After a year of study and $20,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Center for Watershed Protection and Water Words that Work returned to Frederick last week with a report on ways to encourage dog owners to clean up after their pets.
Dog poop is a big, heaping problem, and our canine buddies are leaving an estimated 110,000 pounds of it around the city’s streets, sidewalks and yards, despite a citywide “Scoop the Poop” pledge, 38 waste stations, educational videos on YouTube and a downtown dog park. Researchers from the two clean-water organizations presented the mayor and Board of Aldermen with a multi-step process to encourage dog owners to pursue proper pet waste pickup and disposal.
While we concede that’s a hefty amount of dog waste to deal with, with more pressing city priorities for enforcement, we’re not sure the scope of the problem justifies the $28,800 price tag to launch the recommended programs.
It’s up to city officials to determine just how a serious the volume of undisposed dog waste is and, if so, how much attention it’s worth.
More so than the disgusting inconvenience of stepping in a load while strolling down the street, dog waste does affect the environment. As we mentioned when we editorialized on this a year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that two days of dog waste from 100 dogs would contribute enough pollution to close a beach and all watershed areas within 20 miles of it. Dog poop is loaded up with fecal coliform bacteria at twice the level of humans. Dog waste also has enough bacteria and viruses — including tapeworm, roundworm and E. coli, among others — that it can cause serious health issues in humans, according to the website clearchoicescleanwater.org. One dog ejects 274 pounds of poop a year on average.
The clean-water groups’ research showed that an incentive-based program would be more effective than one based purely on enforcement, Neely Law, a senior research analyst for the Center for Watershed Protection, told city officials.
One of the recommendations, and we’re not making this up, is a “Clean Yards/Streets Challenge” that would pit neighborhoods in the city against one another in a competition. The winner would be determined by the number of pet waste pledges signed and pounds of pet waste collected within a designated period of time.
Research or not, we can’t believe anyone would actually take part. And we feel bad for the person who has to store the poop, not to mention the poor schlub who has to weigh it. Yuck.
We’re in favor of encouraging dog owners to take responsibility for what comes out the rear end of their pets, but we’re dubious that a poop collection competition and signed pledges are what’ll do it.
One problem with a pledge is that pet owners who are responsible and clean up after their animals are likely the ones who’ll sign. Those who are too lazy to pick up the poop either won’t sign or will and just carry on letting their dogs relieve themselves whenever and wherever, pledges be damned.
One of the study’s key findings was that, “A small number of repeat offenders may account for a majority of the pet waste in public areas.” The study also states that those dog owners who flout the rules are probably ones whose animals aren’t licensed.
If city leaders feel this is a compelling enough problem to engage, they need to hammer the offenders, and hammer them hard. Of course, one problem is catching those offenders in the act. So, when a dog owner doesn’t pick up, the commensurate fine should be stiff enough to ensure it doesn’t happen again. And make no mistake, word will get around.
Anyone caught letting their dogs “go” unrestricted should have to produce licensing documentation. If not, they should be fined and fined heavily. Last year, when the grant award was announced, we suggested the following: Boost the first-time offense fine from $25 to $100, the second offense from $50 to a fine of $250 and the third and subsequent offenses during a calendar year from $75 to $500.
If the pet is unlicensed, well, double that initial fine to $200 and require proof of licensure. That should get the poop scofflaws’ attention.