Aggressive dogs may be spoiling the social ambiance of the dog park

Donaldson Park dog park for many  is comparable to a schoolyard playground for dogs.

The parallels are obvious, after all. Like parents with their children, owners accompany their canine charges to the park. Once there, the dogs run around and socialize with their peers, while their owners talk with one another. And like the playground, while most conflicts are minor, every now and then a conflict because of one bad dog will make it unpleasant for everyone.

One of those fights occurred late in the afternoon, between 5 and 5:30 p.m., on March 29. Sarah Fox, 30, of Highland Avenue, arrived at the dog park with her boyfriend and Kimchi, a Korean Jindo dog she acquired while teaching English in South Korea.

“Immediately as Kimchi came in, these two dogs rushed in and started attacking her,” said Ms. Fox. “It happened so fast I didn’t have a chance to shut the gate.”

The dogs – large ones that have been described variously as pit bulls, or as a Labrador mix and a German shepherd mix, one black and the other black-and-brown – reportedly had been involved in previous incidents at the dog park as well, including one on March 28 and another 10 minutes before Ms. Fox and Kimchi arrived. According to a police report on the March 29 incident, one of those attacks left the other dog bloodied.

Other dog owners at Donaldson Park this week stressed that incidents of that sort are unusual. They generally result from inattentive or irresponsible owners who either don’t keep an eye on their pets or bring them to the park in defiance of the posted rules. A sign on the gate to the dog park notes that all dogs must be neutered, licensed and vaccinated. It also explicitly bans aggressive dogs and puppies younger than four months old.

“(Fights happen) because someone comes in here with a dog not fixed, not following the rules,” said Bill Sumal, a New Brunswick resident who takes his dog Zeus to the park almost every day. Zeus is an impressive-looking Dobermann pinscher named after the king of the Greek gods. “He’s here every day. He plays with all the dogs. The only dogs he has problems with are the unfixed ones.”

Kimchi suffered minor injuries in the attack – her neck was bruised, and she had a bite on one of her legs – but mostly she started shaking and didn’t settle down until they had left Donaldson Park and its dog park behind for the evening.

The owner of the offending dogs reportedly said little after the incident. The police report described him as a tall white man possibly in his mid- to-late-40s, wearing glasses. According to the report, he left Donaldson Park soon afterward in a dark, newer model Ford Mustang.

The dogs in question are named Brandy and Shelby.

“I’ve seen little, little children in the dog park. Those pit bulls – it’s really dangerous for children and for dogs too,” said Ms. Fox. “I’ll call the police if I see them again, for my dogs’ safety, for the other dogs’ safety, and for the children’s safety.”

Safety is not generally a major concerns for patrons of the dog park. On a given day, although their eyes are never far from their dogs, the mood is generally relaxed and the owners talk and laugh among themselves while the dogs chased balls, stick and one another. For many of the owners, that human interaction is as much a draw as the dogs’ socialization.

“If you don’t have any kids, it’s hard to feel like you have a community. You never meet people,” said Rosemarie Cipparulo of Edison, who has been coming to the dog park for three years. “I think it’s a good social experience not only for the dogs, but for me too.”

Ms. Cipparulo comes to the dog park three to four times a week,and has done so for three years. Her dog, Oscar, is a beagle mix who gets along well with the other dogs but will bark and drive them away if they try to take any of his toys.

“He got a little aggressive there,” Ms. Cipparulo said after Oscar had a brief snarl with another visitor at the park, and drove him off. “Another dog went after his ball. That’s as aggressive as he gets.”

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