News | Upper West Side

CB7 looking for solution as pet owners complain rock salt harmful to dogs

  • Yue Ben / Senior Staff Photographer
    PAWS OFF | As dogs play in Riverside Park, Community Board 7 is looking to change the rock salt, which could potentially be harmful to dogs, used on the sidewalks.
  • Yue Ben / Senior Staff Photographer
    PAWS OFF | As dogs play in Riverside Park, Community Board 7 is looking to change the rock salt, which could potentially be harmful to dogs, used on the sidewalks.
  • Yue Ben / Senior Staff Photographer
    PAWS OFF | As dogs play in Riverside Park, Community Board 7 is looking to change the rock salt, which could potentially be harmful to dogs, used on the sidewalks.

Puppy paws on the Upper West Side may have a little extra protection next winter.

According to pet owners, the rock salt used by the city and residents to help melt snow on the sidewalk poses problems for the dogs’ health. 

Now, Community Board 7 is looking to potentially have brownstones and small businesses use a healthier alternative to rock salt on city sidewalks.

“They dump massive amounts of salt and then just leave it there,” Annie Gross, who was walking her pup on Riverside Park on Monday, said. “The dogs’ paws get dry and cracked and it can cause an infection.”

The biggest problem, according to locals, is the amount of salt crystals used and their uneven distribution on the sidewalks.

“The park especially does a bad job of distributing the crystals evenly, and the disposal is erratic,” Liz Irwin, a dog owner and Columbia professor of classics, said. “I get it though. They only want to do it once, and they don’t want to be liable if someone falls.”

Elizabeth Caputo, president of CB7, first introduced the issue at the transportation committee meeting on Feb. 11. She told Spectator on Monday that the issue goes beyond just dogs’ paws.

“It’s less about the dog issue. It’s more about the environmental issues going on in Riverside Park,” Caputo said. “A lot of the salt definitely damages the pavement.”

Caputo added that she has been doing informal research at pet stores to learn about alternatives for keeping streets and sidewalks from becoming slippery, while also keeping pets healthy.

She indicated that the board will eventually pass a resolution intended to address both of these problems.

Caputo mentioned that a substitute to the rock salt currently used is calcium chloride, which may be slightly safer for dogs, though more harmful to the environment.

“It may be possible that what’s better for pets may be worse for the environment,” Caputo said. 

“What we’re trying to do is get the most environmentally friendly type of salt used throughout the city. It’s my understanding from talking to the parks people that the rock salt is most readily available and is the most cost-effective,” Caputo said. 

Also, she has heard from community members that the salt can impact small children as well, who play with snow that is saturated in salt and end up getting crystals on their hands.  

Many pet owners said they are taking their own steps to curtail the problem, like making their dogs wear booties on their paws to protect them from the salt. 

“I’ve tried booties,” Leon Maleson, a local dog owner, said on Monday. “But dogs really hate to wear them.”

“They cut off your dog’s circulation,” Gross said about the booties. “And they fall off so easily too, so you pay a fortune and then they end up getting lost.”

Some people use pet protection waxes, while others simply resort to carrying their pets across particularly rough patches.

“I’ve tried the Musher’s wax on her feet, which seems to work pretty well,” Maleson said of his dog.

“She’s pretty small, so I usually just pick her up and carry her,” Irwin said of her dog. “It’s especially bad on the stairs because they just dump huge piles of the stuff instead of shoveling.”

Caputo said that local residents will present ways to improve the situation at upcoming meetings and work with CB7 to protect the dogs’s health and keep the pavements intact.

“We’re trying to get our hands around it to try to make the neighborhood a little less toxic,” Caputo said.

news@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ColumbiaSpec

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Former animal beat chief posted on

Thank you Spectator for covering this important issue. The paws of Upper West Side puppies are clearly in grave danger. Perhaps dog owners like Ms. Gross should use both the wax *and* the booties on their pups' powerless paws—then the booties would not fall off. Mr. Prend and Ms. Kalikoff, please follow up on this resolution and serve as a watchdog for CB7—they must represent us and our pets.

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chad posted on

There are solutions out there. This year I used SafePaw http://www.safepaw.com/ and it worked very well. The product is completely safe for pets and kids

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