Nearly three years after the opening of a dedicated “dog run” at Wisner Park, the city of New Orleans is launching a new round of discussions about potential locations for another dog park — partly in hopes of reducing some of the unauthorized off-leash use of other major parks around the Irish Channel and Lower Garden District by dog owners.
On Wednesday night, city officials convened a neighborhood meeting at the Lyons Center — itself a popular but controversial destination for dog owners — to discuss the possibility of converting the Leo Benewell playspot at Pleasant and Tchoupitoulas nearby into a dog run. The location was under consideration for its close proximity to the Lyons Center, which has been repeatedly damaged by digging and other dog behaviors.
“Lyons Center, which everybody loves, is not a legal off-leash dog area,” said Vic Richard, director of the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission.
That tension between the excesses of the least responsible dog owners versus the recreational amenities — at both Lyons Center and Wisner Park — loomed over the discussion. Richard acknowledged that he has been criticized for locking the softball fields at Wisner Park after damage by dogs there, even though the dedicated dog run is on the same property.
Richard said he would prefer not to call in the police to write tickets for off-leash dogs, because the police have more important issues, and enforcement on dog owners has sometimes been intentionally lax out of the city’s understanding of the lack of facilities. But if more dog areas are created, the rules against off-leash dogs will become stricter at other facilities.
“Once we create the space, I’m going to expect people to obey the law and respect that space,” Richard said. “Will I be able to reopen the park? Yeah. Will I have to close it again? If I have to make that executive decision, then I will.”
If the basketball court there were removed, Leo Benewell would be about half the size of the dog run at Wisner, attendees estimated, but it would give dog owners an alternative to the Lyons Center that did not run afoul of the law.
“It would be wonderful,” said resident Dave Fry. “It’s really small, but I would take it. I do think you would need to remove the basketball court.”
Others, however, said Leo Benewell might simply be too small to give dogs ample room to exercise.
“I think putting the time and money into this small park wouldn’t serve the purpose that everyone here is looking for, being able to throw a Frisbee and not worry about it hitting a fence,” said resident Jamie Gontarek.
“I would rather widen the radius of the properties we’re looking at for the higher square footage,” said Brittany Greiffenstein of the Faubourg Delachaise Neighborhood Association. “We’d rather travel a little bit farther to get a bigger park.”
After listening to the comments, Richard said he was glad to hear the dog owners saying they’d be willing to go slightly farther for a full dog park. Building a facility with more room seems a better solution to him, too, he said.
Dog park proposals for the Uptown area in the past have included consideration of converting part of the existing park at Race and Annunciation into an off-leash dog area, and that currently appears to be the “prime” spot for such a project, Richard said. It would give dog owners room to throw that Frisbee, and could have separate areas for small and large dogs.
“I agree with you all that Leo Benewell is too small,” Richard said. “I agree it would not be in our best interest to invest in it. … You might have to go 10 blocks farther down the street, but look what you’ve got.”
That suggestion — of a more substantial facility at Annunciation — piqued neighbors’ interest.
“I would be on board for anything,” said resident Amina Dearmon. “But finding a property that could accommodate a small dog part and a large dog part would be ideal.”
No decisions were made at the meeting, which Richard described simply as a conversation to get the pulse of the neighborhood on the issue of whether a small spot closer by or a better area slightly farther away. With their input, he said he will begin drawing up more concrete plans and starting conversations with City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell.
In the meantime, Richard recommended that the responsible dog owners who took the time to attend Wednesday’s meeting discuss forming a group to support such a project, similar to the Friends of Wisner Park or the skaters who created a nonprofit to help the city manage and grow Parisite Skate Park. With volunteer allies on the ground helping watch over the area, the city can better justify the expense of creating the space.
“We don’t mind spending the money,” Richard said. “What we do mind is people disrespecting the money we do spend.”