It’s not just your imagination — there are quite a lot of dogs in North Brooklyn. Our city council district contains three times as many dogs as the citywide average, according to a recent report from City Council Member Lincoln Restler’s office.

Despite the neighborhood’s high rate of dog ownership, dog-related infrastructure such as runs and parks have not kept up with increased demand. Coupled with a growing canine (and human) population, Greenpoint and Williamsburg also contain, on average, less available green space than other New York City neighborhoods.

Greenpoint houses two city-run dog parks at McCarren and McGolrick parks, as well as a small dog run at One Bell Slip. Williamsburg’s Marsha P. Johnson and Domino parks both offer a dog run, though neither of them is officially city-run. As most of these parks are more centrally located, that often leaves dog owners in the more northern areas stranded. And when those owners can finally make it to the park, they might not like what they find. Residents often find our local dog runs to be small, poorly maintained, and dirty.

The gravel dog run at One Bell Slip.

Further adding insult to injury is the fact that even city-run dog parks are not fully under the city’s control. Nominally responsible for sanitation issues such as emptying trash cans, the day-to-day responsibility of running a dog park largely falls to local volunteer groups, who try their best to maintain a clean environment with limited resources. Last year’s outbreaks of leptospirosis and giardia at the McCarren Park dog run (the former of which caused multiple fatalities) highlight this disconnect. While the New York City’s Parks Department installed new trash cans and addressed drainage issues, they did not provide a promised layer of fresh mulch, according to McCarren Dog Allies.

The lack of available dog runs can often tempt owners into repurposing other existing green space as a makeshift dog run. Certain New York City dog parks provide off-leash hours, but North Brooklyn parks require dogs to remain on a leash. Unfortunately, the abuse of space can lead to its shutdown altogether. In February, the Parks Department locked the sports field at Newtown Barge Park, citing sanitation issues stemming from numerous off-leash dogs. Only a month later, Sternberg Park fell victim to the same problem, with rampant dog waste prompting a shutdown. In fact, the problem with pet waste riled one local so much, they started an Instagram account, @brooklynpoopoffensive, just to document the phenomenon (a word of caution against clicking the link if you’re eating).


The problem of off-leash dogs is more than just one of sanitation — it can also be life or death. Local veterinary technician Michelle Albino shared that she has seen more than her fair share of tragedies from dogs being off the leash. She stressed that no matter how well-trained you believe your dog is, things can turn on a dime.

“One, your dog could get scared by something, anything, like a car backfiring or fireworks, and that triggers their flight or flight and they run away. So, one, you could lose your dog, just by having it off leash. Two, the dog could see something triggering across the street and get hit by a car,” said Albino. “Everyone thinks ‘Oh, my dog would never do that,’ but dogs are still animals, and domesticated as they are, if they see something like a stray cat or bird, or something that triggers them in just the right way, they could just book it across the street.” Albino also stressed the importance of making sure your dogs are up to date on their vaccinations.

Long-time resident Newheart Ohanian first got her cavapoo, Charlie, in 2021. Obtaining ownership of Charlie through a family tragedy, Ohanian is especially attuned to Charlie’s needs as it relates to his past circumstances. “I did everything imaginable as far as research. I lived on YouTube,” she told Greenpointers. Today, Ohanian says that Charlie has made great strides since he first came into her life — he’s a happy and well-socialized dog.

“I’m very protective of this puppy. He is my life, and he’s become my family, and so I feel like, when I go out in my neighborhood, it needs to feel safe.” Because of this, she always keeps Charlie on his leash.

After a string of frustrating incidents with off-leash dogs in McCarren, one of which led to a dog biting Ohanian on the arm, she decided to take a break from the park altogether.

In April, after visiting the waterfront park on Kent Avenue, Ohanian and Charlie were walking back home when they ran into a friend near the tennis courts at McCarren Park. She kept an eye on Charlie as he started to do his business. As her friend was saying goodbye, Ohanian noticed an off-leash Great Dane from the corner of her eye, a dog she previously noticed on the street because she thought he looked sweet. The Great Dane’s owner stood about 20 feet away, who Ohanian said was chatting with a friend. Unfortunately, the Great Dane started getting too close to Charlie, so she picked him up right away.

“I hear my friend going ‘Hey, hey!’ trying to get the Great Dane’s attention, [the owner] is off by the gates, socializing, and this was the scariest seven seconds of my life, because I knew whatever he wanted to do, he was going to do, and there was nothing I could do…” Ohanian recounted.

