Sled Dogs?

What a beautiful sight!

Not just kids sledding, families playing, and dogs running; it’s the combination of them all together that warms my heart.

Some time in recent years there became these things called “dog parks” – not so much because people loved dogs, saw how much their presence benefits families and communities, and cared what’s best for them and their owners, but rather because there was an increasing fracture between dog-owning families and non-dog-owners. Whereas most every park used to be dog-friendly, now it’s the exception rather than the rule; so dog-owners had no choice but to fight for open communal space that we’re still welcome in.

Racey the Lurcher

Over the ten years I lived in Cambridge, MA, I witnessed this gradual change firsthand, from inside the battle lines. One block away from the apartment where I lived with my Lurcher “Racey” (a descendent of the Greyhound) was Dana Park, a favorite family park that was also a favorite dog park for locals from all over. A separated, fenced-in playground for kids with swings, a see-saw, and other fun playground equipment in no way interfered with the big grassy expanse being the favorite meeting place for dogs and dog-owners every evening around 6:00 pm. It was just known, show up when the sun sets and sit and talk with your old friends and make new ones while our dogs all romp together. However, at some point a local curmudgeon petitioned Cambridge city planning to outlaw offleash dogs in Dana Park. The dog-owners signed opposing petitions to keep the park dog-friendly, our main argument – and source of indignant outrage – being that the park was originally funded and donated to the city by a dog-lover, specifically intended as an offleash playspace for dogs! In the dog-friendly, non-litigious era during which the park was opened, the benefactor did not feel the need to specify his wishes. It was terribly sad and frustrating to see those wishes, and so many current ones, discarded so carelessly on one grouchy neighbor’s whim.

And the closing of Dana Park to dogs had a ripple effect. Dog-owners were forced to converge instead on Fort Washington, a great historic fort and dog park a bit closer to the river. Not a big deal in itself, at least for committed dog walkers like me willing to tromp an extra mile for the well-being of our canines. But the new onslaught of dogs at Fort Washington caused defenders of the historic nature of the fort to start a petition of their own. And so the battle continues, with dog-owners and dogs losing more and more of their rights and privileges.

And the problem doesn’t stay contained in the frustration of the dog-owners. Because every dog that isn’t well-exercised is certain to exhibit more and more behavior problems, which will cause other problems of their own – as well as engendering only more anti-dog sentiment. And so the cycle will continue.

And of course the problem isn’t restricted to Beantown. Here in Park Slope I’ve watched Prospect Park cut the number of offleash dog-hours drastically, in the past five years, as well as the number of locations in the park that dogs can run offleash during those limited hours.

All of which should give some clue why I’m so happy to see families, kids, and dogs playing together in the same park. Hillside Park is a wonderful dog park in Dumbo, Brooklyn, but it shouldn’t just be called a dog park. It’s a park, after all! Only one of the few remaining that is dog-friendly ’round the clock. No dog owners ever get upset at families or children coming and playing or saying hi to the pups. Let’s take a lesson from them.

Can’t we all just get along?


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