Etiquette at the dog run

Volunteers planning new rules for Madison Square Park dog run

Jemmy’s dog run volunteers John Thomas with his dog Higgins and Emily Khasidy with her dog Finlay (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Jemmy’s dog run volunteers John Thomas with his dog Higgins and Emily Khasidy with her dog Finlay (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
When it comes to behavior at the dog runs, the rules for humans are pretty universal; pick up after Fido, don’t let him get into fights with other dogs and don’t allow any other behavior you wouldn’t want a child strolling by to witness.

And while most dog owners are responsible, there always seem a few bad apples that give the rest a bad rep. So, at one local dog run, the volunteers who help maintain it are planning to implement a few new, albeit basic rules, which they shared with Town & Village.

This would be at Jemmy’s Dog Run, the 12-year-old dog run at Madison Square Park. Jemmy’s is maintained by the Parks Department and the Madison Square Park Conservancy with the help of volunteers in a dog run association.

Two of the association’s core group of active members are Flatiron residents John Thomas, owner of olde English bulldogge Higgins and Emily Khasidy, owner of Finlay, a rhodesian ridgeback. Both dog owners checked out a number of other dog runs’ rules and policies before coming up with a list for Jemmy’s, which they said will go up on signage soon after the association reviews them.

A few of the rules (which may or may not end up on the official list) are as follows:

Do not feed the dogs, unless they’re your own.

According to Thomas and Khasidy, it isn’t uncommon for dog lovers to want to feed others’ dogs treats. But this isn’t appropriate, since dog runs are not petting zoos.

Do not play rough with dogs. While dogs will play rough with each other, this doesn’t give people a free pass to do the same. Khasidy said sometimes it’s necessary for one owner to say to another, albeit nicely, “You’re playing too rough with him and he doesn’t like that.”

Don’t bring children into the run for the purpose of playing with dogs. Thomas and Khasidy said they occasionally see parents bring children into the run to attempt to get them socialized with dogs or to see how they are around them. But dog owners wish they wouldn’t.

“Some people let their kids in here, but I wouldn’t let my dog in the playground,” said Thomas. While this may sound harsh, dog owners, he reasoned, have a reason to be. “If he bites you, you can have him put down.” Khasidy agreed, noting if her dog bites someone, “a judge isn’t going to side with me. So we want to put a sign since not all dogs like kids and not all kids like dogs.”

Be mindful of behavioral issues of dogs that haven’t been neutered or spayed.

Khasidy said sometimes those dogs just won’t get along with other dogs. If that’s the case, “If your unneuetered dog is causing a problem, it might be best to remove your dog from the park for a while.” This, Thomas acknowledged, may lead to fights between owners over who has to leave. However, even more fights tend to occur over the next rule.

Don’t hold the gate open any longer than necessary. The dogs could get out and end up in traffic.

Don’t bring in poorly socialized dogs.

“One example,” said Thomas, “is a guy whose dog was a rescue pit bill, who spent most of his life in a crate. Dogs in that situation, he explained, will end up scared in a dog run with other dogs, and could also end up scaring other owners. “Because it was a pit bull, to someone else it could be very scary.”

Pick up after your dog. Though it may sound obvious, even seasoned dog owners can get distracted and end up not noticing that their dog has left something behind. “People are on headphones an they don’t look at their dogs,” said Thomas. “You have to make an effort to be aware of what your dog’s doing.” Dog poop, he added, is the number one infraction at the dog run. In Khasidy’s view, the best way to deal with this is directly; with dog owners sometimes having to point out poop piles to other owners. When she’s done it, owners have handled it politely, she said.

Meanwhile, along with its goal of new signage, the dog run association is trying to raise funds for some improvements for the Jemmy’s. Short term goals are to get new gravel (since the current gravel, larger pebbles, can get stuck on dogs’ paws) and to fix a bench that was partially dismantled when a smaller dog got a paw stuck inside the planks. Since then, with the surface removed, dogs that have been jumping around it have managed to sail inside and get hurt. More longterm goals are to get a water feature more elaborate than the current one (a garden hose), better drainage and some sort of structure that would offer more shade.

Jemmy’s Dog Run came about when the Conservancy orchestrated a renovation of the entire park, which was at the time run down and drug-ridden. Twelve years later, around 75-100 dogs use Jemmy’s run each day, mostly neighborhood dogs during the week, and others from further away on weekends. It’s named after James Madison, whose nickname was Jemmy.

Along with the dog run and its fence in 2002 (a separate fence for an area for smaller dogs wouldn’t come until 2011) the park also got new lighting and a reflecting pool for the north end.

More recently, an association of local dog owners was formed with the aim of maintaining as well as improving the dog run. The dog run costs the Conservancy about $50,000 each year to maintain, including the cost of the staffer to clean it, and repairs on infrastructure as well as the recently added large shade umbrellas. Those, branded with the conservancy logo, cost $1,000 each.

Currently, a website aimed at raising money for the run has been confusing to some would-be donors, since it refers to the spot as James’ dog run, so Thomas recommended that anyone with questions about Jemmy’s email volunteers at maddogcommittee@gmail.com.

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