The Prospect Park Dogs Were Rocking Way Before FIDO
By Jane Cameron, FIDO's first President
I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan in 1994, my very first priority was
to get a dog. Buddy, my sweet collie mix, brightened up my life with
his own special light, and lead me into a community Inever would have
imagined -- the wonderful dog people in Prospect Park. I found the
urban enclave I had longed for, and looked forward to my before and
after work respites with the dogs, and dog walkers, of Prospect Park.
a rookie on the scene, I was heir to an off-leash tradition that began
informally in the 1970s. New dogs, and new dog people were instructed
in park etiquette, dog care and training. Irresponsible owners were
subject to a remarkably effective peer-pressure system of behavior
modification. Tony Chiappelloni, now the President of FIDO, was an
early stalwart on the scene, and well known as the dog "mayor" of
Prospect Park. And who could forget Steve Heinzerling, architect of the
annual yuletide romp called "Bark the Herald Angels Sing."
there was trouble in paradise. Park usage had soared since the
seventies. Park resources were strained. Other user groups wanted to
push the dog people out. Dog walkers were not only being fined, but in
some instances were receiving criminal citations. As a criminal
attorney I voluntarily represented many of these people in the Brooklyn
courts. I developed a fire in my belly. Why shouldn't the dog people be
treated on an equal footing with the other user groups in Prospect
Park? I wanted to preserve and protect the precious community Buddy had
gathered email addresses (a novelty at the time) and published an email
newsletter. I started a website called "Offleash!" with the help of web
designer Chris Seminara and some dog park friends – Trudy Kawami,
Nadine McGann, Kris Polisciano Gonzelez and Kristina Johnson. Those
women formed an early core group for what was to become FIDO.
Thomas, the Prospect Park Alliance President, took note of these
activities. She asked me and long time canine advocate Ralph Goldberg
to her office, and suggested we start a dog organization for the Park.
Ralph declined, but I took up the mantle. I broadcast the call on my
email list and a large group came to an initial 1997 meeting in front
of the Tennis House. A smaller group began to the work on forming an
organization. The name FIDO in Prospect Park was selected. I
incorporated FIDO as a non-profit, and served as its president. A core
group of a dozen people joined me. These included Diane Johnson, Paul
Belleveau, Barbara Burger, Jana Brenning, Mary McInerney, Charlotte
Gemmel, and Maureen Saunders.
my tenure as president FIDO had over 700 members and advocated for off
leash activity as a legitimate use of the park. We had an active
education committee that sponsored frequent lectures, a committee that
work to resolve conflicts around problem dogs in the park, and a
knowledgeable, active rescue committee. We cleaned up the park and
donated money, trash cans and dog drinking fountains.
of course, is not an island, and at the same time FIDO was forming, the
"off-leash wars" began in earnest in NewYork City. As FIDO president I
was interviewed by the New York Times, National Public Radio, Fox, and
the Washington Post. FIDO formed an alliance with the newly formed
NYCDOG, to begin to advocate for city-wide concerns. I was asked to
write an article for the The Bark, which was then a fledgling paper.
Nadine, Kris and I rose to that challenge.
the end of 2009 I moved back to my home town to take care of my family
and take a new job. Now, some ten years later, it pleases me that FIDO
continues under Tony's seasoned guidance. It is important that new
blood come into the organization, as these are perilous times for
off-leash recreation. Its important that the rank-and-file members of
FIDO have a means of making determinations about the organization, and
have access to steering committee records and treasury books.
am confident that the people who walk their dogs in Prospect Park will
ensure FIDO remains relevant, active, and responsive to the needs of
the community it was originally
designed to serve and protect.
- Jane Cameron - FIDO in Prospect Park's First Presiden