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A Blog to Discuss Dog Offleash Recreation in NYC. Sponsored by NYCDOG: New York Council of Dog Owner Groups

Archive for November, 2006

Summary of Nov 1, 2006 Health Board Hearing

Posted by nycoffleash on November 5, 2006

On November 1st, 2006 the NYC Health Board held a public hearing from 2pm-5pm at the Health Department at 125 Worth Street in Manhattan. The NYC Health Board is a group of public health professionals that work for the NYC Health Department who have the power to amend the City Health Code. The purpose of the hearing was to solicit comments from the public about proposed amendments to the NYC Health Code that would clarify the Parks Commission’s discretionary power for the 20-year Offleash Hours policy in certain parks, and certain times, and in certain locations.

Both the Health commissioner and the Parks commissioner support the proposed amendments to the Health Code. The hearing was part of the City Administrative Procedures Act (CAPA) process outlined by the City Charter whereby a City agency such as the Health Department can amend its own regulations through a period of formal proposal and public comment.

Prior to the 2pm hearing, the New York Council of Dog Owner Groups (NYCdog.org) held a news conference in Foley Square Park, across the street from the Health Department. TV crews and reporters from NY1, CBS, NBC, FOX, UPN, Daily News, 1010WINS, and 880 WCBS Radio attended, in addition to several other smaller news outlets. NY City Council Member Gale A. Brewer, among others, spoke at the NYCdog press conference strongly in favor of the proposed amendments. News coverage has been extensive and generally supportive of the amendments.

Inside the Health Department 2nd floor auditorium, the Health Board brought the hearing to order at exactly 2pm. Health Department Commissioner Thomas Frieden, a supporter of the amendments, attended part of the hearing. A total of 39 speakers had a maximum of 5 minutes each to present oral testimony to the four members of the Health Board in attendance. The Board also accepted comments from the public in the form of emails, letters, and faxes up until 5pm on Nov. 1st.

Thirty speakers were in favor of the proposed amendments. In general, the pro-offleash speakers could be categorized as either 1) representatives of dog owner groups, 2) public health professionals, 3) dog behavior experts, and 4) general members of the public who support the amendments.

Representatives from the following organizations strongly supported the Health Department’s proposed amendments: the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals, Friends of Animal Care and Control and the Veterinary Medical Association of New York City. Moreover, former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern spoke at the hearing. Alluding to the 9 PM to closing, and opening to 9 AM Off-leash policy that he initiated twenty years ago, Stern stated that the “allocation of space and time within the parks” for both dog-owners and non dog-owners represents “common sense”.

The comments were cogent, intelligent, reasonable, accurate, at times passionate, but covered the gamut of reasons why the successful 20-year Off-leash Hours policy should be preserved and strengthened by the proposed Health Code amendments:

  • Dog bite statistics are at an historic low, despite the fact that dog ownership is at a historic high level in NYC. (Prior to the off-leash policy, 40,000 bites occurred annually. Since the off-leash policy, less than 4,000 bites occur annually, and only 2.2% of them – exactly 86 – occurred in City parks in 2005).
  • The presence and vigilance of dog owners provides an effective deterrent against crime in NYC parks during early morning and late evening hours.
  • The off-leash policy generally makes parks safer for both dog-owners, and non dog-owners.
  • Community bonds are strengthened by responsible dog-ownership, and friendships across all socio-economic lines are forged among dog-owners in many neighborhoods.
  • Dogs are properly exercised and socialized, and as a result, are better adjusted for urban living. As many studies detail (click here to view the studies) a tired dog is a good dog, as dogs that are properly exercised and socialized are less aggressive.
  • Utilizing designated park space during limited hours is necessary, since there are only 44 dog runs Citywide. More dog runs would be helpful, but, in addition to the high cost to build more dog runs, there is little space available to devote solely to dogs on a 24/7 basis.

That is why the limited hours and designated locations within City parks is necessary, and why it presents an equitable policy that is good for both the dog-owning and non dog-owning public.

Having rational, fact-based, and statistically-driven arguments from health care professionals, licensed veterinarians, licensed dog behaviorists, responsible dog owners, dog owner group spokespersons, and attorneys intimately familiar with the applicable Parks and Health regulations presented a clear and strong argument in favor of the Off-leash policy and the Health Department’s proposed amendments to the Health Board.

For more detailed information about the November 1st Health Board hearing, visit www.nycoffleash.com

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