Eventually, the dog’s owner noticed and started calling his name, but Ohanian said the dog initially did not respond. Eventually, the owner was able to get his attention and put him on a leash. She said the owner walked away and a friend called out “At least he didn’t get hurt!” while the owner had her hands up, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” As with the previous incidents in McCarren, Ohanian felt like her concerns were brushed off by her fellow dog owners.

The McCarren Park dog run in January 2022.

Brynna Randall, a dog owner who has raised and trained service dogs for the past few years, called the culture of dog ownership in North Brooklyn “pretty irresponsible.”

“If you’ve trained your dog for years, and your dog has a proper recall, and you’re 100% sure, it’s like, maybe. But also if it’s in the city, I think it’s a poor idea,” said Randall, citing an incident in which an off-leash husky attacked a dog she was walking. What’s more, she felt that the husky’s owner blew her off when she tried to explain the dangers behind letting a dog off-leash, part of an overall pattern of defensiveness that she says she has observed from other dog owners.

“I won’t really take some of the dogs I walk around the parks at all, just because there could be someone that does have a dog that they don’t understand is aggressive and will potentially attack other dogs.”

Not everyone, however, buys into the narrative of irresponsible dog ownership in North Brooklyn. Scott Brothman feels that dog owners have been unfairly maligned in the neighborhood.

“In terms of how we’re treated, I think we’re treated by non-dog owners like we’re the devil, like we’re entitled, like having a dog is a privilege, like if you can’t work within the framework, then you shouldn’t be living in New York City,” he said.

He feels that a lot of the issues with off-leash dogs stem from the lack of appropriate spaces for them, an issue that he’s brought up to Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 several times, to little success.

“If it is even on the list, it’s at the bottom of the list,” he lamented. His hope is for local parks to establish dedicated off-leash hours in response to a lack of available open space.

“You know, I get it,” Brothman said in response to fellow dog owners’ safety concerns, “But dogs need to be off-leash. There’s tons of research behind it. Just doing a 15-minute walk with your dog doesn’t really cut it. It might be for some smaller dogs, but you do read about how important it is for a dog to be free off the leash.”

Dogs certainly need proper exercise and activity, but in a city as crowded as New York City, the safety of letting your dog off the leash can’t be guaranteed. What’s more, dogs (and specifically, their waste and urine) can pose a threat to our urban greenery. In February, the Parks Department implored locals to keep dogs off the then newly-reseeded grass at Transmitter Park (signs about the lawn’s closure were illegally removed and Parks called the moving around of the lawn’s fences a “chronic issue.”)

Last year, Lincoln Restler’s office announced that they had secured up to $1 million in funding for a new dog run at McCarren Park, taking up some of the blacktop space. While the news is promising, Greenpoint’s history of waiting years for environmental change does not bode well (the construction on Box Street Park is almost 20 years overdue, and the process to clean up Superfund sites can take decades). But the council member’s office assured us that locals can expect progress in the (near-ish) future:

“The brand new expanded dog runs at McCarren Park and Box Street Park are moving forward. While we’ve encountered some bumps, we’re working closely with relevant stakeholders to push both projects along and ensure our communities will benefit from these dog runs as soon as possible. 

The Box Street Park dog run was fully funded in the FY24 budget — totaling $10 million dollars. We were also excited to give the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance $25,000 in the FY24 budget. Some of that funding will help support dog run maintenance — like the McGolrick Dog Run community clean up this last Saturday!”

However, a Parks Department source told Greenpointers that they had no updates to share at this time regarding the new dog run at McCarren Park. Another source with knowledge of the situation said that the park’s construction is tied to that of the new building at 840 Lorimer Street, which has been experiencing some delays.

Dog owners might disagree on best practices, but they’re certainly united in calling out the lack of appropriate options in North Brooklyn. Until the long-awaited dog parks open, the safest option is to keep your furry friend on a leash, or find a park with off-leash hours.

Join the Conversation


  1. Most dog owners are careless and inconsiderate in NYC…they block passage on sidewalks with the leash, they let their dog urinate and defecate on private property or public green spaces, they let their dogs jump on you with their dirty paws and slobber without proactively stopping it.

  2. Typical and clueless.
    “we’re entitled, like having a dog is a privilege, like if you can’t work within the framework.”
    All true and only response if it’s the city and community board’s failure, not us!

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