Middle Village resident Joe Pisano walks his two giant schnauzers (the second won't be renamed "Citi," if you were wondering) after 9 p.m. at Juniper Valley Park, after he gets off work. There to greet Pisano late in the evening are countless other frustrated Middle Village residents, their own dogs in tow, who are coming together once again to push for a regular-hours dog run at the park.
"We're not asking for something new, dog runs are all around the city," Pisano said at last week's Community Board 5 meeting, noting that 41 percent of citywide parks, and 33 percent of Queens parks, have dog runs. “Why not in Juniper Park?” Pisano asked, where an existing fence already encloses half of the area where could dogs play.
"All we want is a fence and I feel it will be better for everyone," Pisano said. "Why don't we try something different? Let's fence it in and see how it goes."
Pisano, who is leading the resurgent push for the dog run, which has been a 15-year – if not longer – battle, has been making monthly appearances before Community Board 5 to argue the case. The president of the Juniper Park Dog Association, Terry Sullivan, said dog owners who use Juniper Valley Park are better organized, more numerous, and more committed to getting a dog run built now than ever before.
"There seems to be renewed energy and renewed momentum for a dog run at Juniper Park, which is wonderful," said Sullivan. "I'm hoping that we're going to be successful this time."
In the late 1980's, then-Parks Commissioner Henry Stern instituted an informal policy allowing dog owners to walk their dogs off-leash between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.
The policy was widely popular across the city; in Brooklyn, for example, Prospect Park administrator Tupper Thomas has credited the increased presence of dog walking park goers with a reduction in after-dark crime at the park.
But in Middle Village, the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) found the off-leash policy objectionable, and in 2006 filed a lawsuit against the Parks Department, claiming that the policy violated the city's health code.
A State Supreme Court judge ruled against JPCA, in a case that was responsible for officially defining the city's dog leash and dog run policy.
After the ruling, the Parks Department formalized its after-hours off-leash policy to allow dog owners who use parks without dog runs to walk their dogs off leash between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. in parks that are officially open as some point during those 12 hours. The policy doesn’t apply to parks that are closed by 9 p.m. or don’t open before 9 a.m.
The case, its stipulations notwithstanding, was a major victory for dog walkers.
Sullivan's dog association, which was formed during the court case, used the court decision to argue for a dog run at Juniper Valley Park, but Pisano and Sullivan say Parks and the JPCA continue to oppose it.
The JPCA did not return comments for this story.
In a related but separate issue that makes things even more difficult for dog owners at Juniper Park, the park closes at 9 p.m., making it off limits for after-hours, off-leash dog walking. Residents there can walk their dogs off-leash only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., when the park is open.
Many who work early, and get home late, say this leaves them with little or no time to walk their dogs off-leash during the permitted hours.
"I would love to walk my two beautiful dogs between six o'clock and seven and go home and lead a regular life like everyone else," Miles Foley, a small business owner, said at the CB5 meeting. But on days when he doesn't get home from work until nine or later, Foley said, he loses the chance to walk his dogs off-leash.
If a dog run is put in, it will only be open during regular park hours, said Pisano, but nevertheless it would give dog owners increased access and more daytime hours to walk their dogs off-leash. In addition, said Foley, who urged CB5 to approve a dog run at the meeting, the plan would help keep the rest of the park clean by concentrating feces and their pickup to one spot in the park.
"Dog owners at Juniper Park are responsible. It's a beautiful park," Foley said. "Let's keep it beautiful."
CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano said the community board's Parks Committee is planning a meeting at Juniper Park on April 20 to tackle the issue.
CB5 has opposed a dog run there in the past. The primary concern of an overwhelming number of community members in the past has been that they did not want it to be the first dog run in Queens because the site would then be overrun by dog owners from other parts of the borough.
"The community needs to have an open mind in regard to this matter," said Giordano. If CB5 were to approve a dog run, he said, it would provide impetus for the Parks Department to build one. "The Parks Department is likely to be amenable to establishing a dog run there it if can be done properly."
"Parks is open to working with the community," said the Parks Department's Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski. "In general, Parks is supportive of dog runs."
However, Lewandowski added the caveat that her agency is in favor of dog runs, but only in cases when the community in question can reach a consensus on the issue.
Pisano said residents will continue fighting for the dog run no matter what.
"We are determined to get this dog run done," said Pisano. "We're not going to stop."