Pastorius Park: gone to the dogs?

see?  plenty of room for everyone.
When we began looking to move Chestnut Hill almost two years ago, we were attracted to many things.  We loved how green it is while still being a party of the city. We loved its history and proximity to both Mt. Airy and Germantown.  We loved that it is a “walkable town.”  And most of all, we loved how kid-friendly it is.  Yet a big part of that “green” beauty we so admired was nestled on the West Side, in Pastorius Park.  This park is a gorgeous landscape of wooded areas, open areas, a pond, and even an outdoor amphitheater.  A virtual treasure trove.  So we hoped to find a home in close proximity to Pastorius, and as luck (and patience) would have it, we did.  While we were in the months-long process of buying, I went online to ask locals about the park.  The most common answer/warning I received back was that it was great for dogs and not so great for humans without them. 
I found that difficult to believe.  It’s such a big park with plenty of room for everyone, there are laws in Philly that all dogs be leashed in public spaces, and I hoped that I was just getting a slanted view of the situation.  But since moving here, that has pretty much been our experience too.  It is a big, beautiful park, but definitely one with a reputation of welcoming unleashed dogs.  We really only use it to walk through on the way into town, because even with limited use, our children have been jumped on, knocked over, and threatened by unleashed dogs… their owners ever assuring me that the dog is “friendly.” Now, I like dogs.  I even LOVE some dogs.  I grew up with dogs.  We’d have one now if I thought we were responsible enough to raise one.  But honestly?  I don’t care if your dog is “friendly” if he is knocking over my five year old or ripping the beloved stuffed bear from the hands of my three year old, or barking loudly and running full force at my eight year old as she screams and tries to run away (and yes, we’ve tried to teach her to stand still and be calm, but it’s tough to pull off when you’re being lunged at by a big, unfamiliar growly dog).  
I know, you’re thinking I’m just against the dogs, but I’m all for the dogs.  This is NOT an anti-dog story.  I repeat, this is NOT an anti-dog story.  I know dogs should be free to run and that cities are a tough place in which to make that a reality.  That’s why there are official dog parks (with runs or off-leash allowance) in the city.   Here is a start list, but feel free to add others in the comments if you know of more:
Chester Avenue Dog Park -Chester Ave and 48th
Eastern State Dog Pen -Corinthian Ave & Brown St
Orianna Hill Dog Park -North Orianna St, between Poplar and Wildey
Pretzel Park Dog Run, 4300 Silverwood St, located between Cotton, Rector and Cresson Streets – one block above Main Street.
Schuylkill River Park Dog Run -25th St between Pine and Locust
Segar Dog Park -11th Street between Lombard and South St.
Pastorius is a wonderful dog-friendly park, and I hope it always will be.  The thing is, I’d also like it to be more people-friendly.  I think that the dogs should be able to enjoy the park and that people and other dogs should also be able to enjoy the park without the threat of off-leash dogs.  I would even support a dog run in the park so that dogs could run off-leash in a restricted area (though I know that’s an unpopular idea in many circles).  But as it stands now, we have several neighbors who end up not using the park because of the off-leash dogs… some with children, some with dogs, and some who are elderly.   So one of those neighbors and I thought it would be a good idea to advocate for enforcement of the leash law.  This neighbor has two kids and two BIG (leashed) dogs.  He suggested that we start by asking for support from the “Friends of Pastorius Park”; so we attended their board meeting last night.  
The Friends of Pastorius Park is a volunteer advocacy group that works to preserve the park as it was designed to be used.  Which in case you were wondering, was not as a dog park, but as a spot for human reflection.  The Friends also work to fill in the gaps between what the city will fix/do and what the organization deems to be the park’s needs…. a very thoughtful and vital community service.  I was pleasantly surprised by a good turnout for the meeting- I think there were twelve or thirteen people in attendance.  (I wish I’d counted and paid better attention to names).
We listened to current business discussed, the consideration of fixing the steps in the amphitheater, and then moved on to new business. I thought my neighbor did a great job of framing the dog issue (again, he has kids AND dogs).  We were told that the issue has been discussed many times over the years.  There were arguments on both sides of the issue, of course.  Several people argued that the park is perfectly usable by anyone who wants to use it and that the unleashed dogs were not an impediment to enjoying the park.  Yet roughly half of the people in attendance had stories of themselves, their children or neighbors being physically struck in Pastorius by unleashed dogs.  To some people, that is a significant impediment.  Count me as one of them.

