Leaving behind dog feces poses harm at Calgary's off-leash parks
Spring is in the air in Calgary, but what is that smell? It's not the fresh seasonal air, it's not the blooming flowers; it's something you can't quite put your finger on.
Ah ha, it's dog poo!
As the weather warms up and the spring melt is upon us, off-leash dog park users are being met with an unpleasant smell when joining their furry friends for some outdoor activity.
Survey numbers from the City of Calgary show that approximately 5,000 doggie visitors and 6,000 human visitors use Southland Park every week.
With so many users frequenting this 62-hectare park located at Southland Drive and Deerfoot Trail S.E. — some of whom neglect to uphold their responsibilities as pet owners — it is easy to see how the feces can, quite literally, pile up.
Acara Kada, owner of See Spot Run dog walking, uses the park for an hour every day, five days a week and walks with up to nine dogs at a time. She said walking around with bags of feces is a burden, as she is not always just picking up after her own dogs.
"Often times, almost every day, I am picking up after other people's dogs as well," Kada said. "If I go to pick up after my dogs and there are three or four others around, I pick them up as well."
Kada said it isn't uncommon for her to leave the dog park with upwards of five to 10 pounds of poo.
With users neglecting to pick up after their pets when they do their business, their irresponsible inaction leaves behind not only a bad smell and a poor aesthetic, but also "other potential harms," said city spokesperson Andrea Davis via email.
Information supplied by Davis suggests the following possible concerns that come from leaving behind pet feces:
- Habituation of animals, such as coyotes, is encouraged when pet waste is left behind.
- Sickness and disease can be spread to both animals and humans when pet waste isn't picked up.
- Bacteria from pet waste can seep into our drinking water and contaminate it.
Research results from the United States Environmental Protection Agency showed that echovirus, hepatitis A and E, rotavirus and noroviruses are some of the possible enteric viruses that can be contracted. Infections from bacterial pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella can also result from consuming contaminated water.
Ingestion of these pathogens can cause gastroenteritis or, in rare cases, serious illnesses such as meningitis or hepatitis.
Educating pet owners
"With over 100,000 dogs in Calgary, it is clear that Calgarians enjoy sharing their lives with canine companions," said Davis.
"In order to help maintain and preserve the city's natural environment, parks and green spaces in a sustainable manner, the city has created the P.U.P.P.Y. program."
The P.U.P.P.Y program — Pick Up Pooch's Poo Yourself — was created in 2011 to educate Calgarians about the importance of picking up after their pets for health reasons.
The program aims to educate dog owners about the city's dog-related bylaws, the environmental implications of animal waste being left behind, and the possible interactions with wildlife that it can lead to.
Davis said events are held in different off-leash areas throughout the year. In 2011
there were four P.U.P.P.Y. events. Four more are scheduled for summer 2012, and each event will have a community-based cleanup as well as an educational theme.
Between events citizens can access a website that provides links to city documents and bylaws regarding pet ownership. Upcoming events are also listed on the site.
Lack of disposal facilities
Despite a wealth of educational programs offered by the city, park users have criticisms of their own.
One of the main criticisms included in user feedback to the city was concern about the lack of proper disposal for bags of pet waste once owners have picked it up.
Reports from the city show ways in which the parks have been improved, including disposal facilities. At Southland the shortage was amended by providing two additional green bins in the parking lots for the waste as well as garbage.
However, Kada said it isn't enough. When it comes to disposal facilities, she said the ones at Southland Park aren't very good.
"The thing that bothers me the most is that they're not inside the facility, they're in the parking lot," she said. "So I pick up after my dogs that go as soon as we enter the park and then I have to exit the park to get to the bins.
"Then my dogs sit and wait at the gate for me, which blocks other users from entering."
Kada said she thinks the lack of disposal facilities is another deterrent for pet owners when it comes to cleaning up after their pooches. "A lot of people don't like carrying their own dog's crap for an extended period of time. It would be nice to have the bins inside the park."
From a professional standpoint Kada said the city does a good job of providing users with other great park facilities, but disposal facilities should be upgraded as well.
Davis said that the city has in the past provided a smaller seasonal bin in the south end of the park as a pilot project in the summer. In winter months the bin is removed due to limited access resulting from snow coverage.
However, Kada said in the three years she has been using the park she can only recall ever seeing one bin in the centre of the north end of the park, and only for a single season.
"Why not have a few smaller bins along the fence line? They (the city) can drive their truck along the pathway and pick up the garbage that way," Kada said. "People stuff their coffee cups in the fence line too because there is nowhere to put garbage."
Considerable fines rarely handed out
Fines for leaving behind litter — which full bags of poo are considered to be — are quite substantial. Littering in an off-leash park carries a fine of $500, and not picking up after your pet will have you paying $250.
However, Bill Bruce, director of Animal and Bylaw Services with the City of Calgary, said that fines are not commonly handed out because "they require either the officer to see the offence or a witness that can come forward."
Bruce said that he believes education is a powerful tool when it comes to dealing with pet owners, but that education needs to be supported by enforcement. At any given time Bruce said there are about five or six animal bylaw officers patrolling the streets of Calgary.
When it comes to having officer presence in the off-leash parks, Bruce said, "They patrol them on a fairly regular basis, but we have to keep in mind we have 149 off-leash parks in Calgary."
For the most part, Bruce said that when an officer is sent to deal with a problem in an off-leash park that "it's kind of sporadic and largely complaint driven."
He says that how efficiently they are able to deal with these problems also depends on how much time they have with other demands such as dogs on the loose that can be time consuming.
- By TARYN HAJNRYCH