Dog Run Tempers Flared. Then RIOC Did Less Than Nothing

A proposed new, safe and healthy dog run brought opposing groups to a late 2019 RIOC board meeting. What the state agency did next – nothing – led to simmering conflicts over two years later.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

You might imagine it couldn’t be done, but RIOC managed to make The Worst Dog Run in the Western Hemisphere even worse, surrounding its entrance with unsightly public portable toilets.

The Dog Run That Never Was

Then Octagon resident Scott Piro gathered a band of dog lovers, did a lot of research on locations and, finally, presented their ideas to RIOC’s board. An existing dog run in Blackwell Park was unsatisfactory, and a replacement was needed.

A new dog run, Piro suggested, should be built on the opposite side of the same park, but with better amenities and safety measures.

In addition to plenty of room for dogs to run, a good run should be fenced off from other park users and include shaded areas as well as dog-friendly water access. Dog owners also want agility equipment like hurdles and tunnels.

An equally determined group also spoke out in opposition. They believed taking over space in a small park brought overcrowding and there were not enough safety measures protecting park users from aggressive dogs.

Their argument about location made sense because, after a history of discouraging dog ownership, RIOC relented with Southtown’s new residences. This made the conflict mainly a Southtown issue; so, why not build the new run there?

And there were, as always, concerns about dog poop, a problem plaguing the city for decades. New Yorkers, it seems, can create movies and TV shows, lead the world in fashion and nail down a big corner of the technology marketplace, but dogs and minor problems that go with them or just too much.

Failure Followed

Although Piro’s group thought they had an agreement – rightly – RIOC left everyone hanging. And rendered Roosevelt Island one of the world’s most unwelcoming places for man’s best friend.

Dogs offer companionship, love and security. They provide a sense of community for their owners by bringing people together during walks and trips to the dog park. Dogs also offer health benefits like reducing anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

No water, no shade, no maintenance – an embarrassment for Roosevelt Island. But although RIOC’s top executive bunkers within a two or three minute walk away, he claims he just learned about the conflicts in recent weeks – from a third party.

But Roosevelt Island can’t come up with a single decent and safe dog run. Instead, they made matters worse. They tore down the existing space in Blackwell Park but never built its replacement.

Fumbling and bumbling from RIOC management escalated frustrations by asking Hudson-Related to forgo its plans for a dog run as part of its upcoming developments. Instead, the developer would contribute cash for the new Blackwell Park location.

But the plan stalled for reasons unknown, and everyone’s left waiting for the state agency to get back in gear. RIOC does not respond to media inquiries, and its inept leadership is bunkered in several locations around Roosevelt Island.

Dog Run Failures and Their Consequences

Since RIOC tore out the Blackwell Park dog run, all dog owners had left was the single worst dog run in the Western Hemisphere. It’s unsafe – dogs have been injured using it – poorly maintained, if at all, without shade or water.

And dog owners avoid it almost to the extent RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes avoids accountability. They have no acceptable place to go with their dogs. So, they end up where it’s unacceptable.

The area of dispute is now Fireman’s Field where conflicts with other users, like kids practicing soccer, are inevitable. And is so often the case when RIOC fails to lead, it leaves Roosevelt Islanders battling among themselves.


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