A turf war over whether dogs are allowed on a brand new athletic sports field in Brooklyn Heights has sparked a hostile showdown, escalating to the point where a man whose seven-month-old puppy dashed across the field after a ball last week was dragged away in handcuffs.
“We felt like once the new turf was in place, it was really time to be clear that that wasn’t it wasn’t okay for dogs to be there, for sanitary reasons, health reasons and just for the overall wear and tear that it creates on the turf,” said Lara Birnback, the executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association.
Birnback said the dogs, with their claws, teeth, poop and pee, would damage the surface, plus make the area less safe for the scores of small children who play there every day.
But the crackdown has struck a nerve for dog-owning residents of Brooklyn Heights — many of whom have formed a community through daily walks on the turf field every morning before work.
In response to requests from the Brooklyn Heights Association to help keep dogs off the new lawn, Parks officers started patrolling the area and issuing summonses and tickets to those who weren’t complying. Since Sept. 3, Parks officers have issued 33 dog-related summonses at Cadman Plaza Park.
Residents say the conflict reached “ridiculous” new heights when Parks officers arrested the owner of a turf-happy pooch.
Parks Enforcement Officers took Hamid Rahmanian, 55, away in handcuffs after they tried to issue him a summons for his infraction — Rahmanian’s seven-month-old Portuguese Water Dog named Minoo ran off after a ball onto the turf field.
Rahmanian told the Daily News that he was approached by four Parks Enforcement Officers at around 8:30 a.m. They asked him for his ID, and when he replied that he didn’t have it, they told him they’d have to instead take him to the precinct, even as he asked if his wife could run over from their home a few blocks away and bring the ID.
“I shouldn’t face this kind of force and experience all this because of such a ridiculous reason,” Rahmanian, an artist and puppeteer, told the Daily News. “… I didn’t harass anybody, I was not cursing at anyone. I was not selling drugs. I was not buying drugs. I was not killing someone. My dog just ran to the turf. And I apologized to them, I said, ‘I’m so sorry, I know that was a mistake.’ and this reaction is so outrageous.
“Why did I have to be arrested?”
Rahmanian received a criminal court summons for failure to comply with an officer and an OATH summons for having a dog on the turf.
The turf, located just across the street from the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, reopened earlier this month after undergoing a renovation. Dogs had never been formally allowed on the turf — but locals have long turned a blind eye to it, and owners let their pups run loose on the faux patch of green.
The new surface was the long-awaited result of three years of advocacy and two years of waiting until the turf could be implemented. It’s used as a playfield for kids and teens. Some local schools host gym day events there, and babies and toddlers crawl around the turf with toys, learning how to walk. Community leaders said they wanted to start enforcing the rule to protect the brand new turf and keep it nicer for longer.
“We have consistently worked hard to ensure that park patrons are educated on the rules and that posted signage at the park is clear,” said Chris Clark, a spokesperson for the Parks Department. “Unfortunately, in this incident, the patron refused to comply with the rules as stated by both Parks Enforcement Patrol and signage on site, and did not cooperate when asked for identification information.”
If someone is issued a summons or arrested and refuses to provide ID or tell officers their name, the police can detain them, according to the ACLU.
The issue blew up on social media and the Brooklyn Heights Blog, prompting heated comment sections and public disagreements.
“I was so surprised that it became this controversial issue where people were saying that oh, it shouldn’t be like an athletic field, we want it to be a dog run. I said, ‘That’s nice, I want to be six feet tall. It’s an athletic field,’” said Doreen Gallo, president of the Cadman Park Conservancy, adding that she was surprised at how the issue became a “turf divide.”
Word of the arrest quickly spread amongst the dog-owners of the area.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Johnny Tran, 50, said of the arrest, adding that he and other dog owners don’t usually have their ID on them during morning walks.
“I think it’s silly,” said Tran, who lives just a few blocks from the park, where he takes his pit-bull-lab mix, Bella, there almost every day. “… They come in the morning with their dogs, and that’s their routine and that’s how it’s been for 20 years, and all of a sudden this rule has been enforced? It’s a public space, and everyone should be respectful to be able to learn how to share.”
But, argues Birnback, public spaces have rules.
“It’s unfortunate, if predictable, that the conversation has devolved into people demonizing each other on the local blogs and in the comments section of news articles,” Birnback said. “The only way New York City works is when we find a way to share public space and amenities – I understand that the turf was a nice place for morning gatherings and that some people may not have been familiar with the rules prior to the unveiling of the new turf. We are lucky to live in an area with 3 dog runs and available grassy areas in Cadman Park for off-leash fun. Going forward I believe those will serve as good alternatives.”
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