On Monday, Feb 21., most dogs in Pastorius Park ran free, despite park and city rules mandating leashes.

by Brendan Sample

Four months after a Chestnut Hill resident, Caroline King, was bitten by a pit bull in Pastorius Park, a similar attack occurred on Feb. 8 at the same location.

Keith Foster, a resident of nearby Lafayette Hill, was bitten on the arm by a pit bull that was not on a leash. While the bite was not serious enough to warrant a hospital visit, unlike the previous attack, it has still once again raised concerns over education and enforcement surrounding leash laws in the park.

Foster was taking pictures during his visit to the park when he was bitten by the pit bull in question. In addition to not wearing a leash or any other kind of harness, the dog went from seemingly nice to snarling and mean almost instantly, Foster said. The bite went through a jacket and shirt before piercing the skin on his arm, which resulted in a less damaging injury than if it had been direct. Foster attempted to track down the dog’s owner, but getting his information proved to be less than straightforward.

“I shouted at the guy from far away, and he said he’d put the dog in his car and come back,” Foster said. “He wanted to do some sort of money exchange over the phone, but I didn’t have the app for it and he didn’t want to give me any of his personal information. He said he’d come back with money after talking to his wife, but I waited for about a half hour and he never did.”

Foster then filed a report with a police officer who was in the vicinity, though he acknowledged that little could be done without the pit bull owner’s information, and then went to get a precautionary tetanus shot. Though the bite is healing, the attack still continues to raise concerns over dogs running loose in Pastorius.

After King was attacked in October, Friends of Pastorius Park, a resident-run organization dedicated to maintaining the quality of the park, was able to meet with members of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department last month. The meeting was in an effort to find ways to ensure that the city’s ordinance requiring dogs to be leashed in any area outside of the owner’s property would be followed in Pastorius.

While the city doesn’t currently have the resources to have officers constantly monitor the park, there are measures being taken to increase awareness of the leash law.

“We will be doing follow-up and will likely plan a community meeting or request to get on the agenda of the Chestnut Hill civic association at one of their regular meetings to inform residents of the rules and regulations guiding park use,” said Barbara McCabe, director of strategic engagement for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. “We also have a brand new “Guide to Dogs” in Philadelphia parks. This is a tool we recently created for just this purpose: education. We plan to distribute these guides and do our best to educate. We are also hoping to better sign the park so people can’t say they didn’t know.”

Philadelphia law is clear about allowing dogs off leash in public spaces: According to city code: “No person shall permit any animal other than a sterilized cat to go at large upon any street, public place or private property other than the property of the owner of the animal. All animals, other than sterilized cats, using any street, public place or private property of anyone other than the owner of the animal shall be on a leash not exceeding six (6) feet in length including the handgrip but excluding the collar and accompanied by a person able to fully control the animal at all times.”

The fine for those found in violation is $300.

Several signs posted around Pastorius Park state clearly that all dogs should be on leashes in the park.

Though two attacks in four months may seem like the beginning of a trend, others may feel, given the long history of Pastorius, that these incidents are more of an anomaly.

“I have lived in the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill area for almost 40 years, and I had never, before Caroline King’s attack, heard of someone being bitten by a dog at Pastorius,” said Tracy Gardner, president of the FOPP.

Brendan Sample can be reached at brendan@chestnuthilllocal.com

  • Michael Penn

    How many $300 fines are written a year in the park ? Monitor the park for a week and after giving out a couple dozen fines the problem will all but disappear. This situation is worse in the Wissahickon with just about every dog off the leash on the trails.

    • santini

      Please give me the ticket book, happy to volunteer and city certainly needs the $$$.
      Don’t hold your breath. Over the years I’ve many, many times told the dog people – …”six foot leash it’s the law”. Their reply “this is a dog park”.

  • Maryann Salas

    I think this issue is equally problematic on the trails of the Wissahickon. I’ve been hiking all around the area for years mostly with small kids and without many problems but it seems that every time we are in the woods these days we have a stressful encounter with a large unleashed dog or dogs. I truly love dogs but I do not want a stranger’s dog of any breed approaching me or my kids while their owner is too far away to control them. How naive, entitled, and rude to think people who don’t know you or your dog should have to tolerate your refusal to use a leash. The park belongs to everyone.