As I was sharing my own experience, concerns, and my hope that the Friends of Pastorius would support the leash law being enforced, I was shocked when one of the members angrily told me that I should not have moved to Chestnut Hill in the first place and that I was the problem.  Not exactly what I expected to encounter in my first foray into local advocacy and issues, but I’m pretty thick-skinned. The board then voted on a motion to write a letter to the Parks and Recreation Department to request enforcement of the leash policy.  Only three members voted to support it, so the motion was defeated.  Shortly after, the board did vote in favor of supporting my neighbor’s other request to work to curb teenage loitering and drug & alcohol use in the park.  A good move.  Unless that was your son’s plan for Senior Week.
And that’s the way boards work: either majority or consensus rules; you win some and you lose some.  Yes, I was surprised that the Friends of the park were not interested in curbing its reputation and use as a “dog park”; it seems contrary to their mission to me.  But they do plenty of other good work, and it still leaves me back at square one, wishing the park was usable for all.  I’m now hoping there are like-minded locals interested in making the park more comfortable for all of the community members.  If you are so moved, or have suggestions, please contact me.  And if you are horrified that I would suggest leashing your dog while in the park, apparently you are far from alone!   

21 thoughts on “Pastorius Park: gone to the dogs?

  • Anonymous

    YES, YES, YES!! I share your concerns about using our beautiful park with so many unleashed dogs. I was also hopeful that Pastorius Park would become a part of my daily life here in Chestnut Hill. I don't even feel comfortable walking through the park, let alone using it for picnics or playspace with my kids. Recently, I was looking for a place to gather with a group of friends and was considering driving to Kelly Dr. or Ft Washington State Park rather than walking across the street. I have wondered if we need a "people run" to give non-dogwalkers a chance to use the park. We work hard to teach our kids how to share. Now it is time to figure a way to share this wonderful park.

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  • Anonymous

    Yes. Next step? Let's do this!

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  • Anonymous

    Absolutely on your side on this! I also cannot stand it when dog owners assure our kids that their lunging dog is "friendly"!! Thanks for posting this. Let's find a way to share this beautiful park!

    –Chestnut Hill Resident

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  • Jacob Fisher, Chestnut Hill

    I completely agree with you and with other posters that there has to be a way for dogs and people to co-exist in Pastorious Park. I like the idea of a "people run," particularly if the notion of a "dog run" has been a non-starter in the past.

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  • Anonymous

    Thank You! We live within a stone's throw of the park, and neither my mother nor my kids feels safe in the park. We've stopped waking our own leashed dogs there because they've been attacked by off-leash dogs. I look forward to finding a solution that works for everyone.

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  • Anonymous

    I hear you. And I get it. I have a 2 year old and a dog. But, and I understand this will not be a popular opinion here, I really don't want to see the leash laws enforced. We've never had a problem sharing the space with dogs. When we're there without our dog, we stay close to Abington Ave and we've never had a problem.

    One of the main reasons we moved to Chestnut Hill was precisely TO bring our dog to a huge open area where he can run freely. Have you ever tried to keep a dog on a leash in a place like Pastorius? It's tough. Plus, it's a fact that dogs are more aggressive and defensive toward other dogs when they are leashed.

    Also, please remember that there are plenty of times when the park is 100% empty. It's a shame that people are advocating that there be no times when dogs can play freely. Whenever we've seen people picnicking, playing with their kids, or playing ultimate frisbee, dog owners have been really respectful and courteous to them.

