Oh Where, Oh Where Should The Dog Park Be? Irvington Struggles to Find Common Ground for a Location that Offends the Least Number of People

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dogsPlaying| by Barrett Seaman  |

They met in a secluded field that, for obvious reasons, cannot be named. It was just past dawn, and after some preliminary roughhousing, some stick and squirrel chasing and…well, tending to personal matters, they left their minders shivering in the morning chill while they, the dogs of Irvington, got down to business.

“When are we going to get a place of our own?” whined Chloe. “Some field where we’ve got the run of the place,” growled Finnegan “—a place where they (nodding toward the clutch of owners up the hill) aren’t constantly calling us back, bribing us with treats to stay away from the roads, or each other.”

“Yeah,” piped up Kava, still a kid, “a place where I can learn the ropes from guys like Lyle, or Nelson, or Blue—so I can learn how to socialize.”

“How about just working off a little steam before spending the day stuck in a house?” asked Zoe, a boxer not known for her patience.

“What’s wrong with that hillside below the tennis courts at Memorial Park?” asked Laila. “You know, behind the big white sign that says “NO DOGS ALLOWED.” They all grunted wryly.

“Or Matthiessen Park, down on the river—lots of geese to chase,” offered Seamus with enthusiasm.

“Or that other park with all the ball fields. What do they call it? Scenic Hudson or something?” asked Oreo, a black lab with a prematurely gray chin.

Ella, like many, a rescue dog, drew them in conspiratorially: “I’ve overheard people talking about this,” she whispered. “Something’s going on. She then spoke of “hearings,” something dogs didn’t get to (or have to) do. There had been several, she gathered in recent months, where owners had gone to tell village officials that they too wanted what they were calling a “dog park.”

“From what I gather,” she continued, “there’s always somebody that’s got a problem with every place that makes sense. The natural place in Memorial Park is too close to someone’s house. If you rule out the playing fields, there isn’t enough open space left at Scenic Park. And I guess there are other groups besides Irvington that have a say-so there. Matthiessen Park has a playground right near the entrance, and they don’t want dogs near a playground—afraid we might eat kids’ hotdogs, or poop nearby.”

“Poop!” barked Bailey. “There’s enough goose…poop in that park to fuel a power plant!”

“Yeah, but they’re saying that our poop is more toxic for kids than goose poop,” came back Ella. “Can you believe it?”

“It always seems to boil down to poop,” lamented Nelson. “My mom’s pretty good about picking up after me—has one of those leash attachments with a stash of bags.”

“Have you seen the Aqueduct lately?” interjected Will, a miniature poodle who tends to think bigger than he is. “It’s a sh….”

“Look,” said Mocha, “there’s not much we can do except do our business off in the woods or hope that our minders pick up afterwards. My guess is that if everyone bought into the idea of a self-policed park, people would be more conscientious than they might be out here.”

Weeks later, they met again—at another undisclosed location. There were newcomers, with new information. Maggie, a Golden, and Brendan, a Yorkshire Terrier, had been eavesdropping at home about a meeting where some place new had come up.

“Ever been taken up to that big pond in the woods off Cyrus Field Road?” asked Maggie.  “Sure!” shot back Nelson. I swim after tennis balls…”

“Shhh,” Blue cut in. “You’re not allowed to go in the reservoir!”

“You’re not allowed to do anything, as far as I can see,” blurted Jasper.

Ella brought the conversation back on point: “No, it’s not at the reservoir. It’s up in a patch of open field to the east. I gather they think they can fence off a little more than an acre without interrupting any trails. And there’s parking nearby.”

“There better be parking,” warned Finnegan. “You don’t think we’re gonna walk all the way from the village to those woods, do you?”

“Well, I could,” countered Charlie, “but I don’t think my owner would be up for that at 7 a.m.”

“Might have to get used to it,” said Maggie. “From what I heard, most of the people at the meeting were on board with that location—in fact after two meetings.”

The snow was finally beginning to melt when they met again. There had been another meeting—this time in front of the Board of Trustees, in which Director of Parks & Recreation Joe Archino made a big pitch for the spot in the woods. He had reviewed all the other options and concluded that the place in the woods had the least number of problems. He had shown drawings and a large overhead photo. He recounted how he and some others had even attended three-and-a-half hours of county-wide seminars on all the issues municipalities had to deal with when establishing a dog park: special fencing to prevent dogs from digging their way out; poop bag dispensers; maintenance; usage fees; how to police the parks; handicap access. Nothing is simple.

Some of the trustees asked questions, as did a few residents, but there had been a lack of real enthusiasm—mostly because the site was so far from the village center. Some asked for a reassessment of some of the other sites.

Ella and Otto and Maggie and Brendan shared as much as they could remember from conversations overheard at home, where Peter Agavino and Steven Schneider, their respective owners, had been deeply involved in the quest for a dog park for months on end. They could tell that Parks & Rec chief Archino felt he was tip-toeing along a very fine line. “I’m trying to keep everybody playing nice,” he had said to someone.

“I play nice,” chimed in Anton, an English Retriever. “Sometimes a little on the rough side,” muttered Daisy.

“Why can’t they do what they do in New York City,” asked Bailey, “and just say Matthiessen Park is open to off-leash dogs from, I don’t know, 6 a.m. until 9 a.m.?”

They apparently tried that approach in Rye,” responded Maggie, “and it just got the dog owners and non-owners at each others’ throats.”

“How about they try to do a deal with Columbia University and put the park in that big field south of Octagon House?” asked Nelson, who conveniently lives not too far away. “Columbia doesn’t seem to want to play nice,” responded Otto, having heard as much from somewhere.

Word was that Archino would go back to the Board in April with more detailed drawings and maybe more of an idea of how dog owners themselves could get involved in the management of a dog park—wherever it ends up (though the focus now remains on the woods above the reservoir).

“No matter what we do, where we go, there’s going to be opposition,” Archino had once said (in earshot of a dog, apparently). He also is said to have said: “Nothing is simple.”

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