    • Michael Penn

      There is a huge problem of unleashed dogs on the trails of the Wissahickon !!!

  • Distrubance

    I would say get rid of the breed doing the attacking, Pit Bulls.

    • Liz

      That is not true , not all pit bulls are bad. It is how they are raised . The ones that bit the people should have been leashed.

      • Marlow

        The big dogs that bite people should, sadly, be put down. Their aggressive behavior will continue and eventually they will maim or kill someone.

        Do you not recognize, Liz, that dogs are animals? Most of your comments here suggest you believe that you can truly know what a dog’s thinking, and that you can predict all their future behaviors based on their past behaviors. “The dog just wanted to be petted.” It’s not about what dogs want, especially when it comes at the risk of hurting, scaring, or bothering a child and their mother or father on a trip to the park, or elsewhere, for that matter. Say you had a kid, and a dog with a history of biting people disfigured his or her face for life. Is it worth it, Liz? Stop humanizing dogs.

        And to say that Brendan should not have snapped at the owner because the dog didn’t hurt their child is to reveal that you’re careless, irrational, and incapable of empathy. What you believe supersedes the rights of others that are protected by laws, huh, Liz? You’re exactly the kind of person who shouldn’t own a dog, and you make the rest of us dog owners sound like the illogical and vapid ones like yourself.

      • Distrubance

        So, in the park how would one distinguish between the killers and the nicely raised ones?

  • Rex Ave 1

    This was out of hand a few years ago and finally now the issue is coming to a head – I never set foot in this park because of all the dogs and their annoying owners flippantly and selfishly ignoring the laws. I guess it’s unfortunately going to take a seriously hurt kid before anything changes.

  • Brendan

    Last Sunday I walked my 8-yearold daughter to Pastorius on the way to a playdate. After seeing two turtles my daughter wanted to climb a tree near the stone bridges. An unleashed dog scared my daughter before we got to the tree. The owner said,”He/she (the dog) is friendly!” I snapped at the woman that my daughter doesn’t know which dogs are friendly and I was flippantly told (perfect word Rex Ave) that she (my daughter) should learn the signs (of a friendly dog). The entitled, selfish, awful bad dog owners (they’re not all bad of course) make a bad name for all dog owners. The thought of apologizing never entered the awfulw owner’s mind.

    • Liz

      You should not have snapped at the owner since the dog did not harm your kid . The dog just wanted to be petted .

      • Claire

        What if I don’t want to pet the dog, though? I’m not obligated to pet any dog that approaches me, even if they’re friendly and 100% predictable. I don’t want dog hair on me and my cat doesn’t appreciate it when I come home smelling like a strange animal. The dog has simple animal wants and doesn’t know that I don’t want to be greeted – that’s why its human should keep it leashed.

        • dogowner CH

          Maybe don’t goto the “Dog Park” then.

          • Carper

            It’s not a dog park, you imbecile. Have you researched the park and its intended purpose, or are you too busy being a narcissistic, insensitive prick?

  • Liz

    I do not agree with this decision . My 13 month old puppy has many friends that he plays with at the park. It is the only place where he can run and get his energy out which he needs to do. I am their with him a few days a week and have never witnessed any aggressively behaved dogs. There is a simple solution to this problem . If the owner knows the dog is aggressive or unpredictable either do not bring him/her to to the park or keep the dog on a leash and away from people and other dogs . Why should other dogs not be able to run and play because of a dog that was loose that should not have been .

    • Michael Penn

      Because it’s the law !

    • Rex Ave 1

      You’re a perfect example of the problem. See my earlier post above. Dogs < People

      • Liz

        And what is that supposed to mean! I have a super friendly pup that I watch very close while their. You don’t even know me and you think you have the right to say that about me.

        • Dweller

          Well, I may not know you but you did just admit to breaking the law, so I do have that to go on.

        • Rex Ave 1

          I’m sure you have a very friendly dog. So do I. I still keep him on a leash. But that’s not the point here – the point is that two people (i.e., not dogs) have been attacked in this park by loose dogs, and owners’ flippant, careless, and selfish behavior is infringing on people’s (again, not dog’s) right to enjoy their park. Dogs are not people. They don’t pay taxes and they certainly don’t warrant priority above people. Until something is done in conjunction with these basic tenets, I guarantee you someone else is going to be attacked/bit/mauled/harassed/scared by a loose dog in the park again. Hopefully it’s not a kid.