    Last, all of those dog parks are within driving distance, but not walking distance. Our dog is older and it doesn't make sense to drive miles away to let him roam around for 10 minutes, which is generally the extent of our – and many others' – visits. Chestnut Hill housing is not known for its expansive yard space. Please don't advocate that the one great fun and safe place (away from cars) to play be taken away. It's a really great place to meet neighbors and build community.

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  • Elliot

    I would love to do a story for PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com about your opinions on enforcing the leash laws in Pastorius Park. If you are interested in sharing your opinions in an interview please contact me at elliotigriffin@gmail.com

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  • Jen

    A people run! Never thought of that, but it makes sense too. I'm glad to hear there is support for working towards a solution. I will be in touch soon… If you left an anonmyous post, please use the "contact us" button to send me an email so i can contact you about moving forward. And to the last anonymous poster, I absolutely understand your point… I think exploring the idea of times for free dog play is interesting and will make sure to explore that as an otpion… thanks for the idea.

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  • Anonymous

    Where we used to live there was a large park and the compromise was to set up a fence-less area for dogs (http://bit.ly/izcvy3). As you can see on that google map image, there were simply wooden posts that indicated where it was ok to have dogs off-leash and where it wasn't. This seems like a good compromise for this space, assuming there was still a very large area set aside for dogs (who otherwise don't really have natural areas to run free as the animals they are; a small, fenced-in, gravel plot just isn't the same). Dog owners (who I think are already generally very respectful of the space), would certainly respect this sort of restriction if it was appropriately laid out and well-designed.

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  • Jen

    That does sound like a good compromise. A dog run without a fence is another good option, as I don't think there would be much support for a fenced-in area. Thanks for the visual. Please the ideas coming!

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  • Anonymous

    The point is moot. Rangers already patrol the area. When they arrive, people leash their dog and leave. Everyone is already sharing the space. Also, trying to keep a dog on a 6' leash in a huge park is next to impossible. People with dogs would have to avoid the park altogether. Dog people go there every day. Most people without dogs can only go every now and then. Please don't ruin our every day for your sometimes.

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  • Kia

    I understand that dogs use it every day. I think more people would like to too. Since the leash issue is a sticky one, hopefully looking at times or dedicated areas As mentioned above will be more attractive as a compromise. I hope both side can see each other's points and find a compromise. I like to see the dogs running around, but not when they run at me.

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  • Anonymous

    When I first moved to CH and saw Pastorius Park, I was thrilled to live near such a beautiful space. However, after a few bad experiences with dogs, both with my kids and without, before deciding we couldn't go back there. I don't feel I can even jog or walk across the park by myself.

    I'd rather see the leash laws enforced but, realistically, I don't think the city has the funding to do that. I think a good compromise would be to set aside some popular times for dog owners and their unleashed dogs. All other times would be only for leashed dogs.

    I like the idea of a fenced dog area. I, theoretically, like the idea of a "virtual" dog run area, but don't feel that it is practical. A lot of the dogs I've seen are untrained (hence, the jumping on people, knocking over kids etc) and their owners won't be able to keep them in a certain area. I suspect that they don't think they should have to either, which is the biggest obstacle here.

    Thank you for writing this post. I love your blog.

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  • Jen

    I agree with Kia… the point isn't to ruin the dog's experience, and I do see how the leash enforcement does that. The point is to broaden the group who currently enjoys the park. I appreciate the perspective of dog owners who use the park and hope they'll be part of the conversation towards solution. The dog run idea is looking better and better, though I know that was not seen as a viable option at the meting last night, I'll have to look more into why, particularly if it's an unfenced run. And if there was a dedicated dog run, owners wouldn't have to leash and leave when the ranger shows up.

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  • Anonymous

    We were there earlier this afternoon. There were kids and dogs, though the kids seemed to all stay over on the far side of the lake from the dogs, who seemed to have the run of the park.

