Friday, October 4, 2013

The Evolution of a Law

Today, there are signs at Henry Hudson Riverfront Park reminding dog walkers to pick up after their canine companions, tacitly acknowledging that dogs are walked in the park. Not long ago the iron fence bordering the original section of the park (the park as we know it today was developed in three stages) was lined with signs proclaiming "NO DOGS ALLOWED." They're gone now, but Chapter 70-4 A of the city code still states: "It shall be unlawful for an owner of a dog in the City of Hudson to permit or allow such a dog . . . (11) to be present at any time at the Riverfront Park."

Last night, at the Common Council Legal Committee meeting, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), the committee chair, expressed his desire to repeal the law, explaining that the law was in conflict with the way people actually used the park. Friedman wondered aloud about how the law banning dogs from riverfront park came to be, and so today, Gossips recalls how it happened.

In 1999 or thereabout, someone went to a Common Council meeting to complain about dog poop in Seventh Street Park. The Council's response was swift and sure. They banned dogs from all city parks. Within a week, "NO DOGS ALLOWED" signs appeared in Seventh Street Park, at Promenade Hill, and in every little pocket park along Warren Street--including this space behind Lisa Marie, beside the passageway to the municipal parking lot.

Although they apparently authorized the Department of Public Works to erect the signs, the Council did not pass a local law making it illegal for people to ignore the signs. As a consequence, although self-righteous Hudsonians sometimes took it upon themselves to reprimand dog walkers in parks, the police did nothing to enforce the ban because there was no law to enforce.

The public admission that the signage was meaningless came a few years later, at about the same time as the first phase of what is now known as Henry Hudson Riverfront Park was opened--the first phase being everything north and west of the building that houses the restrooms. DPW workers were concerned about dog poop gumming up mower blades, and they wanted a law that the police would enforce, ticketing people who ventured into the park with their dogs.

Dog owners used the Common Council's consideration of the law as an opportunity not only to oppose banning dogs from parks but to advocate for stricter enforcement of the leash and pooper scooper laws and for more serious penalties for violations. What turned the tide was an appeal by Margaret Saliske on behalf of her elderly mother, who loved walking around town with her dog. Her mother felt secure with her dog as her companion, said Saliske, but from time to time she needed to sit down and rest. Since the places where she could sit down and rest were the parks, she wouldn't be able to do this if it was illegal to bring a dog into the parks.

Saliske's appeal touched Alderman Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward--then as now), and the parks were thrown open to dogs once again. The single exception, however, was the new park at the waterfront, where it was envisioned that people would regularly be sitting on the lawn for concerts and other events.

Now, a decade later, when there is a better understanding of how the park is actually used by the residents of Hudson, it's an appropriate time to revisit the law that makes it illegal for a dog "to be present at any time" at Henry Hudson Riverfront Park.


  1. For the record, not everyone who pointed out the contradiction between the city's seeming encouragement of dog-walkers at the waterfront park and our actual laws forbidding the practice "took it upon themselves to reprimand dog walkers."

    That said, it tempts conflict to fit in too many activities in the one place. On Wednesday, I watched as two unruly packs of unleashed dogs drove people out of the park. Even though the dog-owners insisted that their dogs were "friendly" (will anyone ever admit otherwise?), chairs were folded, belongings collected, and people returned to their cars.

    The sign in the photo above should be replaced. Its drivel appealing to a concern about the spread of disease should be reworded to educate visitors about the penalties of ignoring the laws - and one's neighbors.

  2. Your photo of the "pocket park" behind Lisa Marie's details the original wrought iron fence that once graced the stairs as one entered Promenade park.