Woof, woof. City owners may get to let their dogs (continue to) run amok in designated parks during so-called "off-leash hours." The Board of Health voted unanimously yesterday to amend and codify the city's nebulous leash law in response to a Queens ruling against a civic group that was trying to shut down off-leash exercise hours for pups. In one corner, The Juniper Park Civic Association asserted that certain parks, by allowing leash-free hours from 9 pm until 9 am, were in conflict with a City health code that stipulates that all dogs must be kept on leashes at all times in city parks.
But in the other corner are dog lovers and Parks Department officials who feel that off-leash hours have made the parks safer by increasing the number of people spending time there early in the morning and later in the evenings. And some even argue that the hours have made dogs less dangerous over time, citing that since the policy has been in effect, the number of dog bites has plummeted from 40,000 a year in the 1960s to just under 4,000 in 2005.
Since the Queens lawsuit hinged on technicalities regarding the current leash laws, the health department had a real impetus to standardize it. Effective immediately, it is up to individual parks to establish rules on pets and leash laws. But all's not settled yet: the Parks Department is to put forward its own proposal outlining the regulations which will be finalized after 30 days of public comment. So, it looks like the lazy dog days of summer are still far off. Oh, and just in case you see an unleashed dog coming at you later today, here's the DOH's info page on rabies.