American Times New York: Park war over loose dog law

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IT IS easy to get upset about Rudolph Giuliani. His take-no-prisoners style as mayor of New York City has earned him high marks politically, as well as re-election last year. Next year, he may run for a US Senate seat (possibly against Hillary Rodham Clinton).

But the Rudy regime can seem repressive. Right now, the mayor is struggling to quell a crisis arising from a horrendous incident in early February: the shooting of an unarmed African immigrant in the Bronx by four white police officers. The shooting has crystallised resentment in the black community towards Giuliani's police force.

But anti-Giuliani sentiment also attaches itself to trivial issues. Dog- walking, for instance.

Dogs would not be natural fodder for a city's tabloid headline writers, you might imagine. Wrong. When protesters recently compared the mayor to Hitler and likened his police to the Gestapo, dogs were the issue.

Since early February, Mr Giuliani, assisted by the Parks Commissioner, Henry Stern, has been extending the zero-tolerance policy approach so effectively applied to thieves and murderers to dog owners. His mission has been to enforce the so-called "leash laws" that dictate when a dog is allowed to run without restraint from a lead.

Mr Stern has deployed armed police officers, some on horseback, daily to Central Park and Riverside Park, both popular with dog owners in Manhattan. They have been issuing summonses in blizzards. First offenders are fined $100. Penalties go up to $1,000 for repeat offenders.

Nobody is saying that dogs should be free to rampage everywhere. But it did not help when Mr Stern - whose own dog is called Boomer - publicly vented about the "dog terrorists" who, he claimed, cause $250,000 a year in damage to his parks.

He later attempted to clarify his remark. "The campaign is directed against aminority of wilful, arrogant dog owners," he said. "They're like die- hard National Rifle Association members." (He might have omitted that last part.)

The scene every morning in Riverside Park is a blend of comedy and paranoia. Dog owners complain of a "Cowboys and Indians" atmosphere, with Mr Stern's rangers popping out from behind trees and bluffs to snaffle their prey. "It was a posse, an ambush," said one woman caught giving her boxer moments of leash-free frisking.

But in matters of zero-tolerance there is no room for humour. Park officials were serious when they contacted a Florida-based sculptor, Jack Dowd, about a statue he has recently completed called Man & His Dog. The life-size bronze is to go on display in New York's Tompkins Square Park, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, next month. And - horror - photographs of the work showed no sign at all of man and dog being connected by a leash.

Mr Dowd was able to put the city's mind at rest. When the sculpture reaches New York, it will come with leash included. It is missing only because it is sitting on a pavement outside his studio in Florida and he was afraid vandals might remove it. He has figured out a vandal-proof means of attaching the leash in time for Manhattan. Otherwise, Mr Dowd, it would have been $100, payment without delay.