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Dog Owners Join The Pack

LI DOG, the Long Island Dog Owner’s Group, is a not-for-profit organization championing the cause of the canine in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and it’s mission is to get the island’s four-legged friends the rights their passionate owners believe are owned to them.

At a recent meeting at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library, Ron Richichi of Westbury has been a member of LI DOG for about a year, and said that he first joined the group when he heard that they were starting an initiative to open a dog park in East Meadow’s Eisenhower Park, which he noted was a stone’s throw from his house. Since that successful effort, he’s taken on a role as one of the group’s co-organizers.  

“I’ve been a dog owned for at least 40 or 50 years...I’ve always had a dog or two,” he said. “I plan and set up LI DOG’s pack walks, which is just a gathering of the members of the groups with this dogs for a big mass walking. It’s way to socialize with the dogs and each other. We do it once a month, and we’ve held them in places such as Old Westbury Gardens, Sagamore Hill, and Huntington, which recently opened up four of its parks to dogs due to the efforts of our group.”

The group meets monthly at various community centers throughout Nassau and Suffolk County, including the Plainview library,  to update members on progress, plan fundraisers, and most importantly, talk about their shared experiences as dog owners.

LI DOG Board member Peggy Heijmen of Oyster Bay said that, as a whole, Long Island is a very unfriendly environment to own a dog in terms of outdoor areas that they are allowed to access. This holds especially true compared to other areas of the nation and even New York State, she said, where dog parks and on-leash access are far more common.

“We’ve been around since 1998...the group was started by two women named Barbara and Ginny, two Long Island dog owners who realized that there was nowhere to bring their dogs,” she said. “I found this out myself when I first adopted a dog about five years ago...I thought I could bring my dog to any park to go for a walk, but I was wrong. Most parks didn’t allow dogs, and LI DOG had to change the way that the governments of Long Island think about dogs and where they can go.”

Among the many things that LI DOG does to effect change, Heijmen said, is to petition local governments and politicians to allow dogs access to local parks and to construct dog-specific parks where the public can allow their four-legged friends time off of a leash in a safe, secure environment where they can exercise and meet other pooches to play with.

“We’re managed to get 10 dog parks opened since we started, and some of the most recent ones opened are in Selden and one that the Town of Oyster Bay opened in Massapequa, which is beautiful,” she said. “Before all of these parks, we had nothing here in Nassau County. Officials just didn’t want to hear us early on, but where one individual failed, a group can really make their voices heard, and that’s’ when we really started getting things done.”

LI DOG co-vice president Christine Alubis of East Meadow agreed with the sentiment that there is strength in numbers when it comes to achieving any worthwhile cause that serves the greater good.

“Recently I submitted a petition with nearly 1,300 hand-signed names that I collected by going to PetCo, local parks, and so on,” she said. “We also hand out flyers at parks with the Parks Commissioner’s email and address, and we ask people to call and email, have their friends and family email...numbers count.”

In addition to persuading local municipalities to continue opening more dog parks, LI DOG is championing to have on-leash access allowed in parks and beaches that currently forbid any dog access whatsoever. LI DOG also holds regular fundraising events throughout Long Island in order to fund their important efforts and raise their public profile in order to help get their message out to the community, said Alubis.

“If you have a dog that’s well exercised and socialized, there will be less people abandoning them at town shelters. Plus, owning a dog is a healthy lifestyle for people, as it gets you out into the fresh air as well,” she said. “It’s so rewarding, every time we open a new dog park or change a local law...our group has been hugely successful, and I’ve met so many nice people along the way. We’re a fun group, and we’re trying to get that out to people.”

Plainview resident Elizabeth Haban, also a board member of LI DOG, first got involved with the group after an innocent night out walking her dog turned into a frightening brush with the law. It was then that she realized that she needed to find like-minded individuals who shared her cause of finding a safe place for her dog to do as dogs do.

“I was out with my friends walking my dog in a schoolyard after school hours, and suddenly three squad cars drove up on the grass around us and the police started asking us for our ID’s like we were bank robbers,” she said. “That’s how I found this group...I just got mad, because we had nowhere else to go to walk our dogs. And in my time with the group, we’ve had a lot of successes...but we still have a long way to go, and we’re never going to stop making Long Island a better place for dogs.”

To find out more about LI DOG, visit its website at www.lidog.org.