The poop hits the fan at the Miami Circle
Wednesday, 07 March 2012

Dog owners who let their pets romp — and poop — at the historic Miami Circle, are defying an official order to stay out.



miami circle


MIAMI, FLORIDA - Once upon a time, in the land of tall glass boxes called Brickell, there was a magical field of soft grass on the bank of a great river.


In the middle of the field was a sandy circle marked by rocks, where the ancients once encamped and, many believe, their spirits hover.


Every evening, creatures from the glass boxes went there to frolic with their furry friends. There were dispensers of biodegradable bags, and a ground-level fountain so that the creatures might drink.


Then one day — Feb. 18, to be exact — this urban fairytale went to ... the stuff that goes in the bags.


The humans found signs, in English and Spanish, forbidding the four-legged creatures to enter. The bag dispensers were gone.


The guardians of the Miami Circle Park, which Tequesta Indians settled some 2,000 years ago, had slammed the figurative gates on a unique oasis in Miami’s glittering, downtown condo canyon a year after it opened: officially a National History Landmark; unofficially a little bit of doggie heaven for high rise-bound pets.


HistoryMiami, the nonprofit museum that manages the property, in an attempt to “work with the neighbors,’’ initially installed the bag dispensers and fountain, said Jorge Zamanillo, HistoryMiami’s vice president for expansion projects.


The museum also installed permanent signage spelling out Miami-Dade’s leash law, which requires dogs to be on leashes everywhere except designated dog parks. Violators risk a $500 fine.


But, said Zamanillo, dog walkers soon began to ignore the leash law, and apparently didn’t understand that the entire 2.2-acre parcel, on the north side of the IconBrickell condo-hotel, not just the 38-foot Circle, is the historic site.


As more dogs ran free, things “got worse and worse,’’ Zamanillo said. Unleashed dogs began to look like four-legged legal liabilities, their droppings like a serious health hazard.


Then there were the unforeseen expenses. HistoryMiami figured annual maintenance costs at about $20,000, but Zamanillo said replacing broken sprinkler heads, ruined sod and plants added another $10,000.


“This whole time, we got numerous complaints about dogs running loose while people were trying to use the park,’’ he said. It’s open for school field trips, yoga, picnics and other “passive’’ activities, including Native American spiritualist Catherine Hummingbird Ramirez’s Tuesday evening blessing ceremonies.


HistoryMiami wrote three letters to the IconBrickell management, reminding residents that their “dog park’’ was, in fact, “an archeological site of international importance and stature,’’ and that “HistoryMiami currently allows dogs as a courtesy.’’


The first letter, dated Aug. 3, 2011, and signed by HistoryMiami’s CEO, Robert McCammon, warned that “if the rules are violated, we will restrict access to the green space.’’


In a second letter in November, McCammon reiterated: “The Miami Circle® is NOT a dog park.’’


In a final letter on Feb. 17, HistoryMiami, citing dogs defecating inside the actual Circle, wrote that “effective immediately, dogs are prohibited in the park — no exceptions.’’


“I got the emails,’’ recalled University of Miami medical student Sarah Eidelson, who defied the ban and brought her two shiba inus to the park one recent evening. “Did I understand every word? No.’’


If HistoryMiami can’t figure out how to accomodate dogs, Eidelson said, she’d move out of her Brickell condo when her lease expires, as will some of her friends.


But other park users are pleased by the ban, including Douglas Thompson, a 36-year-old landscape architect who said he doesn’t want his 2-year-old daughter “playing in the grass where dogs have been pooping.’’


Besides, Thompson said, the Circle “is a monument. Why do they have a right to use it? Do I have any rights to use that park without having to step in dog poop and pee? You can’t pick up urine.’’


For a few evenings after the ban took effect, HistoryMiami hired off-duty City of Miami police officers to enforce the edict, but as soon as they left, indignant dog walkers rallied in protest.


Lawyer Matt Ladd, 34, posted leaflets declaring “Libertad!” and casting the ban as a First Amendment issue. “We just want government to leave us alone,’’ Ladd said, adding that his Labrador, Charlie, would exercise his rights by “fertilizing’’ the grass.


Part of the problem stems from people who don’t know the history of the Circle, understand its significance or its legal status, Zamanillo said.


In 1998, a pre-construction archeological survey found ancient Tequesta artifacts, and evidence that they’d buried their dead on the site. After a year-long struggle between preservationists and the developer who owned it, Miami-Dade County bought the property for nearly $27 million, then transferred ownership to the State of Florida.


“It’s privately managed, not part of the National Parks system, not owned by the city or the Icon, which people seem to believe,’’ said Zamanillo, who calls himself “a dog person.’’


Manuela Sartor Butcher, a 37-year-old Italian/English translator who brings her two rat terriers to the park, thinks that HistoryMiami has only itself to blame, because the Circle, covered by protective soil, looks so little like an archeological find that visitors don’t treat it respectfully.


“It looks like a dump,’’ said Butcher, who came to Miami from Verona, Italy, with a European’s sense of history. “If it’s so important, they should have done something better for it.’’


Butcher was so mad about the ban that she emailed HistoryMiami: “I hope one day your life will depend on the help of a dog and the dog will just laugh at you while he lets you die!’’


The issue will be on the table during HistoryMiami’s regular Tuesday staff meeting, said Zamanillo, who ruled out fencing off part of the site for the dogs, as some dog owners suggest.


“There’s archeological material underground everywhere,’’ he said.


Veteran Miami preservationist Dinizulu Gene Tinnie, an artist and chair of the Virginia Key Beach Trust, hopes that the guardians of the Circle and the guardians of canines can reach an understanding. He fought to keep the Circle from bulldozers, and sees this standoff as another “test’’ for Miami, which hasn’t always respected its own past.


“Are we a city that gets it, and understands that sacred sites need to be treated like sacred sites?’’ Tinnie asked. “It’s a wonderful thing for dogs to play, but they run up to Catherine Hummingbird during her ceremony... Nobody is trying to deprive you of the life you want with the dog you love, but there’s a time and place for everything, and this is neither the time nor the place.’’


Author: ELINOR J. BRECHER, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Source:  The Miami Herald

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