Dog lovers call for park access

Dog lovers call for park access

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Karen and fluffy at Northport Harbor Park

At Heckscher Park in Huntington, where families and community members regularly gather to listen to music and attend festivals and performances, leashed dogs are unwelcomed.  

More than 1,500 people want to see that policy changed. In the last few weeks, a petition has been circulating and websites created outlining all the reasons why they think the Town of Huntington is short-changing its residents with what they call “outdated laws.”

“Leashed dogs in Heckscher will keep Huntington’s tax-paying citizens, their families, and their dogs healthy and encourage tourism and businesses in the Huntington area,” Karen Thomas and Eva Yutani stated in a press release that’s been circulating via email. Thomas, a lifelong resident of Huntington, said that she feels obligated to try and change the rules for the benefit of dogs as well as dog lovers. 

The public relations team points out that Northport Harbor Park has allowed leashed dogs for years and has noticed that it’s a very busy park with happy dog owners socializing with other dog owners and enjoying events and music.

The petitioners in some cases see the law as unfair and biased.

“It’s time to let Huntington dog owners enjoy the wonderful public recreational resource just like every other person in town,” said Ginny Munger Kahn, president of LiDog, who is among residents who have signed the petition.  

Dog and dog owner’s behavior is often behind the no-dogs-allowed rules. So is fear. Some people think that their dog is so well-behaved that a leash is unnecessary, which can scare other park visitors, according to some park managers on Long Island. Some people worry that a dog can become aggressive if provoked by another animal or child. And it’s not uncommon for someone to hear the words, “He’s friendly” before being bitten. Then, there’s the poop problem.

At Frank Melville Park in Setauket and Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook and Head of the Harbor, dogs are welcomed, and park visitors are drawn to the spots often because of the open policy. But park management has said in interviews that it’s a constant challenge. They try to instill in park visitors the idea of protecting and enjoying the outdoors, while being very mindful of others. 

Whatever resistance there’s been against open park access to leashed dogs in Huntington, the rules have been evolving.   

Dogs were banned in all town parks and beaches up until four years ago, when, on a trial basis, they were allowed in five town parks. In 2017, the town’s Greenway Trails Advisory Committee recommended expanding park access to leashed dogs at all its parklands except at the Betty Allen Nature Preserve, where there’s fishing, and at Heckscher Park, which has high activity. The town board accepted those recommendations. 

Dogs remain banned from all beaches and playgrounds. 

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), who is running for re-election this November, has said in an email that she would support and perhaps even sponsor a resolution that would allow leashed dogs on a trial basis in Heckscher Park, then assess the program to see if the ban should be lifted. 

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) office has a different perspective. 

“This has been an ongoing discussion in the supervisor’s office, with Public Safety/Animal Control, Parks and Recreation and the Town Attorney’s office for over a year now to accommodate residents on both sides of this issue,” the town’s Public Information Officer Lauren Lembo said in an email. “Most of our parks allow dogs on-leash but Heckscher was specifically recommended as off-limits to dogs (in the Town Code) by our trails committee for various reasons, including the protection of water fowl, water quality, and vegetation, and due to the narrow trails, which make escape from an unwanted interaction difficult. Dogs are already not allowed on athletic fields, active recreation areas, playgrounds and picnic areas (also in the Town Code), and all these conditions exist at Heckscher.”

 Lembo said that the supervisor is looking into establishing nearby dog-friendly alternatives. 

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