by Jeanne Andrews
As a former dog owner and someone who lives next to Pastorius Park and appreciates the beauty and tranquility of the park every day, I would like to address some of the issues mentioned in your recent article as they pertain to the dissemination and enforcement of park rules.(“Second dog attack in Pastorius Park as city, friends discuss solutions”) First though, I think that it’s a mistake to think of this as solely a “dog” issue. This is a quality of life issue.
While the dog attacks are terrible and disturbing, this is part of a larger issue caused by a small group of irresponsible park users who ruin it for the majority, as well as the conflicting needs and wants of different groups of people in and around the park, and the lack of any enforcement of laws pertaining to park use overall.
The park is for everyone to enjoy and to enjoy freedom from the tyranny of a few. This includes the incessantly barking dogs that irresponsible owners allow as they either sit in their cars or on benches, or talk with others, ignoring their animals while they bark, fight or harass passersby. There is a barking ordinance in the City of Philadelphia that also needs to be made known. Also, the word has gotten out on Yelp and other online venues that Pastorius Park is a “dog” park so people are now coming from far outside of the city with their dogs.
I would strongly suggest a meeting be convened for all interested parties that use the park to sit down together and discuss the needs and wants of park users before another incident occurs. This includes dog walkers, the Chestnut Hill Community Association, the Friends of Pastorius Park, and the near neighbors as well as a 14th District police representative, Philadelphia Animal Control and Parks and Recreation.
It does take a village, and everyone involved has some responsibility to make sure that the park is a safe and pleasant place for everyone who would like to use it without being mauled, bitten, verbally and physically abused. It’s also important to purge the park of of loud noise early in the morning or late at night that currently torments near neighbors
Not mentioned in your article are the police and PACA, which are the enforcement arms of this issue with dogs and other illegal uses of the park. While they have been the missing link until now, they are more than willing to come out and enforce leash and barking laws already on the books and encourage neighbors and park visitors to call 911 whenever dogs are seen running off-leash or with other nuisance issues involving dogs.
I know this because both of these enforcement entities are already adding to their roll calls extra patrols for the park during peak use hours. A $300 ticket that actually gets issued could bring in a fair amount of revenue for the city, as well as the enforcement of animal licensing fees. Just look how successful the Parking Authority has been in Chestnut Hill. There could be lots of extra revenue for the city if laws were enforced at all parks.
There should also be a designated, fenced-in area for off-leash dogs. I understand that the Friends of Pastorius Park do not want any fencing in the park, but it is either that, or an all out ban on unleashed dogs, which is where this is heading. The current situation is untenable.
And, with all due respect to Barbara McCabe at Parks and Recreation, education without enforcement is a complete waste of money. I resent that my tax dollars will be spent on a proposed “Guide to Dogs” that Parks and Recreation will publish and put in the park, as they will inevitably end up in the pond, or trampled on the ground. Hopefully, some of them will be used to pick up dog poop, which is a good thing, I guess. Better that the money be spent on new signage for the park entrances that clearly state city regulations on dogs, leashes, barking, the chasing of wildlife, and other park usage. The current signage is illegible.
I also understand from Tracy Gardner that Fairmount Park explored plans to increasingly “commercialize” the use of Pastorius Park by holding pop-up beer gardens during summer months. I am told that this endeavor will not be supported by the Friends, who as a group, do a tremendous amount for the funding, upkeep and maintenance of the park that most of our community never hears about. Again, though, no one at Fairmount Park consulted the neighbors on the impact that this would have on us.
There are already problems with parking, property damage and vandalism that we (mostly) happily endure for concerts, the arts festivals and other events on Germantown Avenue because it is good overall for our community, and we like living in a community that has such events. Again, this is a quality of life issue. Pastorius Park is located in a quiet, residential neighborhood and should not be viewed as an extension of the Germantown Avenue commercial corridor.
Perhaps we should consider doing something along the lines of what New York City does: Have a volunteer Auxiliary Mounted Unit as part of the Parks and Recreation Department that utilizes citizen volunteers on bikes or horseback that ride around and report on violations and problems within the park system, such as unleashed or unlicensed dogs. NYC expects dog owners to carry proof of licensure on them at all times when in the clearly designated dog runs or in specified unleashed dog areas. If it works in NYC to maintain harmonious and safe park usage, then it should also work here.
Jeanne Andrews is a resident of Chestnut Hill