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Large-dog owners cry foul over park fee

Jeff Redelman, of Melville, with his dog Grayson

Jeff Redelman, of Melville, with his dog Grayson at West Hills County Park in Melville. (May 31, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Chris Ware

It's a matter of principle, says Jeff Redelman.

Fees for using dog parks should not depend on the size of your dog, the Melville resident says.

At West Hills County Park in Huntington, owners of large dogs pay a fee on summer weekends to use the large dog park, while in another area of the 855-acre park, small dogs are allowed to play in the small-dog park at no cost to their owners.

County parks officials says it's all logistics. The large-dog park is located in an area that charges a parking fee because facilities there include picnic tables, grills, and horse and hiking trails; residents whose dogs weigh more than 25 pounds must fork over the same $6 fee if they have a Green Key park pass or $13 if they don't, to park between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Walk-ins are free.

"It's discriminatory," Redelman said. "Either collect a fee at the small-dog park or, if you drive in with a dog at the other park, don't collect a fee. It has nothing to do with the money; it's the principle."

Last summer, Redelman and Grayson -- his now 76-pound Lab-Weimaraner mix -- were asked to leave the small-dog park and directed to the large-dog park where he discovered the fee.

Last fall, he began sending emails outlining his concerns to the county parks department. In February, then-deputy parks Commissioner Tracey Bellone emailed back to say the county was aware of the situation and that to "address the concerns of the discrepancy" county officials decided to collect fees only on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Suffolk parks Commissioner Greg Dawson says the small-dog park was installed in 1999 and the large-dog park was constructed in May 2007 at the request of LI-DOG, an advocacy group.

"They knew there was going to be a charge to get in there prior to putting it in," Dawson said. "I don't think they object to us charging."

Ginny Munger Kahn, president of LI-DOG, agreed, saying the policy was not discriminatory. Plus, she said the large-dog park filled an urgent need.

"It was well worth it to get that park created," Munger Kahn said of the large-dog park. "The small-dog park was the only park in the county for the tens of thousands of people who own dogs, so it was a situation that needed to be addressed."

Dawson said some county-run facilities charge a fee while similar facilities do not. But Redelman argues it's not fair to charge fees for a service in one facility when the service is free elsewhere in that facility.

On a recent sunny weekday afternoon, several visitors to the large-dog park agreed with Redelman that at a minimum the practice is unfair and that the inequity stings more than the cost.

Joseph Pita, of Huntington, there with his boxer, Louie, said, "It's a high price to pay to use the park for half an hour and go. I'll just wait until the time they stop charging and come."

Matthew Firman, who brought his Akita-shepherd mix, said, "The best thing to do is either make everyone pay or no one pay. The current way is a bit absurd and has no logic."


The big and small of it


All six Suffolk County dog parks have separate areas for small and large dogs.

Dog parks with parking fees on summer weekends:

Blydenburgh Park, Smithtown (camping, hiking, fishing, row boating, playgrounds, horse trails)

West Hills County Park, Huntington (picnic areas, horse trails and hiking)

Free dog parks:

Roe Avenue, East Patchogue

Cherry Avenue, Sayville

The old Robinson Duck Farm, Montauk Avenue, Brookhaven.

Nassau County residents can enter Suffolk parks and can purchase a nonresident Green Key pass at $40.00 per year (a resident Green Key costs $24.00 for three years); parking fees still apply.

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