Dog Attacks Increase as JPCA & Community Board Demand that Parks Dept. Stop the Madness of Allowing Unleashed Dogs.

The Juniper Park Civic Association has always taken very seriously the issue of unleashed dogs. The NYC Parks Department is still rolling the dice with our safety in Juniper Valley Park. Under the leadership of Commissioner Adrian Benepe they are continuing the tradition of relaxation of the leash law from 9PM to 9AM in the morning, this, despite the fact that there is a 9PM curfew in the park. It is foolish to think that anyone benefits from this courtesy to dog owners.

The park is totally utilized, seven days a week. In the early morning hours there are walkers, joggers, skaters, mothers with babies in carriages and young children going to the local schools. In this populated setting we have what looks like packs of dogs, many, if not all of them, very large and unleashed. They usually romp and interact with each other but anything can distract them and take them in other, less friendly directions.

To illustrate that distraction, we have recently had several dog incidents in Juniper that indicate the growing magnitude of the problem and how dangerous the park becomes every day.

Let me say very quickly, we all love our dogs. They are the most beautiful, lovable animals created and they add tremendously to our lives. They are, however, animals and anything can trigger hostile behavior. There is no such thing as “Oh, he’ll never bite you!” The growing dog attack statistics indicate how wrong it is to make that assumption.

As we go to press for this issue of the Juniper Berry we had a worse case scenario at Juniper Valley Park with an unleashed dog experience. A woman, who was on roller blades, was attacked and bitten on the leg by an unleashed dog. The dog owner gave false information with regard to her address, etc. Subsequent investigation by the victim narrowed the address of the dog walker to Juno Street in Forest Hills. When the perpetrator was confronted by Bob Holden, President of the JPCA, and the victim, the mother of the dog walker was very combatant, scolding the victim for skating near the unleashed dogs, and making derogatory remarks about the victim’s ethnic background. The woman also arrogantly stated that the dog is young, dislikes skaters, carriages, etc. and frequently takes nips at them! She was totally uncooperative and lacked any empathy for the victim of her dog’s aggressive behavior. The shadow over this whole incident was the possibility of rabies shots if the dog was not found.

Here’s another example of what happens when dogs are allowed to go unleashed in a public park. Recently in Juniper there was a young, five year old boy, pinned up against a fence by two very large dogs. The child was terrified and when the owner managed to pull his dogs away he very gently reprimanded the dogs for “misbehaving,” stating “Oh, they won’t hurt you, they never bite!” The child was hardly comforted by this statement and sadly, he will probably harbor a fear of dogs for the rest of his life.

Gary Giordano, District Manager of Community Board #5, just wrote a letter to Commissioner Benepe citing another potentially deadly incident in Juniper Valley Park concerning dogs. He states in his letter to the Commissioner that a complaint was received August 22 at approximately 8:30AM when a local resident was confronted by about 20 dogs off the leash in Juniper Valley Park. Gary also states how even more serious the issue becomes when school starts and young children and teens walk through the park in the morning. The CB5 District Manager reiterates the JPCA conclusions that the Parks Department fails to understand the dangerous conditions caused by their unilateral decision to relax the leash laws.

Why is the NYC Parks Department continuing this irresponsible edict about unleashed dogs? This is the wake-up call to Commissioner Benepe and these are the sobering statistics that would indicate to any reasonable person that unleashed dogs are a menace to our safety.

There are about 5 million dog bites per year. Approximately 1,000 dog bite victims per day are seen in hospital emergency rooms. Dog bite losses exceed $1 billion per year, with $345 million paid by insurance companies. Children are the main victims and they are usually bitten in the face.

The home insurance industry paid out $310 million in 2001, and $345.5 million in 2002 and the upward trend continues in 2004. It is reported that additional payments were made under other insurance policies, such as health insurance. Because of this large monetary payout, most homeowners policies now clearly state that if you own a certain breed of dog, insurance coverage is waived in the event of an attack. To be covered if your dog attacks anyone you need a rider attachment to your policy and of course, this results in additional costs to everyone. We are all paying for the erratic behavior of unleashed dogs.

Let me say this before we start hearing the rhetoric about a dog run in Juniper Valley Park. The JPCA has been vehemently against the dog run because of all the problems associated with these facilities. Cleanliness, disease, aggressive dogs, uncooperative owners and loud barking noise all come into play with dog runs and they are not the panacea that many seem to think. There are documented stories about the problems to support our position. Also, since most dog owners arrive in their cars and there is a dog run in Forest Park, just about a mile from Juniper, why not use that facility for “socializing the animals.” Most dog owners want prime park real estate for their dogs and that is not realistic. Prime park real estate is currently being used by the thousands of people who use our parks every day. Juniper is totally utilized with sporting facilities and pockets of passive recreation areas. The park is ready for the “Filled to Capacity” sign without adding a canine toilet area.

Relaxing the leash laws and putting us all at risk is just plain dumb and illegal. The JPCA is demanding that the law be enforced so that there are no more victims and we may all enjoy our beautiful park without the threat of a vicious dog attack.