Serving Brooklyn's Off-Leash Community

The Prospect Park Dogs Were Rocking Way Before FIDO
By Jane Cameron, FIDO's first President

When 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.

As 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."

But 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 scouted out.

I 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.

Tupper 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.

During 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.

Brooklyn, 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.

At 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.

I 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