Dogs are not allowed off leash in Essex County parks — and no permit exists to allow businesses to walk them off leash.
This is the message from Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. in response to an article in The New York Times profiling My Dog Hikes, a New York City business that takes groups of Manhattan dogs to parks like South Mountain Reservation in Essex County and allows them walk off leash.
DiVincenzo’s office released the following statement from the County Executive on November 12, 2018:
“We are alarmed by a story in the New York Times about dog walking companies letting their dogs roam off leash in South Mountain Reservation. Having dogs run free is not allowed in Essex County parks, including South Mountain Reservation, and poses a safety risk for other people enjoying our open spaces as well as the dogs. We understand the importance of allowing dogs to run off leash and have created 4 dog parks in South Mountain Reservation, Brookdale Park, Hilltop Reservation and Watsessing Park. We do not condone the activities of this company and will work with our Sheriff’s Office to ensure our rules are followed and our parks are safe.”
Earlier in the day, County Chief of Staff Phillip Alagia posted to the South Mountain Conservancy Facebook page that no special permit exists that would allow a dog walking business to walk dogs off leash in the Reservation — or any County park.
The Times article chronicled My Dog Hikes staff taking a large group of dogs to South Mountain Reservation — which covers parts of Millburn, Maplewood and West Orange in Essex County, NJ — and allowing them off leash:
With the parking lot out of sight, the hikers unleash the dogs one by one. A few pups take a bathroom break. Theo, the gray Weimaraner, tears up and down the path. Otis, an amber pit bull, barrels through the trees.
How is Ms. Klein so sure the dogs won’t run away? As an animal behaviorist, she trained most of the dogs herself. But just in case, every dog wears a waterproof GPS tracker.
“This is an extreme amount of trust, when you tell people from the city, ‘We’re going to be taking your dog off-leash hiking,’” Ms. Godwin said. She and Ms. Klein perform regular head counts. Both are efficient and easily manage 14 dogs for about three miles, while carrying knapsacks stocked with medical supplies and water jugs.
Backlash was swift and merciless online on SOMA Lounge NJ Facebook group. (See our story here. )
Village Green has reached out to My Dog Hikes via email, voicemail and instagram and will update the story when we receive a reply.
Photo of South Mountain Reservation by Joy Yagid.