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Dog waste cleanup laws ignored?

Assembly hears from hikers, wildlife fans who want action on scofflaw dog owners

Posted: April 19, 2012 - 12:11am

Several agencies in Juneau are teaming up to get dog owners to recognize that yes, that squishy brown stuff that comes out of “Fido” really does need to be picked up.

A couple weeks ago members of the Juneau Audubon Society approached the city Assembly about stepping up enforcement of dog owner responsibilities because of issues with copious amounts of dog poop littering trails and parks, along with reports of people being knocked down by loose dogs and wildlife being harassed.

Karla Hart spoke about the issue at that meeting. She was the coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Watchable Wildlife program and was part of the task force working on dog rules about eight years ago.

She said trails and parks become an obstacle course and said dog waste has become a serious issue.

“Dog waste is raw sewage,” she said. “It’s not just this benign thing.”

Hart said there are bacteria and other harmful things in dog poop that take time to go away — even if a pile is old, that doesn’t mean the harm is gone.

“There are also issues with people having their dogs off-leash and uncontrolled,” Hart said. “I met several people who have been injured from being knocked over by a dog. The dog didn’t mean harm. But because they’re just dogs, their owners are saying ‘oh, I’m sorry, he’s friendly.’ There are perfectly nice dog owners that just don’t get it somehow.”

Hart suggested that there have been eight years of “voluntary compliance” with city ordinances on responsible dog ownership and the concept isn’t working well enough, so perhaps it’s time to step it up.

“Fifty percent of the dogs in town aren’t even licensed,” she said. “That’s money not going into the city to help support the K-9 enforcement. There are lots of laws on the books that aren’t enforced.”

Hart's estimate may be a lot higher than actual registrations, according to Animal Control and Protection.

Gwen Baluss, conservation director for the Juneau Audubon Society, said uncontrolled dogs are also a growing problem as dogs are chasing migratory birds, which need to spend their time eating and conserving energy not “wasting energy escaping dogs.” Baluss pointed out that dogs chasing birds is harassment of wildlife — and it is illegal.

Julie Coghill, president of the society, also commented, pointing out that dog waste improperly cared for gets into water streams and can cause issues for many kinds of wildlife. She spent 45 minutes on the Airport Dike Trail prior to that meeting and counted more than 100 piles of dog poop, she said.

The Assembly asked City Manager Kim Kiefer to take a look at the issues and see what can be done. Kiefer was the Parks and Recreation director when the issue was first addressed eight years ago.

The Parks and Recreation department was already working on steps to improve responsible dog ownership in the city.

It’s joined forces with state and federal agencies and is working with local interest groups that were on the taskforce several years ago for how to best deal with dog laws and compliance.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent George Schaaf said the issue comes up every spring as snow melts and the piles are revealed from months of pet owners not scooping poop. Throughout the year, reports come in about dogs jumping on people or chasing wildlife.

“It seems like there is a lot of momentum with the city, state and Forest Service to try and do something about it,” Schaaf said. “The dog task force back in ‘03 talked about dog enforcement. We’re not really trying to duplicate that, but we’re trying to involve the same people who were involved in that.”

That includes several city departments, Alaska State Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, Gastineau Humane Society’s Animal Control and Protection, the Audubon Society, Grateful Dogs of Juneau and Trail Mix.

Schaaf said the meetings the group is having focus on what the agencies already have in place ­— with lesser focus on the complaints.

The Forest Service, State Parks and city are working on a joint open letter that will address responsible dog ownership outdoors in Juneau.

“From the public perspective, they don’t always know if they’re on city-managed land, state land or federal land,” Schaaf said. “It shouldn’t matter.”

Schaaf said the city also plans on updating its signs as some signage is inconsistent. He said new signs will focus on education and clarity about the city ordinances dog owners are expected to follow.

Grateful Dogs of Juneau is tailoring is education announcements to the issue as well.

George Utermohle, president of the group, said they also organize “poop scoops” around town to trails and parks that really need clean-ups. They have been known to organize these events for Sandy Beach, the Airport Dike Trail, Dredge Lake and other areas.

“We just do trails all around the community and have an ongoing education campaign to encourage dog owners to be responsible and to maintain that their dogs are under control as necessary for the situation,” he said.

Utermohle said the issue isn’t new and it’s something they try to address with dog owners along with other ownership responsibilities like maintenance and exercise.

“It’s part of their interaction with the rest of the community as good dog owners and good stewards of the community,” he said.,“We’ve been involved in this issue for a long time, this issue coincides with our concerns. ... The problem is generated by a small portion of the dog-owning community. It affects all dog owners, not just the people who are offenders. It’s a matter of raising the consciousness and awareness that that’s their responsibility.”

Schaaf, also a dog owner, agreed that it is a relatively small portion of dog owners who aren’t being responsible enough.

“...The vast majority of dog owners are responsible,” Schaaf said. “It only takes a few people to be a very visible problem. One dog probably defecates twice a day. If you have five dogs owners who are not cleaning up after their pet, it becomes very noticeable. We’re trying to come up with a solution that doesn’t punish the people who are being responsible in Juneau and also get a handle on the problem we have.”

Schaaf said CBJ Parks & Recreation provides about 200,000 poop bags per year, and the Forest Service provides about 35,000. Docks and Harbors also provides the bags for people, however Schaaf didn’t have the number readily available.

Schaaf said Animal Control and Protection is doing a terrific job, however they only have a small number of enforcement officers who also are taking on cases like animal abuse and attacks.

“Trying to solve the problem mainly through enforcement is not likely to be successful,” Schaaf said. “The city’s dog regulations are pretty much everything we have to go on.”

Schaaf said people need to be aware that Animal Control is out there and of the laws that need to be followed.

“There are specific areas where dogs are required to be on a leash,” he said. “There are many areas where they have to be under competent voice control, which is clearly defined in the ordinance. If you have ever had to apologize for your dogs behavior, your dog is not under competent voice control.”

Animal Control and Protection Officer Matt Musslewhite agreed that dog waste is a big issue.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It has been for some time. If you go out and hike any of the more popular trails or any of the parks in Juneau you will see fecal matter just about everywhere.”

Part of the problem with enforcement is people tend to pick up after their pets when enforcement officers are out or when other people are visibly in range.

“People tend to not clean up after their dogs when no one else is around,” he said. “It’s a personal responsibility issue. We believe it’s a small number of people who don’t clean up. Most of Juneau’s dog owners are responsible and pick up after their dog.”

Musslewhite said that the agency has worked hard on education and working with other interest groups. The groups also try to provide tools to make it easier for people to clean up the mess by adding the doggie bags and garbage cans.

“Education is really the key to remind people its their responsibility as a dog owner to clean up after their animals,” he said. “It’s rude not to. You’re affecting everybody. Other dog walkers may end up losing a place to walk their dogs if these fecal issues or dogs-off-leash issues get to be too bad. At this point we’re spending a lot of time, some of the popular trail heads for leash enforcement and of course (dog clean up).”

Musslewhite said they will be stepping up patrols of trail heads this year and giving warnings and citations to those who aren’t following the ordinances.

“Hopefully the exposure this is getting now will get people’s attention,” Schaaf said. “If it doesn’t work we have other options in city code we can use, including closing parks and trails to dogs due to excessive dog waste. We don’t want to do that, but it is an available tool to us. I really don’t want to do that.”

Contact information for Animal Control and Protection is 789-6779 or http://www.ghspets.org/site/?q=node/13.

Contact information for Parks and Recreation is 586-5226 or http://www.juneau.org/parkrec/.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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