Warning: this post contains misogynist and racist language.
Spring has sprung, the trails in Prospect Park are clear of snow, daffodils are beginning to bloom, phoebes and kinglets are back . . . filling me with weariness as I look ahead to more encounters with the owners of off-leash dogs.
Dogs are allowed to run off-leash in Prospect Park in certain areas (the Longmeadow, excluding the ballfields; the Nethermead; the Peninsula meadow) during certain hours (before 9 am and after 9 pm). Otherwise, they must always be leashed, and are never allowed, either on- or off-leash, on playgrounds, ball fields or bridle paths.
That’s in theory. In practice, off-leash dogs tear through every part of the park all day long, digging up restored woodlands, chasing wildlife, and creating a terrifying gauntlet for people with mobility or balance issues (something two broken arms have sensitized me to). Enforcement is, shall we say, indulgent . . . which means it’s up to the community to establish norms of respect and courtesy.
You can take this post as documentation of how well that’s working.
To be clear, I pick my battles. I ignore dogs that, though unleashed, are heeling alongside their attentive owners. Ditto those in securely-fenced areas. And while I’ll confess to sometimes (ok, too often) allowing an encounter to escalate, my initial approach is unfailingly polite.
A sampling of the responses I’ve received follows:
“Are you the park police?”
“Are you the poop police?”
“S/he doesn’t get along with other dogs.”
“Yeah, I read the sign.”
“Why do you care?”
“It’s a city park, it’s not for wildlife.”
“Dogs are wild animals, they belong here.”
“It’s too early in the day for your negativity.”
“It’s too hot for them in the sun.”
“I’m pregnant, leave us alone.”
“Blah blah blah blah blah” (holding hands over ears)
“There’ve been dogs in this park for hundreds of years.”
“You must be a cat lady.”
“Suck my dick.”
“Habitat destruction – what a joke.”
“You can fuck off.”
“You need to pay more attention.” (after a small dog almost tripped me – twice)
“What about all the homeless people and trash in the park?”
“What about all the Mexicans in the park?”
“What about all those Jamaican guys?”
“What about all those cyclists?”
“You birders think you own this park.”
“You think you have jogger privilege.”
“If you don’t like my dogs, just stay on the road.”
“I should punch you in the face.”
“I don’t care.”
“(silence, continue walking)”
Once in a great while, someone will respond by leashing their dog. That happens just often enough to encourage me to persist, but not without a queasy sense of dread. I love Prospect Park with a passion, spending time there most days, year round. I’d love it even more with fewer off-leash dogs – and less self-centered entitlement.