"Oh, yeah, the dog park," a friend commented when we first moved near Pastorius Park more than 30 years ago.
When we first moved to Chestnut Hill more than 30 years ago, I mentioned to a Philadelphia friend that we lived a few blocks from Pastorius [Park], and he said, "Oh, yeah, the dog park."
It's still "the dog park." And for people who drive here with their dogs, it's a great place to hang out while their big, medium, or little dog romps. After one such unleashed dog came growling menacingly up to our 3-year-old daughter, we became more cautious. We stopped taking her for walks across the park.
When we got a dog ourselves, we thought about joining this happy group (we love dogs!), but in good conscience we have always kept our dogs on a leash. Of course, the sign says you're supposed to - "It's the Law." But, in reality, Pastorius is a public space without laws, because in practice, the handful of people (and their unleashed dogs) have the power to dominate the space, monopolizing it, and making the dogless people – the very young, the very old, and everyone in between – feel that the park is not theirs, and has literally gone to the dogs.
Some people seem to think this is just fine. But if you think unleashed dogs racing across the greensward belong in a small public park, then you might also be happy with the local archery club practicing on targets in Pastorius. After all, how many careless arrows are there likely to be?
Oddly enough, that's exactly what the head of Friends of Pastorius Parks is quoted as saying in the article of January 11: "How many horrific instances happen at the park?" she asks. "They seem to be occasional…I do not see this dystopia that a lot of people describe. I see random instances of people being irresponsible. . . It's the inattentive owner who is the issue here."
The reasoning here, despite the obvious difference, is not unlike what we've heard countless times before in regard to guns: it's not the gun itself, it's the inattentive gun owner who is the problem. And for those of us who think we are attentive – as dog owners or as gun owners – there's plenty of evidence that all of us can be inattentive at times. It's the nature of the beast: dogs will sometimes bite; humans will sometimes be inattentive. That's why we have laws - for public safety - even if it means infringing on someone's freedom to be inattentive.
I live near Pastorius and I walk my leashed dog near it. Sadly, I rarely see people enjoying the park, on the grass or walking, unless they happen to have a dog running free nearby. I don't know when it first gained its reputation, but it has been "the dog park" for the more than 30 years I've known it.
Pastorius is an incredibly beautiful space, but there are times – at the height of summer especially – when the central green area develops giant bare patches thanks to the free running dogs. Then you think, ‘gee, this place really has gone to the dogs!’. And watch where you step as well. Those dog owners who are busy on their phones or chatting with one another are typically not monitoring their romping companions. I can't remember the last time I saw a dog owner bending down with a plastic bag in hand.
Since the leash laws will never be enforced, the best solution is a restricted area, removed from the main open space which is now the central arena for dog play. I'd love to see people playing frisbee out there – and not just the dogs.
Dear Friends of Pastorius, how hard is that to achieve? Dog runs can be tucked into a corner, leaving the rest of the park free and unfenced.