Last week, I went out for a morning run in a local park. I was slowly meandering up a hill, when I saw two women and two dogs, not on leashes, ahead of me. I yelled to them that I was coming up behind them, so as not to startle them by coming up suddenly. As I passed them, the two dogs started running with me. They had a friendly, “Come play with me” look in their eyes, so I wasn’t frightened. The women started calling to them to come back, and one of the dogs turned around to run back and sort of collided with my feet. In other words, and I hate to admit it, I kicked the dog. By accident, of course. The dog and I were both moving slowly, so it ended up being more a tangle of feet and fur than an actual kick, but still… I felt awful about it. The dog was ok, (I did stop to check) and scampered away happily. It did get me thinking of all the close, and not so close, calls that many runners, bikers, and pedestrians have had with dogs, and what the laws are surrounding dogs in New York City Parks.
The first thing some people may wonder when reading that story is why the dogs were not on leashes. New York City has adopted “courtesy hours” as part of law, which states that dogs (with proper identification and vaccinations) are allowed to be leash-free in certain park areas between 9pm and 9am, not including park closure times. This is different from a “dog run”, which is a fenced off section of park designated solely for unleashed dogs, available any time the park is open. Otherwise, dogs must be kept on leashes less than six feet long.
Even though it is legal to have your dog unleashed in a dog run or during courtesy hours, this doesn’t mean all dogs are suited for this environment. Although many owners are thrilled to get their pets out of cramped NYC apartments and onto open fields, owners must use their judgment in determining whether their dog can tolerate this environment. Parks can often be packed with frolicking dogs during courtesy hours, which can easily become overwhelming for a young dog. A dog that does not follow commands may run off in this situation, both fretful for the owner and dangerous for the dog, as parks in New York City are never too far from traffic. Also, if a dog does not tolerate other dogs well, this could lead to fighting. Remember, no matter what the situation, you are responsible for your dog. A pet owner’s guide with additional regulations and advice is offered by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Finally, if you are the person running by an unleashed dog, announce your presence. No matter how friendly or well behaved the dog, it can easily be startled by someone approaching suddenly. Give the dog space when possible- their time to run free is limited more than ours and by law, they are allowed to be there just as much as we are. Be prepared to slow down a bit, as dogs may often begin to follow you when you run by. Enlist the owner’s help, as they want their dog to behave just as much as you do. I’ve found that if a dog starts running with me, I can just run over to the owner, who will then grab it by the collar.
Laws that I have discussed here vary from city to city, and the rules I have discussed are not all inclusive of New York City’s laws. Please research your city’s rules and regulations regarding dogs in parks, and make sure we all, dogs and humans alike, enjoy our beautiful parks.