"I got bit a lot," Michael Dockett, head of the newly-created NYC Dog Task Force and the City's first official "Dog Czar" says when asked how he spent his summer. "By mosquitoes, that is." For a man in his position, this clarification is crucial. New York Tails spoke with Mr. Dockett exclusively to ask about his new role as the point-person for all things dog in New York City and for details on some specific questions readers have asked New York Tails in light of the now official off-leash rules in New York City.
New York Tails: We have to ask-do you have a dog?
Michael Dockett: No, I don't. [Laughs.] I did have one growing up--a stray someone abandoned in my father's car-and I got a merit badge in Pet Care from the Boy Scouts. Mostly we had cats and guinea pigs. But my three year-old, Michael, loves dogs, so I definitely see a dog in our future.
NYTs: Describe for us what is it that you do as "Dog Czar" and why your position was created by the Department of Parks.
MD: With the Department of Parks and the Department of Health accommodations to make the long-time "courtesy 9 am to 9 pm " off-leash hours an official rule earlier this year, Parks decided they needed a point person and a "Dog Task Force" to deal with all dog-related issues. I'm the Chair of the Task Force. We work closely with Partnership For Parks and convene as needed to deal with issues that arise with the numerous dog groups throughout the city, outreach and education. We work closely with New York City Dog Owner's Group (NYC DOG) and John Herald, administrator of Riverside Park, who also helps with consulting on dog park designs. But my other job, which I had prior to this one, was primarily the enforcement of Parks rules and regulations.
NYTs: What kinds of dog-related issues do you find yourself addressing?
MD: Prior to the off-leash law being officially enacted, many questions revolved around when and where dogs would be allowed to run off leash and where they would not. But along with the new law, which does allow dogs to be off-leash in designated areas throughout the five boroughs, all dogs are required to have proof of license and vaccination, and there was a concern about how that was going to be carried out. So those were the main questions. All dog runs and designated off-leash areas throughout the five boroughs (there are about 89 at last count) can be found at
NYTs: Other than clearly defined leash/no leash areas, where can dogs never be off-leash, even between the 9 am-9 pm hours?
MD: Dogs are never allowed off-leash on playgrounds, in bathing areas, basketball and handball courts, and baseball fields. So in a lot of the little local parks, no off-leash activity is allowed.
NYTs: Some readers have said they've gotten tickets for having their dogs off-leash in areas where they've 'always' taken their dogs for off-leash play, particularly below 59th Street, but elsewhere throughout the five boroughs as well.
MD: This might be because there are a lot of dog runs in Manhattan [where dogs can play] like Madison Square Park, Washington Square Park, Tompkins Square Park, and others. If a neighborhood park has a dog run, then there is no off-leash area provided, unless it's an unusually large park, like Riverside Park, which has three dog runs. That is a special case where there is an off-leash area immediately adjacent to one of the dog runs there.
NYTs: So what you're saying, essentially, is that if a neighborhood park has an easily-accessible dog run, Parks will not grant an area for off-leash activity?
MD: It's unlikely they would grant an off-leash area in a park with a nearby dog run, yes.
NYTs: Does Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC initiative, which allocates some $400 million to the development of eight regional parks throughout the five boroughs between now and 2030, include funding for dog parks?
MD: I don't know the answer to that specifically, but I know that [New York City Parks Commissioner Adrienne Benepe] has asked for dog runs to be included in future designs and plans relating to city parks.
NYTs: What about clear signs? Are new or better/more specific signs coming to Parks to mark where off-leash recreation is allowed and when in the parks? What about signs at dog runs with general codes of conduct on dog runs?
MD: There is a consolidated sign posted at the entrance of every park outlining the rules for use of the park, and at the entrance of every playground. We will be changing the consolidated sign to say off-leash dogs are welcome in designated areas from 9 am to 9 pm and they will be steered to those areas. But our efforts for better signage are ongoing and part of our overall education and outreach on this issue.
But there will be areas in parks where dogs will not be allowed or will be allowed only on a leash, no matter what the hour. And dogs always need to be under the control of owners at all times, so they shouldn't be jumping on anyone, or chasing/harming pigeons and squirrels, or jumping into flower beds. The owner is still responsible, and you can still get a summons if an officer deems your dog is not under control.
As for dog runs, most individual dog runs do have signs stating what the rules in the dog run are.
NYTs: There have been some specific questions about issues at individual dog runs and areas which have been being used as "unofficial" dog runs or off-leash areas for some time...can you give dog owners the status of where things currently stand?
MD: Juniper Valley Park in Queens: nothing new going on there except the usual arguments for and against a dog run there [which we're helping to mediate]; Washington Square Park: nothing is changed there right now [in terms of proposed dog park designs during the overall reconstruction of the park] but that doesn't mean it won't in the future; East River Park: We've met with those owners, and to date we've designated two areas for off-leash recreation in that area and are considering installing a third area and/or a dog run; Manhattan Beach: From Oct. 1st to May 1st dogs can be on the boardwalk or on the sand, but they must be leashed and you must pick up after them. On boardwalks and on sand in beaches in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island dogs are allowed during this off-season, but must be leashed. [Editor's note: at press time, there was conflicting information about the "on the sand" question on the website.] Dogs cannot be on the sand anywhere during beach season, but you can have them on the boardwalks in Brooklyn or Staten Island, even during beach season, but they must be on a leash. The Nethermead in Prospect Park: Dog owners have used this area as an off-leash area starting at 5 pm, but they aren't allowed to do so any longer. That doesn't mean the topic can't be revisited in the future, but we need to enforce the existing regulations first and then re-evaluate. When we do, we will seek input from the Fellowship for the Interest of Dog Owners in Prospect Park (F.I.D.O).
NYTs: What has surprised you most since becoming "Dog Czar"?
MD: I was surprised to see what a big constituency dog owners represent in the city. There's great work being done by the dog groups like NYC DOG and many others throughout all the boroughs, and the dogs make the parks safer just by their presence in the parks. I've really enjoyed meeting people for whom dogs are a big part of their lives. They should know that dogs are definitely welcome in city parks, and I'm looking forward to working with them to address any outstanding issues that may arise.
NYTs: What's the best way to contact you if a dog question arises?
MD: The best way to start with questions is to visit the Parks Department website, http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_things_to_do/facilities/af_dog_runs.html. The best way is to reach me is through 311 and ask for the Department of Parks and Recreation regarding dogs in city parks if there's a dog run-related complaint or a concern about a particular dog. That way it gets routed through a number of people. [Editor's note: If you call 311 and just ask for "The Dog Czar" you will be politely but erroneously routed everywhere. We checked. Ask for the Parks Department instead or submit your question through the NYC Parks website, www.nycgovparks.org].