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Stand away from the ledge: A view of the Egg and the landscape behind the Empire State Plaza wall. Photo by Joe Putrock.

Ledge of No Return

Albany dog owners ask for fence where their pets have plunged off the Empire State Plaza

It’s a spectacular view from the wall behind the Egg at the Empire State Plaza.

Look to the right and you can see the historic townhouses of the Mansion Neighborhood sloping down Madison Avenue; to the left, the Pepsi Arena and the tops of the tall downtown office buildings that poke up from behind it. In the distance, you can see the hills and mountains across the river from Albany. And below, you can look down at the highway ramps and watch commuters frantically trying to escape the city for the suburban comforts of home.

But when Tom Comis looked down that 60-foot drop on a hot summer day two years ago, all he could see was the broken body of his dog, Boone, who had jumped from over the three-and-a-half foot wall to his death.

“Well, I didn’t even usually take my dog to that place because it’s too hard of a surface for him to run around,” Comis said. “But that day was a Sunday, it was really hot out, and the park was packed with people. And my girlfriend yelled at me to get Boone out of there so we could take him somewhere else. So we walked to the Empire State Plaza.”

Comis, his girlfriend and dog “had the plaza to ourselves,” he said, so they decided to let Boone romp for a while off his leash.

“We got kind of near that ledge, and didn’t even realize it, but next thing, Boone’s gone,” he said. “I just got this bad feeling, and I looked over the edge, and there he was, broken neck, crying, bleeding.”

Comis, brokenhearted, was forced to carry his dead dog home from the Plaza on a hand truck, “right through my neighborhood with his neck hanging over the edge, blood and mucus coming out of his mouth.”

When he took the dog’s body to his veterinarian to be cremated, he said the vet’s response was chilling: “First the vet said ‘What happened to him?’” Comis recalled. “And then he said, ‘Don’t tell me: He jumped off the Empire State Plaza.’ He knew right off it was that damn ledge.”

Comis said he has heard anecdotally that 11 dogs have hopped over that same wall, expecting to find solid ground on the other side. Instead, they dive into thin air, landing on the pavement or grass below, breaking legs, ribs, tails, necks. The lucky ones survive with some pretty traumatic injuries. The not-so-lucky ones die.

“A fence should be up there,” he said. “I worked for the state, and I worked at the Empire State Plaza, at one time. These guys, they spend so much money on a little hairline crack in those marble floors. . . . And they won’t spend $5,000 on a lousy fence. It’s a shame.”

Albany dog owner Scott Abraham, whose dog Gosh jumped over the wall last month, bruising his heart and breaking his tail and front paws, has since been trying to get the state Office of General Services (which manages the Empire State Plaza) to erect a barrier that would make the wall less of a liability to dogs—not to mention rambunctious children and suicidal folks.

“I don’t want something ugly, like a chain link fence,” Abraham said last week. “Just something to put on top of the wall to keep dogs from getting up on the wall or jumping over the wall. Or little kids.”

When contacted about the matter, Randall Sawyer, spokesman for OGS, said it’s not as easy as Comis and Abraham make it sound to erect a fence in the plaza. Sawyer pointed out that when the Empire State Plaza was built under the auspices of former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, it was intended to be a masterpiece—a “blend of art and architecture.”

“Putting a fence up where this individual is talking about would detract from that,” Sawyer said. But Sawyer, who grew up with dogs, said he’s troubled by the stories he’s heard about the dogs going over the edge. However, he said, the onus is on the dog owners—not the state government—to keep their dogs out of harm’s way. He pointed out that city leash laws require dogs to be on leashes or under control at all times. And in the plaza, he said, it’s technically illegal for people to walk dogs at all.

“The Empire State Plaza regulations are that no pets are allowed except for Seeing Eye dogs,” Sawyer said. “But we don’t enforce that because the plaza is a real family-oriented place. . . . A lot of families come down to enjoy a show or go for a walk, and they bring their dog on the leash. We’re not enforcing that at all, the no-pets-on-the-plaza rule, because we’re a family-friendly place.”

And those who choose to bring their dogs to walk along the plaza’s reflecting pools or lawns are expected to keep their dogs “tended and under control.”

“That responsibility lies with the owner,” he said. Besides, Sawyer pointed out, dogs who walk off leash in any urban area are much more vulnerable to harm from cars, fights, even unsafe ledges. It stands to reason, then, that a dog owner concerned about the safety of his or her dog would keep it leashed—especially in an area where there are potentially deadly, 60-foot drops.

Dr. David Wolfe of Shaker Veterinary Hospital in Latham said that this season, he has treated two dogs who have been injured in falls from plaza ledges; he’s heard that another vet in the area has treated as many as 10.

“From what I understand, there are some dogs that jumped and didn’t survive,” Wolfe said. “This dog that I treated had a collapsed lung, traumatic myocarditis and both wrist joints dislocated. He’s probably a couple of months out of the injury and still has more surgery he has to go through. He was on death’s door with the myocarditis. He was in critical condition for five days.”

Wolfe said “it would be good” if the state decided to put some kind of protective fence to reduce the likelihood of further critical injuries.

But Sawyer said that in the past 15 or 16 years, he’s heard of only “four, five, maybe six dogs jumping from the wall,” and that there is little chance that the state will damage the aesthetics of the plaza with a security fence. Right now, he said, the state is not considering enforcing its ban on dogs in the plaza; however, he urged dog owners who use the plaza to keep their dogs on leashes at all times: “Responsibility for the pets lies with the owner,” he stated.

But Abraham said he won’t stop his crusade for a safer environment in which to walk his dog. He’s begun contacting state agencies and legislators, asking them to hear him out. And on Sept. 19, he said, he’s going to stage a benefit at Valentine’s in Albany to officially kick off his lobbying effort. “I know going against the state is going to be tough,” he said. “But I’m going to do it.”

As for Comis, he’s been in touch with Abraham, and he thinks that the state should feel an obligation to reduce the hazard at the plaza.

“What’s more important—peoples’ and dogs’ lives, or art?” he demanded. “I can think of fences that wouldn’t look bad. Or maybe just make the wall a little higher. That ledge is just too steep. You look over it and get dizzy. And just too many dogs are going off it. They ought to do something about it, because everybody’s losing their dogs to that crater—that abyss.”

—Erin Sullivan

Anyone interested in finding out more about Scott Abraham’s lobbying effort can contact him via e-mail at sibre098@hotmail.com.


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