New York birders’ feathers are ruffled.
In May, a now notorious video of Amy “Central Park Karen” Cooper went viral after she called the cops on black bird-watcher Christian Cooper for asking her to leash her pooch in the park’s Ramble.
The spotlight may have moved on, but hostility between birders and dog owners in the city has only gotten worse.
“When you see [dogs off leash] a lot, it’s difficult to refrain from going into yell mode right away,” said birder Robert DeCandido.
Complaints about off-leash dogs in New York City rose 64 percent this year over last, with 757 complaints between Jan. 1 and June 30 — versus 461 in the same period last year. Fifty of those gripes were related to Central Park; just 23 were lodged in 2019.
But Stephanie Ching believes that letting her Great Bernese mountain dog, Brinkley, off leash twice a day is essential to his health.
“There will be people who say, ‘Your dog should be on a leash,’ ” said Ching, who sometimes will go 15 to 20 minutes over regulated off-leash time. “[But] he needs the exercise.” Canines can be unleashed from 6 to 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to midnight in much of Central Park, but not in protected areas like the 36-acre Ramble, a favorite spot for bird-watchers.
“The birds stop over in Central Park . . . to find a habitat where they can get bugs or fish,” said David Barrett, creator of the Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert. “If there are dogs lurking around and chasing them away, birds won’t go into these places — and that’s a huge problem.”
He adds that dogs trample the vegetation on which birds feed, and put hatchlings at risk. “Dogs can catch them,” he said, adding that several times a day he sees unleashed dogs where they should not be.
But when birders try to enforce the rules themselves, things get ugly.
“This guy was playing fetch with his Lab in Azalea Pond [in Central Park] and when I asked him to leash his dog, he yelled some profanity at me,” said birder Carine Mitchell. “It was scaring away all the birds and damaging the fragile ecology of the pond.”
One encounter, recorded June 6 by a birder who asked to remain anonymous, shows a dog walker leading six pups out of an area clearly marked “Keep Out.”
“Get the f–k away with your camera!” the walker yells, smacking away the phone.
DeCandido said a dog walker once called police on him.
“I was in the Ramble and I saw a dog running off leash so I went up to this lady and said ‘put that damn dog on a leash, there’s a sign right there.’ She said ‘I’m going to call the police I’m going to start videotaping you right now,’ ” DeCandido recalled. “About 20 minutes later, police cars drove up and said ‘you apparently were harassing a woman.’ ”
Dog owners say the increasingly abrasive behavior is uncalled for.
“It doesn’t need to escalate to such a nasty place,” said Janet Wolf, who walks her pug in Central Park. “Putting a video camera in someone’s face and yelling agitates the issue.”
Wolf admits that she lets her dog explore the Ramble unleashed.
“It’s just a beautiful thing. It feels like the closest thing to nature we can get in Manhattan,” she said.
But Central Park birders have had enough. A group of them drafted an initiative, calling on the Parks Enforcement Patrol for more stringent enforcement, which passed during a Community Board 7 meeting in July.
Though PEP officers do hand out summonses for unleashed dogs in parks, they’ve issued only one so far this year in Central Park, versus 58 during the same period last year. The citywide number has also dipped slightly, from 569 to 567.
“It really comes down to an issue of enforcement,” said Barrett. “[But] I don’t think the issue ever will be fully resolved.”