Pit bull panic grips Tompkins Square Park dog run


By Terese Loeb Kreuzer

The renovated Tompkins Square Park dog run, which opened with fanfare and great anticipation on the part of dog owners in July 2008, has turned into a nightmare for many. According to Garrett Rosso, currently a board member of Friends of First Run, a volunteer group that provides community support to the East Village dog run, five dogs and three people have needed medical attention because of pit bull attacks in the last two months. Rosso said that the bills for these attacks amounted to thousands of dollars and that the pit bull owners just walked away, in most cases, not to be seen again.

Jack Morer, a musician and Lower East Side resident, confirmed Rosso’s account.

“All of the pit bull attacks were witnessed by people I know,” he said. His own dog, an English setter named Savannah, was attacked in the park by a pit bull in June 2009. “I’ve gotten into three shouting matches in the last year with people whose dogs went after my dog and who would not take responsibility or take their dogs out of the run,” he said. Now, when Morer brings Savannah to the dog run, he said he makes sure that she stays beside him at all times.

Other dog owners have reportedly taken to carrying knives into the park in case they have to defend their dogs. Last week, Rosso hung what’s known as a pit bull break stick on the dog run fence — with instructions — for two days “so that people could see what it was.

“Put behind the molars, it will break the dog’s lock,” Rosso said, referring to pit bulls’ dreaded clampdown bite.

A Parks Department spokesperson said of the Tompkins Square dog run, “Parks has met with the N.Y.P.D. and community groups about the issue. Since we received notice of these incidents, Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, including undercover units, have been patrolling the area.”

“Tompkins Square is probably the most popular dog park in the city,” said Robert Marino, president of NYCdog, a privately funded organization working with the Parks Department to represent most of the city’s official dog runs and designated off-leash areas. “Tompkins is an area where you have a lot of pit bulls. Dogs will tussle and owners get into arguments. With any dog, you need to be in control. Many dogs are very strong-willed. A lot of people get dogs and don’t train them and neuter them. Pit bulls are great dogs but you have to train them.”

On Sat., Dec. 18, at 11 a.m., Drayton Michaels, who specializes in training pit bulls, will give a talk and demonstration at the Tompkins Square dog run on how to handle the dogs. He will discuss dog park etiquette, how to referee dogs in large groups, how to defuse potentially dangerous situations and how to break up dogfights. He will also discuss pit bull traits and “why your dog may be too much for the other dogs.”

“Dogs sometimes get into situations they can’t handle,” said Rosso, who is himself a dog trainer. “There’s little awareness among new dog owners about this. It’s a hot-button issue.”