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  • Gregory Denis Lattanzi

    I live on West Gravers and am also a dog owner and always have my dog on leash. Having moved here from NYC where there are dog runs all over I was shocked to see the disregard for the law. Yes it is a Park law and laws are there for a reason. In this case it is so that we can all enjoy the park without having to be afraid that a dog off leash will run up to my kids and knock them down or worse – all the while the owner is saying “no, wait don't stop” or better yet on their cell phone. Now that Spring is upon us I am sure that I will find a stray dog with a tag on my lawn and will call the phone number and the owner will say, “Oh, I wondered where Spot ran off to. Can you come by the park and drop him off?” I hope they are more responsible with their children.

    I have written in the Local to no avail. I have also called the Parks Dept. and written letters to no avail.

    Both my wife and I have had altercations with dogs off leash while walking with my son and daughter in strollers, needless to say it was traumatic. So as a result, we do not utilize the park, nor donate money to the Friends of Pastorius Park. If those individuals who take their dogs off leash cannot respect those that live in the surrounding neighborhood, then the park can become one big disgusting dog run, that has to be reseeded every year. Additionally, it is apparent that those off leash dog owners don't care because they never pick up after their "beloved" pets. So the entire park is a mine field and others are left to suffer the consequences.

    I suggest (as I did in the Local) that a dog run is set up in the Park, but alas nothing will happen as usual.

    Greg

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  • Jen

    Greg,
    I'm sorry your experience has been so frustrating, but I hope we have enough interest to find a workable solution this time.
    -Jen

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  • Anonymous

    The answer to this issue is really pretty simple. Before we moved back to Mt. Airy with our dog, we lived in prospect Park, Brooklyn. Prospect Park is beautiful and quite large. The city allowed dogs off leash a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. The hours were posted all over the approved areas so that there were no misunderstandings. At the end of these periods owners always had their dogs on leash and generally left the park. This idea should translate well to Pastorius Park as well. I think even the board of Friends of Pastorius could get behind this.

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  • Anonymous

    I am so happy to see this being discussed. We live blocks from Pastorius Park but never go there except for concerts or as a shortcut (via the "safe" side). My kids are otherwise terrified of the place and I can't blame them.

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  • Anonymous

    I'm in complete agreement about the need to get the dogs in check – or, better stated, to get the dog-owners in check. We live a block away from the park, and our experiences have been similar to those stated on here. My wife is an avid jogger and, the couple times she has cut through the park on her way home, has been chased by dogs. In one instance, she advised the owner to curb her dog, and the owner shot back, "shut up, b*tch." We now have a 20-month old daughter who is intrigued and frightened at the same time by dogs, and therefore we have to be quite careful in even attempting to access the park; we're pretty much relegated to the small portions nearest the roads to avoid the unleashed dogs, which isn't the ideal area of the park, to say the least, for a toddler to play. I've called in complaints about the park being a de facto dog park with dogs completely unleashed, in violation of the stated ordinance, but my complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

    It would seem to me that a reasonable compromise could be reached if each side of the issue would be willing to compromise. I personally like the idea of having stated hours for "unleashed" time, although I'm also pretty confident that inconsiderate folks will flout that and unleash their dogs whenever they please. But something must be done so that the park can be used by ALL, and not just the dogs.

    And arguing that there aren't a lot of non-dog people in the park is silly since a lot of non-dog people completely avoid the park to avoid the unleashed dogs that are regularly there.

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  • Brian "Good to be Green" Rudnick

    Things I value:

    dogs, had a dog growing up and we now have a cat who we’ve trained to be very doglike

    poop free environment, (worked for philly water department http://i-thank-you.typepad.com/water/)

    respect for the law; if the law doesn’t work, then we work to change it

    As councilperson the only solution for Pastorius Park I would find acceptable is one that honors all my values

    Reply

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