was rejected by State Supreme
Court Judge Peter Kelly without prejudice to permitting another
future attempt to start a proceeding, but with a requirement
that the JPCA file a memorandum of law setting forth the reasons
they believe the relief they are seeking in the proceeding
is permitted in an Article 78 proceeding.
press release. This is the earliest known public
document indicating the JPCA's hostile intentions toward Offleash
Hours in NYC parks.
on the steps of the State Supreme Court, Queens County on Aug. 29,
2006 give a press conference while Judge Kelly hears oral arguments
inside the courthouse.
Court in Jamaica, Queens where on Aug. 29, 2006 Judge Peter J. Kelly
heard oral arguments in the case of Juniper Park Civic Association
v. The City of New York, Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of The New
York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and the New York City
Department of Parks and Recreation.