When Stephanie Reiter headed to Lee Park on June 5 for an evening of fun with her puppy, she never expected they’d get maced. But that’s what she says happened after Finn, a 5-month-old golden retriever, slipped away from her and ran toward a personal trainer.
The trainer, Whitney Golston of Camp Gladiator, had placed an orange cone about 15 feet away from where Reiter was standing, and Finn, who is being trained for hunting, got excited when he saw it, Reiter said.
“She came over with this little cone ... and as he’s clumsily running at her, she yells at me, ‘I’m going to mace your dog!’ ” Reiter said. “But he was just sniffing the cone ... he didn’t even jump up on her.”
Reiter was right on the heels of her puppy, and had almost caught up to him when the macing began, she said.
“I had my hands right behind his front legs ... but she was in a dominant position when she was doing it, leaning over him, spraying him. I have very severe panic disorder, so in the process of me having a full-blown panic attack, I didn’t realize that I was maced as well.”
Golston declined to comment, but Amy Pylant, Camp Gladiator’s divisional vice president, said the situation was an isolated incident, and that the camp understands Golston’s actions.
“There have been multiple instances of aggressive animals at the park, and that particular trainer had been attacked in the past and had felt attacked in that instance,” Pylant said.
Following the incident, the camp, which has won multiple awards for its training programs, opted to permanently remove itself from Lee Park.
“We did recognize that this was not a good situation on either side,” Pylant said, adding that Camp Gladiator trainers are “absolutely dog-friendly.”
Because Lee Park is a public park, dogs are required to remain on leashes, per several signs there.
Golston — who “is extremely uncomfortable around dogs not on a leash,” Pylant said — had expressed concern about the rule not being followed to Gay Donnell, the president and CEO of the Lee Park and Arlington Hall Conservancy, Pylant said.
“Since November of last year, Whitney had reached out to Gay on several occasions, asking that security be aware of the dogs off the leash at Lee Park, and Gay had sent security out several times,” Pylant said.
While the conservancy oversees the care and maintenance of Lee Park, because it’s Dallas parkland, it’s the city’s responsibility to reinforce the rule, Donnell said.
“We have signs posted all over the park,” Donnell said. “So when Whitney would inform me of this, I would inform the city. ... We have an agreement with the city; we take care of it, and the enforcement of ordinances is still up to the city.”
Donnell also said that, to her knowledge, there has never been an incident involving a boot camp and a dog in the park. She also said that she does not have any issues with Camp Gladiator.
“They have been very good partners,” Donnell said. “They have been supportive of the conservancy, so I think that they just arrived at [the decision to leave] internally, as their best course of action.”
Following the incident, both Reiter and Finn went to an emergency room, where they were treated for their swollen eyes and immediate reactions. She also filed a police report, but the charges have since been dropped, she said.
And even though it’s been almost a month, she and Finn are still recovering from the incident.
“I’m still on medicated eye drops because my eyes dry up and burn,” Reiter said. “My eyes are still so dry from the reaction.”
She’s more concerned about Finn, however. She said he has only recently overcome his fear of going outside.
“The hard part with dogs is they don’t get it — they don’t know why,” Reiter said. “He can’t understand. He doesn’t know what things he can and can’t do to avoid that being the reaction. But hopefully he’s young enough that the brain will reset, but as of now, it’s not quite there yet.”