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