Volume 74, Number 41 | February 16 - 22, 2005

‘Thrown to the dog owners,’ designer defends run plans

By Lincoln Anderson
Dog owners tenaciously grilled the architect of Washington Sq. Park’s refurbishment plan at a special meeting last Wednesday about the intention to relocate the existing two dog runs to the park’s southern edge. Had George Vellonakis ever even been in a dog run, they demanded to know? Wasn’t he aware dogs like to run around trees and benches — not back and forth between them? Didn’t he comprehend that dogs run in circles, not straight lines?
The about 50 dog owners — some with their pugs and dachshunds on their laps or larger breeds by their feet — peppered the Village landscape architect with questions for two hours.
Vellonakis, who did the renovations of Abingdon Sq. Park and the Sixth Ave. vest-pocket park viewing gardens, told them the Washington Sq. dog run will be top of the line.
“We want it to be the best in the country,” he said.
The run will boast a flexible-mesh fence that will give when dogs crash into it. The surface will be stone dust, washed by sprinklers each night, the water running off into underground drains. There will be dog drinking fountains. The run will be open 24 hours, with access from the park’s perimeter when Washington Sq. Park is closed.
The dog owners said, however, that the large run’s current location is safer, noting it provides a safety buffer area. Two dogs recently escaped the run “by human error,” but were caught on the lawn, they noted.
“Part of the dog run experience is feeling like you’re in the country,” one woman said, in support of keeping the run at its current location. Vellonakis assured that in the new run with its surrounding greenery, they won’t realize they are right near a street.
Vellonakis said there have been no complaints from Judson Church about having the run nearby. “Most people at the church don’t know about it,” said Suzanne Dickerson. Vellonakis said the north side of the park is off-limits for dog runs, because apartment building residents there don’t want to hear barking.
Lynn Pacifico, West Village Dog Owners Group president, said the planned run’s current long, narrow shape, with a bowed middle, limits ball-throwing options. She said it should be circular.
A narrow run would mean high-speed collisions and injuries, the dog owners added. Vellonakis said he’d redesign the run to make it more circular.
One man warned against a stone-dust surface because, “People will come home with powdered dogs.”
Aubrey Lees, Community Board 2 Parks Committee chairperson and Washington Sq. Park Task Force co-chairperson, said they should appreciate what they have.
“The fact that we’ve been able to institutionalize two dog runs in the park is amazing,” she said. “We’re a large constituency, but there is a bigger constituency out there who don’t like dogs, don’t want them in a public space.”
If not for dog runs, what exactly was Vellonakis’s idea of a park, one woman asked?
“I don’t find Washington Sq. Park attractive,” he said. “I go to Hudson River Park, I lie in the grass, I lie in the sun. No one can sit by the [Washington Sq.] fountain because of [the dog run’s] smell, the noise, everything else.” Vellonakis said the goal is to create lawns around the park’s fountain, which is why the run is being moved.
Asked if the run could stay where it is, Vellonakis said, “The Parks commissioner has made it clear this [the south edge] is the location for the dog run.”
However, as Nana, his medical service dog — who can smell when he bleeds internally — sat by him, Gary Kahn, contrary to Lees, advised they hold their ground. There are lots of dog owners and another big constituency — dog lovers — out there, Kahn said.

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