        • Penelope A.

          Hey, Liz?
          I’m an attorney, and if your “super friendly pup” ever causes injury to me or my family, I’m going to sue you.
          Google “Pennsylvania”, “dog bite” and “strict liability” to see how things will go for you.

    • santini

      Simpler solution- obey the law – ALL DOGS 6 FOOT LEASH

  • Marlow

    This isn’t a problem unique to Pastorius Park: it’s a problem throughout all of Chestnut Hill. This past week alone I’ve had to deal with three off-leash dogs trying to attack my dog as we walked around the neighborhood. In every incident the dog’s entitled owners never bothered to apologize, and two of them didn’t even put their dogs back on a leash after they whistled them back to their side. The issue needs to be addressed soon or else someone, or another dog, is going to get seriously injured.

    But that doesn’t matter to the owners who let their dogs roam off-leash; they simply don’t care. They are convinced the law doesn’t apply to them, and if you happen to say something to them about keeping their dog on a leash, they explode, as if you’re the one in the wrong for obeying the law and being protective of your dog’s life.

    If you’re walking a dog, it has to be on a leash. Period. And if you say that letting your dog run off-leash is the only way your dog can get exercise, then you know nothing about dogs. There’s other and more efficient ways to provide stimulation and exercise for your dog: such as playing fetch in your house or yard, giving it toys that stimulate them mentally, car rides, training, and much more (do some research, which is something you should have done prior to buying or adopting a dog). But the best way to provide stimulation, both physically and mentally, is by walking your dog on a leash. Should none of these options prove suitable for you and your lifestyle, then you shouldn’t own a dog, and, more than that, you can rest assured that you’re perpetuating the cycle of innocent animals being sent to shelters, abandoned, or euthanized all because their owners were the selfish, irresponsible, and ignorant.

    • CH

      Finally, a dog owner with sense. Thank you.

  • Liz

    This park should have a special fenced in section for dogs to run

    • Chompers

      I think that sounds like a great idea. Perhaps you should open your wallet and make the first fiscal pledge to make it happen.

  • Michael Penn

    Start a photo shaming facebook page.

  • Frank Smith

    I’m sorry someone was bitten at the park, but several aspects of this story sound very strange. Why were Foster and the dog owner trying to exchange money? When the owner didn’t provide any information, why didn’t Foster take his picture or a picture of his vehicle and license plate given he had a camera with him? At least then someone could have tracked down this bite-and-run dog owner. I wish the author of this article had asked more questions.

    • Brendan Sample

      Hi Frank, I just wanted to try and clarify your questions here. With the money transfer, he was actually trying to get some sort of compensation for his clothes that had been bitten into. While it is a minor point, it’s still one that I could’ve been more clear in reporting. As far as why he didn’t take a picture, it just wasn’t something he thought to do in that moment. The owner did come back after putting his dog in his car, so he felt the owner would probably come back a second time, but obviously that wasn’t the case.

      • Frank Smith

        Hi Brendan. Thanks for the clarification on the money exchange. That makes sense. The rest of it still seems quite odd to me. He was there with a camera to take pictures of the park and it doesn’t occur to him to get pictures of an owner of a dog that bit him and who refuses to give any identifying information? And he doesn’t call the police while the situation was active? And he thinks this anonymous individual will return after they’ve driven away? Just seems odd. I suppose it’s a lesson for others. If this happens to you and you have a camera (in a smartphone, for example) get some evidence.

  • iekoom .

    Dog owners tend to be ‘me me me me me’ oriented. It is all about them and their dog. I have numerous times been minding my business on public sidewalks with my dog on a leash only to encounter either an unleashed dog approach mine or, a mis-behaving dog that is leashed with a buffoon of an owner who can not control him! All dogs should be leashed and kept under control in public. Dog parks (which are the most ridiculous thing i have ever seen) are the only exception.

  • Enough is enough

    How many many attacks have to happen before leash laws are actually enforced? I’m tired of all those arrogant dog owners who only think about themselves and their oh-so-innocent doggies that can do no harm according to them!

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