Planters Possibly Packing Toxins Removed from Chelsea Park Dog Run

Chelsea Park Dog Run as it was Monday, July 31 through early afternoon on Friday. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | A professional dog walker’s habit of scoping out new surroundings in the service of protecting his furry charges appears to have done just that, during Tony the Dog Walker’s very first visit to Chelsea Park Dog Run. Joining him on July 31’s opening day were Lucky, a white lab, and Pika, a seven-month-old Chow.

As the walker, not owner, of dogs, “I have to be more conscious of their safety and well-being,” said Tony, who’s been in the dog walking business for 37 years. “So I have to be watchful of what they eat on the street, which includes plants.” The brightly colored content of a Chelsea Park Dog Run planter caught Tony’s attention shortly after he entered the dog run and bowed (bow-wowed?) to his habit of surveying a new area. Tony’s time at the run intersected with that of this reporter, who was interviewing dog owners and chaperones about the new Fido-frolic-facility created by the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation (Parks).

The Good News: Not a single person we’ve spoken with during our almost-daily visits to the dog run had had a problem with its existence (now occupying the former home of three Chelsea Park handball courts, accessible by entering the park at Ninth Ave. & W. 27th St.; follow the path to the left of the iconic Doughboy statue; take second accessible right, walk straight ahead until you see the fenced-in dog run). Constructive criticisms aside, the new facility is a hit, owing first and foremost to its far West Chelsea location that no longer necessitates mile-plus trips to dog runs in Chelsea Waterside Park or Madison Square Park.

The orangeish-colored plant on the left looked suspicious to Tony the Dog Walker, whose concerns proved legit. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

The Not So Good News: At the tail end of our conversation (pun intended), Tony showed Chelsea Community News (CCNews) the object of his concern, then explained how he deduced it was likely Coleus—a plant that, while rarely fatal, is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. On a dedicated website page (click here to access it), the The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) notes the clinical signs of Coleus ingestion are “vomiting, diarrhea, depression, anorexia, occasionally bloody diarrhea or vomiting.” The Colues-dedicated page recommends that those who suspect ingestion of a toxic substance, call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 or contact a local veterinarian as soon as possible.

Asked by CCNews what led him to believe it was Coleus we were looking at, Tony noted, “I have Google Lens on my phone. It helps me identify just about anything and gives me a plethora of info by simply taking a picture of the object.”

Having taken his own (blurry but useful) photo of the planter containing the plant in question (the orange-leafed one on the left), this reporter sent the pix along with Tony’s concerns to CCNews’ contact in the Parks press office. Over a half-dozen follow-up inquiries over the course of the week yielded no response other than assurances this and other submitted questions were being worked on.

Answers to the Coleus question—in the form of swift and decisive action—came not from CCNews’ Tues.-Fri. follow-up inquiries, but from the initiative shown by Shelli Rosen. Founder and administrator of the Chelsea Parks Dog Runs Facebook group, Rosen was a loud and persistent voice among those who testified at many Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4) meetings, when the fate of a temporarily installed Penn South Dog Run was being determined. When Parks shuttered the facility upon the recommendation of CB4, Penn South Dog Run booster Rosen saw the writing on the wall—or in this case, the handball courts—and began to advocate for the Chelsea Park Dog Run. In the early morning of Friday, August 4, Rosen took this reporter’s photo of the planter and sent them to two of her contacts at Parks and its associated entities involved with the dog run.

Chelsea Park Dog Run as it appeared in the late afternoon of Fri., Aug. 4, after Parks removed planters containing possible toxins. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

Within minutes, Rosen received a phone call from one of those contacts. Shortly thereafter, a Parks rep was sent to the dog run to investigate. By Friday afternoon, the planter in question had been taken from the site. As a cautionary move, all other planters that had dotted the dog run as decorative items were also removed by Parks and will undergo examination to verify their relative safety or risk.

Parks’ press office declined to provide an on-record statement to CCNews, but we were assured that these particular planters were not distributed to other dog runs. At that point (after 4pm on a Friday), the workweek clock was winding down—but many questions linger: Who was responsible for the contents of the planter? Did they know it would end up at a dog run? Are all objects destined for Parks-created dog runs vetted for toxicity? Why did planters remain at the dog run, unexamined, during four days of follow-up inquiries by CCNews, only to be removed within hours of an alert sent by Shelli Rosen?

These and other legit questions linger (and will be persistently posed by CCNews until answered). As for Rosen, she ventures it was “an honest mistake” but does hope it results in greater scrutiny moving forward, regarding anything that passes through the new facility’s triple gates. “I’m sure the Parks Department would not want anything in the run that’s potentially toxic to dogs,” Rosen remarked.

CCNews will continue to follow this matter—and soon, we’ll have a happier story to report, one based on speaking with Chelsea Park Dog Run’s human visitors during its first week of operations. Meantime, two thumbs (aka paws of approval) up for the public safety efforts of Tony the Dog Walker (follow him on Instagram), Rosen, as the on-site responders from Parks responsible for removing the planters. And now, in other news, a few pix of the adorable creatures to be featured in our future coverage of the Chelsea Park Dog Run.

Haku in foreground, as Tate frolics in background. | Photo by Scott Stiffler
L to R: Pika and Lucky. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

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