Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Most Unsafe Park for Dogs in NYC

Manhattan is known for its beautiful parks and how well they’re maintained, and there’s no better example than Central Park, which will always receive priority from the city because it’s a destination point for tourists.
But there’s a park in Northern Manhattan that stretches from 190th Street to 200th Street where half the park is high on a hill, and the lower half runs along Broadway, and residents here don’t understand why the lower half is so hazardous, especially for dogs. There are fundraisers and events held in the pristine section of the park, and by that I mean the ‘Top of the Hill’ where flower gardens and beautiful paths line the way to the historically significant Cloisters, a tourist destination, but little is done to the ‘Lower Section’ where invasive weeds, broken glass, poison, and overgrown meadows are a staple for the tax paying residents who live here.
Over the years local residents have volunteered, worked alone, and written to Parks in an effort to gain clarity on the dangers of the lower section of the park. The answers we receive from Parks couldn’t be more politically worded to evade the truth; that it’s not a priority. We’re told that over 10,000 plants have been planted in the lower area, though we’re not sure if grass could be considered a plant. As residents of this area, we understand the need to keep The Cloisters looking magnificent, but there’s no reason the rest of the park should be so blatantly shunned.

For those of us with dogs, we have our hands full dodging the dangers of this stretch of park, and those dangers aren’t the typical assaults and thefts you might assume, but from the park itself.

Foxtail: Here’s a grass-like plant that flourishes in our park. Because of its fish hook barbs, this plant will wedge itself into the ears and eyes of dogs, but it can also transmit seeds into the lungs and throats of dogs. If a dog owner is lucky a vet can remove the fishhooks, but sadly, many dogs that encounter Foxtail must be put down due to the unbearable pain and irreversible effects it can cause. There are sections in our park where Foxtail grows abundantly, areas that seem to be bypassed when maintenance crews cut grass every six weeks or so, indicating that park employees are not trained to be aware this dangerous plant.

Burdock: This plant is an invasive weed that sprouts prickly balls of madness that stick to everything because the pod breaks apart after attaching itself, and that includes dog fur, not to mention hair, blankets, shoelaces, etc. While it’s mostly a nuisance and can take a while to remove the prickly pods, dogs have a tendency to bite and chew on them, which means they also swallow the pods and get them stuck in their throats. Some pods become so knotted and tangled that fur will need to be shaved. I have personally removed hundreds of these plants after being told by Parks that Burdock has become a nuisance 
since Sandy hit our shores several years ago. A polite answer, yet the gardeners here pay no mind to this plant.

Round UpIf we’re lucky, we happen to see a paper sign that’s been taped to a rock wall or fence that indicates poison has been used, though we’re not sure where because one random sign doesn’t seem to match the areas where we witness employees spraying, meaning many areas are not marked at all. Many a dog owner has learned to recognize sickness in their dogs that coincides with the roundup, or better yet, a Monsanto pesticide that is carelessly sprayed throughout the park. Dog owners in our area have lost their furry friends to illnesses they can’t explain, and many notice diarrhea and illness in their dogs after eating grass that grows along the paths, where paper signs are not posted.

BicyclesWe have hills here, and it’s a cyclist’s playground. Problem is the cyclist’s whiz by at ridiculous speeds, always choosing to whip in-between crowds and people with dogs on leashes. But a cyclist can’t always see a leash and we’re often caught off guard, and that means we’re forced to drop the leash, grab our pets, or jump away in a quick response to a speeding bicycle. To say this is life threatening for the dogs is a no brainer, but it’s threatening to humans as well; humans that have been taken away in ambulances after being slammed into by kids on bicycles. We understand Mayor de Blasio doesn’t believe children should begin their life with a record, so we’re told that nothing can be done, an answer that would seem to come from the White House instead of a local park. Sadly there is one little girl who was slammed into by a young cyclist, who, last reported, has brain damage from the impact. I can’t help but wonder which life-path Mr. de Blasio chose for her.

Trash: Many places in NYC have trash and that’s nothing new, but our stretch of park seems to attract hundreds of people who feel it’s their place to bring in stereos, DJs, furniture, and grills, in order to have a great time. I’m personally in support of family gatherings, however, when there is no accountability, these gatherings turn into mobs and the debris left behind is a hazard for dogs, since bones, dishes of food, charcoals, (often still smoldering) empty drug baggies, condoms, and broken glass are thrown about the lawns and paths. In all fairness, condoms and drug baggies are a daily nuisance, but it’s usually a minefield the day after these events and most of us avoid the parks as a precaution. Kudos to the many residents who spend their mornings cleaning up after the disrespectful visitors. 
Sir Williams Ft. Tryon Dog Run. As one of the largest dog runs in the city, this dog run/muddy hill is left solely in the hands of volunteers. I’ve spent many days, as have others, replacing fences, removing broken glass, pulling weeds and trimming fence lines in an effort to keep the dog run safe. Here again lies no accountability, as there are invasive plants inside, wire shards in fences, and soil that has never seen the likes of sterilization or a liming treatment for feces. In addition, many dogs have been brutally attacked as a result of dog owners who bring unneutered, untrained, and unattended dogs into the run. Sadly, getting the community to embrace this run is like pulling teeth, possibly because it looks more like an abandoned backyard than a dog run. On a good note, Parks has matched funds in order to replace fencing that can no longer be wired together, though at exorbitant prices. Interestingly enough, the estimated price of fixing the water lines to the run has gone from $45,000.00 six years ago, to $600,000.00 just a few months ago. I can’t help but wonder who would profit from this water repair, but regardless of political manipulation, we’d like to see water available for the dogs in our area.  

Truth be told, this area of Manhattan has had no accountability for over forty years, and now that residents are seeking answers, the Police, Parks Department, and Council members, are at a loss for solutions. And since Dyckman Street has become a destination spot for late-night clubs, motorcycle gangs, year-round fireworks, stabbings, and excessive drug use, the police are tied up with security, paid for by either the city or the clubs.
We do, however, understand the battles that local officials deal with in this area, as it’s one of the most non-compliant neighborhoods in Manhattan. For an area so seemingly dedicated to family, it’s ironic that residents here are so blatantly disrespectful of the streets, their neighbors, and basic laws.
So if you’re planning a trip to northern Manhattan, you might want to leave your furry friend behind because this area of NYC clearly doesn’t support animal rights, evident by the yearly decrease in groundhogs, raccoons, skunks, and hawks. Monsanto anyone? It’s apparent that Parks Department is pulling in donations for renovations, noticeable by the pristine, sculptured gardens at the top of the hill, or, at every entrance, stairway, and path that lead to the top of the hill. The lower section is as described above, which is why the residents here have deemed our stretch of park to be the most unsafe park in New York City for a dog.

Johnny Walker is a NYC resident and avid animal lover.

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