Wild Dogs Free to Attack Again
Wild Dogs Free to Attack Again
Q: Who's working to round up Rockaway's dangerous pack dogs?
This surprising answer became clear after The Wave contacted numerous city agencies, from the mayor's office to the NYPD.
The Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC), the city organization that has the clearest jurisdiction over these animals, says it has "no set schedule" and "little manpower" to patrol any of New York City's five boroughs.
The CACC has just 14 animal control officers, and does not have round-the-clock scheduling, according to Mike Pastore, their Director of Field Operations. Between 8 a.m. and midnight, there are no more than two CACC officers for all of Queens, he said, adding that a pack dog sighting could be a "low priority" call.
"What is our one person going to do [with a pack of dogs]," Pastore said.
Calls for sick and injured animals are responded to first, he explained. "There are not a lot of cases of people being attacked."
But when Rockaway's wild dogs turn vicious, the victim's injuries are severe-even life threatening. Wave readers will remember the 2001 mauling of Far Rockaway residents Lev Liberman and Marlene Fils-Aime, in which both were brutalized by a pack of wild dogs. Liberman, a strapping Russian immigrant in his 70s, lost an eye, both outer ears, and his independence. The attack left him totally blind, and deaf in one ear. Bites to his head were so damaging that he required skin grafts. He almost lost his arm and his life.
Fils-Aime, a jogger in her 50s, came to Liberman's aid, and suffered deep bites to her arm and leg as a result.
The city now faces $50 million in lawsuits filed on their behalf. Attorneys Richard Katz and David Waterbury say the city is negligent because it allows dangerous animals to live and breed on its property, and despite being aware of the situation has not responded effectively. Waterbury said the city has a clear responsibility to maintain its property in a safe manner.
When asked if the city might better serve residents by preventing dog attacks, rather than fight costly multi-million-dollar lawsuits, mayor's office spokesperson Jordan Barowitz would only say that New York was in a budget crisis. Barowitz suggested that patrolling the Rockaways for wild dogs could result in money shortages that would make police and firefighter layoffs, and higher taxes necessary. The CACC's Jodi Jones said animal control officers make $8.50/hr to start. The organization receives just over $7 million from the city each year, and supplements an additional $1.5 million from private contributors.
Barowitz said Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not in office at the time of the Liberman/Fils-Aime attack, and downplayed the threat of wild dogs to the safety of Rockaway residents by pointing out that the last attack happened more than a year ago.
"The CACC recognizes that it is a serious issue," said Jones who added that her organization was "moving forward" prior to September 11, and the economic recession that followed.
Although the CACC has seen funding cutbacks, it now has more employees than ever before Pastore said, while adding that it is still "extremely difficult to conduct proper animal control in a city of 7 million people with 14 workers." His organization is particularly ineffective in responding to calls about wild dogs, because, he said it often takes them hours to reach a call. He suggested that people with urgent animal emergencies call the New York City Police Department.
The NYPD's responsibility seems vague.
"If a police officer observes a danger to the community we're going to respond," said an officer from the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information. The officer said CACC is the primary respondent, but that "police will address it (wild dogs) if they observe it." Because a dog pack sighting represents only a potential threat, it seems the police are unlikely to take action.
The NYPD's Emergency Services Unit (ESU) also has some peripheral responsibility. According to Pastore and the CACC, they are the only other group in the city that carries animal control poles-a long stick with a noose-like loop at the end for lassoing animals. ESU is the only group that carries animal tranquilizers, Pastore said.
Despite the coming warm weather that will bring more residents to the boardwalk and surrounding areas where Rockaway's pack dogs run free, the control of these animals is a relatively cold subject. Another reason could be that, despite their clear presence in the Arverne Urban Renewal Area, CACC says it has received few complaints.
Animal related concerns can be called into the CACC by dialing the city's new 311 non-emergency system, or by directly dialing the Queens office at 718-272-7200. Call 911 for emergencies.
The CACC, a non-profit organization overseen by the Department of Health, assumed the ASPCA's animal control duties in 1995.