Dogs: Another Roosevelt Island Battle That Shouldn’t Be

Dogs: Another Roosevelt Island Battle That Shouldn’t Be

The roots of dog animosity on Roosevelt Island are as deep as the new community itself. Initially, ground leases barred residential building owners from allowing dogs in their apartments. All the WIRE buildings plus Manhattan Park signed on. There was a good reason, but maybe not good enough.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Dogs Banished on Roosevelt Island But Not Everywhere

tri color beagle and west highland white terrier puppies playing on lawn grass
Photo by Hilary Halliwell on

Among many anomalies surrounding the founding of the modern Roosevelt Island community is its coincidence with New York’s “Pooper Scooper” wars.

The Pooper Scooper story is well known. In the late 1970s, dogs everywhere in New York City routinely relieved themselves on sidewalks and in parks. It blew up into a national story with pitched verbal battles between opposing, sometimes extreme forces.

But eventually, a middle road was found, and dogs now integrate peacefully across the metropolis. Owners are far more conscientious with their animals, rich and poor alike bending down, plastic bags in hand, scooping up deposits. Complaints are fewer, and neighborhoods savor the joys of having dogs amongst them.

Except on Roosevelt Island…

“A disabled woman resident of Southtown was sitting on the grass with her service dog. and PSD told her to get out, violating Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, which allow people with disabilities to bring their service dogs anywhere they go, including places where pets are not usually permitted.” – A recently reported incident at Firefighter’s Field.

Dogs In Our Daily Lives

Dogs play important roles in people’s lives. They provide companionship and unconditional love, offer protection and security and help keep people active and healthy. In addition, dogs can serve as working animals, performing a variety of tasks such as herding, sledding and search and rescue.

No matter what role they play, it is clear that dogs are an important part of many people’s lives. They have been in mine. Although not a dog owner today, I grew up with them. My family always had dogs, including Leon, a mutt I adopted straight out of a litter on my uncle’s farm.

I’ve played with and been protected by dogs. My buddy Leon came along when I played baseball, enjoying a nearby stream until nine innings were over, after which we walked home together.

I have also been bitten and chased off, but dogs were always less of a hazard than cars and angry people.

In fact, I so appreciate the role dogs play in our lives that, were it not for Roosevelt Island’s peculiar restrictions, I’d have one – no, make that two – waiting for a morning walk, right now.

A Personal View

Belatedly discovering that Roosevelt Island banned dog ownership, my wife and I got our canine nourishment from volunteer dog-walking at the Humane Society on 59th Street, devoting every Saturday morning to the shelter.

Then, my trouble-making friend Steve spotted an election for the Roosevelt Island Residents Association. He suggested that I run and use it as a platform for uprooting the dog ban and discarding it forever.

I won that election, but it didn’t go far. David Kraut, RIRA President at the time – 1992 – advised against my raising the issue. Actually, he said he’d have to kill me if I did.

He made sense. No, not about the killing part, which I assumed was a joke.

Many Roosevelt Islanders moved here largely because dogs were not allowed, he told me. Some gave up their pets as a condition for taking apartments here. It was an intensely emotional issue that could tear a new community apart, he said, and it still is. And does.

“A dark-skinned woman from Roosevelt Landings was walking her dog near Firefighter’s Field, holding a tennis ball. A PSD officer told her she could not go into the field. She did not and instead walked to the Cornell Tech campus hills. The PSD officer followed her the entire way.”

A leader in a pro-dog group added, “The last example is especially infuriating. There is so much more stuff going on in the community, actual crime and vandalism, and they tell PSD to focus their efforts on persecuting dogs and their owners?”

Waffling and Leadership

By the time Southtown and The Octagon started attracting tenants, it was clear that archaic rules banning dog ownership had to go. And they did, but only for the new buildings, setting up the antagonism now flaring from north to south.

Roosevelt Island's Caring Cat Sitter

Although a handful of service dogs had already broken barriers, the new residences breached the blockade. And all the anger David Kraut warned me about a decade before spilled out.

“A senior citizen, a resident of Southtown, was walking her dog (on a leash) and was yelled at by a random person on the street saying ‘people with dogs are fucking crazy.'”

At least part of the problem stems from chronic weak leadership at RIOC and among its board. No announcement concerning the change in rules was ever made, and even as tensions festered, no one stepped up or appealed for better behavior. Hiding in Blackwell House or behind fogged class helps no one in any situation.

And then, after turning Public Safety Officers loose on conscientious dog owners unable to use RIOC’s Worst in the Universe Dog Runs, President/CEO Shelton Haynes proposed a new “temporary” dog run so awful no reasonable person could be happy with it.

Do most Americans approve of dog ownership?

A recent study found that nearly two-thirds of Americans have a dog and that three-quarters approve of dog ownership.

There are several reasons why people might choose to own a dog. Some see dogs as loyal companions, while others enjoy the challenge of training and caring for a pet. Whatever the reason, most Americans approve of dog ownership.

But a small, very vocal group is making it difficult here, and RIOC – weak-kneed as always and bending to the most raucous voices – plays along.

“I was walking my 2 small, trained service dogs on Main Street. They were on a short leash like always and not interacting with any other dogs or humans, just minding their own business. A man walked by and said, ‘Get these things out of my way or I will kick them.’ He simply saw the dogs and said that out of pure hate.”

RIOC has done nothing to protect innocent dog owners from aggressive bullying, but has, in reality, reenforced it.

“This is just crazy. And it’s also interesting how most of the people being attacked are women, people of color, LGBTQ, disabled and senior community members.”

Roosevelt Island Dogs: Is There a Solution?

Good leadership sets community standards, something sorely lacking on Roosevelt Island. Residents have long complained about a lack of transparency and accountability from RIOC, and this is just one more example.

With no community standards in place, it’s up to each individual to decide whether or not they want to put up with the harassment that has become commonplace for dog owners on Roosevelt Island.

It’s a sad state of affairs when people are afraid to walk their dogs in public, but that’s the reality on Roosevelt Island. Until RIOC steps up and sets some community standards, it’s unlikely that things will change.

There are reasons why some people dislike dogs. Some may be allergic to dog fur or dander, while others may find dogs too noisy or messy.

Others view dogs as a potential threat to their safety, particularly if they have been bitten by a dog in the past. Whatever the reason, it is important to remember that not everyone shares the same love of dogs that many Americans do.

But those conditions prevail in virtually every community. But Roosevelt Island is a rarity – again – rudderless, angry, short on leadership and failing with the simplest problems.

A new group is out to change that, though, proposing sensible solutions with consideration for both sides. If RIOC favors doing the right thing, instead of bunkering while others take the heat, it’s there.

We will follow up on this tomorrow.

also from the roosevelt island daily news

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