How Not to Respond During Off-Leash Incidents

By The Bark Editors, May 2020, Updated June 2021
Woman called police on a black man who was bird watching in Central Park during an encounter involving her unleashed dog.

UPDATE July 6, 2020:

Amy Cooper now faces misdemeanor charges today for filing a false report when she accused a Black man of threatening her life. In announcing this charge, Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney noted that, “Today our office initiated a prosecution of Amy Cooper for falsely reporting an incident in the third degree,” and added, “We are strongly committed to holding perpetrators of this conduct accountable.” If convicted, she could be given a conditional discharge or sentenced to community service or counseling rather than jail time. We are curious what might become of her dog Henry if she is given jail time. She will be arraigned on October 14.

 A video capturing a highly charged incident (below) between Amy Cooper, a white woman walking her dog off-leash, and Christian Cooper (no relation), a black male birdwatcher, in NYC’s Central Park on Memorial Day went viral recently. The antagonistic confrontation has spurred charges of racism and white entitlement, and secondarily, of animal cruelty.

Ignoring signs to the contrary, Amy Cooper was allowing her dog to run loose in the Ramble, one of Central Park’s natural areas and a favorite spot for birdwatching. Christian Cooper asked her to leash her dog, and when she refused, he began to record their interaction.


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The situation quickly escalated as she approached him and demanded that he stop recording her. When he didn’t, she threatened to call 911—“I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” she said to him while dialing, then repeated “African-American” to the operator, twice. “Please send the cops immediately,” she ended, breathlessly. Her actions were an unvarnished display of the way power and race are weaponized and abused to oppress (and threaten) people of color.

While we condemn this egregious and blatant act of racism, we’ve decided to weigh in on the dog-related aspect, to comment on the social contract we are bound by when we’re in public spaces with our pups. Here are our recommendations for dog-owner behavior that is both considerate and respectful. 

1. Obey park rules. The incident started because the woman was walking her dog off-leash in a clearly marked “dogs on-leash” area. The woman knew the posted rule that she was breaking. We all have park policies that we question and some we disagree with, but adhere to the posted rules and regulations whether you like them or not.

2. Respect the rights and wishes of other park users. Whether it’s disregarding an on-leash regulation (maybe it’s super early and your dog sticks close to you) or simple unwritten courtesies of sharing public space—if your dog’s actions are infringing on other people’s ability to enjoy the park, seriously consider changing your dog’s behavior (ie. leashing your dog) and moving your dog walking elsewhere.

3. Not every opposing view holder is out to hurt your dog. Some have commented that the birdwatcher was trying to entice the dog with treats and do it harm. I get how uncomfortable it may be to have an argument turn into a “let me treat your dog” occasion but not all “pro-dog rules & regulations” advocates are anti-dog. Some are simply birdwatchers who want to practice their hobby in sanctioned areas.

4. Care for your dog … even during heated encounters! Some of the most troubling moments in the video show the dog owner restraining her dog improperly—the woman is clearly distressed but in her panic, she ends up choking her dog and yanking the poor pooch around by the collar—it’s hard to watch. It would all have been simpler and more humane if, at first request, Henry the dog was calmly leashed.

5. Keep a cool head. Rarely, if ever, is it wise to engage in antagonistic behavior or respond impolitely to civil requests. Just follow the rules and move on!

Postscript: Henry, the Cocker Spaniel shown in the video has been surrendered to the rescue group who adopted him out a few years ago while the aftermath of this event blows over. Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue, Inc. posted the following on their Facebook page:

Thank you to the concerned public for reaching out to us about a video involving a dog that was adopted from our rescue a few years ago. As of this evening, the owner has voluntarily surrendered the dog in question to our rescue while this matter is being addressed. Our mission remains the health and safety of our rescued dogs. The dog is now in our rescue’s care and he is safe and in good health. We will not be responding to any further inquiries about the situation, either publicly or privately. Thank you for your understanding.

Updated 6/4/20: Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue has indicated via Facebook that they have returned the Henry back to Amy Cooper.

Abandoned Angels would like to express its gratitude for the outpouring of support regarding the dog that was recently placed in our custody, following release of a troubling video that was brought to our attention. The dog was promptly evaluated by our veterinarian, who found that he was in good health. We have coordinated with the appropriate New York City law enforcement agencies, which have declined to examine the dog or take it into their custody. Accordingly, and consistent with input received from law enforcement, we have now complied with the owner's request for return of the dog.

Photo: Christian Cooper