Serving Brooklyn's Off-Leash Community

Prospect Pk. Gone To Dogs

Daily News, 5/11/2002
By Army Sacks
Daily News Writer

On most mornings, Lia Mehos dangles a leash by her side and watches her collie. Lucy, run free and unfettered through the fenceless grassy meadows in Prospect Park.

The 526 acre Brooklyn oasis offers the most generous off-leash privileges of any of the city's parks. Resembling an English countryside more than urban sprawl, the park provides Mehos and hundreds of dog owners the longest off-leash courtesy hours and the largest spaces - including three meadows, where a spring Saturday attracts up to 700 free-range canines.

"Lucy will wake me up in the middle of the night and want me to throw the ball - it's a clear sign she needs to be able to run in the park,: says Mehos, 24, a teacher who arrives with Lucy a little past 7am.

Thanks to the strict enforcement of a good canine stewardship by FIDO - the Fellowship in the Interests of Dogs and their Owners - Lucy continues to be a happy and healthy camper.

"Not being able to let your dog off-leash is a drag - especially if you have a high energy dog," says Mary McInerney, President of FIDO in Prospect Park. Her mantra to owners: "Take control of your dogs."

The city's leash law requires that a dog must be kept on a tether no more than 6 feet long. Violators face a minimum fine of $100.

The city Park's department enforces the law in parks, but in recognition of dogs' need to exercise, it has made an exception in certain parks through courtesy off-leash access rules between 9pm and 9am.

Off-Leash Limits

In 1998, however, the city sought to crack down on the off-leash activity in areas other than the myriad of dog runs that dot the city's parks. Several parks eliminated their off-leash access.

Prospect Park, however, had no run. "We have a large dog community. We would need ten dog runs to accommodate them, and the park would be one big dog run," said Tupper Thomas, administrator of Prospect Park.

Desperate to preserve the off-leash privileges, a group of dog owners formed FIDO and offered a commitment to Thomas to self-police the park.

FIDO encourages owners to keep dogs away from the soccer fields, bridle paths, jogging paths, and the wooded areas where birds nest. They provide extra bags so owners can clean up after their dogs and offer lectures on responsible ownership. They also donate garbage cans and designed drinking fountains.

"We have the most lenient rules but have the strongest and most effective of the dog organizations," said Thomas.

FIDO's successful efforts recently resulted in extending off-leash hours, which now begin at 5pm year round in the Nethermead, and in all three meadows throughout the winter.