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Huntington board to open Heckscher Park for visits from leashed dogs

Karen Thomas started an online petition to allow

Karen Thomas started an online petition to allow leashed dogs in Heckscher Park that has gathered more than 2,000 signatures.  Lola, a Siberian Husky service dog, relaxes in the foreground. Credit: Newsday/Deborah Morris

A temporary welcome mat will soon be out for leashed dogs at Heckscher Park.

The Huntington Town Board has approved a three-month pilot program to allow leashed pets in certain areas of the park starting Jan. 1.

The park’s playground, picnic areas and tennis courts will remain off-limits to dogs, and they are not allowed on sports fields being used for either formal or informal play. On-leash dogs will be permitted in the area around the Harry Chapin Rainbow Stage when there are no performances or events, and conditionally during performances.

“The relationship between dogs and humans continues to evolve, and it is becoming increasingly common to see humans and their canine companions together in public places — on streets, in restaurants and stores and in parks,” said Town Board member Joan Cergol, sponsor of the resolution.

On-leash dog walking will also be permitted in the walkway around the Heckscher Park pond, with a strict rule that dogs and their owners must yield to all pedestrians.

In 2017, the town approved allowing dogs in most town parks but excluded Heckscher Park.

Karen Thomas started an online petition to allow leashed dogs at Heckscher Park about six weeks ago after learning her Shih Tzu was not welcome in the park. So far the petition has garnered more than 2,000 signatures.

“Dogs bring happiness, companionship and protection to our lives,” Thomas said. “Daily walks in safe, level parks, like Heckscher Park, can help Huntington dog owners and their dogs be more healthy.”

But not everyone is a fan. Thomas Mangan, a Huntington resident since 1961, said there are numerous other parks where pets can join their owners.

“You can walk every type of pet that you want in all the parks, why pick the gem of Huntington,” Mangan said. “Who's policing Heckscher Park for the pets for Heckscher Park? No one. So why not bring down your pet alligator, let it go for a swim in the park, bring down your pet anaconda?”

Cergol said any issues should be reported to the town’s public safety department. Ginny Munger Kahn, president of The Long Island Dog Owners Group, said there will be an aggressive public education campaign to explain the rules and responsibilities of dog owners coordinated by her group.

“Starting the pilot program on January 1st will give us ample time to develop the campaign and promote it before the warmer weather arrives,” Kahn said.

She pointed out that there have been no incidents since dogs have been allowed in other town parks.

“While I understand some of the reservations, at the very least, given the many requests, it is worthwhile undertaking a pilot to see if allowing dogs in Heckscher is workable,” Cergol said.

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