Dog poop -- in Anchorage, it's as much a part of spring as puddles, potholes and brown, soggy grass.
I attended a Scoop the Poop meeting last week, where its members -- representing the Anchorage Waterways Council, Anchorage Animal Care and Control, the Municipal Department of Parks and Recreation and a handful of other agencies and volunteers -- lamented the fact that our dog parks are once again drawing criticism from the public. Of course, it's not limited to the five designated unleashed dog parks in town. Go to any neighborhood park, or even check out your own front lawn where neighbor dogs may pass, and you'll see signs that not everyone out there is carrying bags to clean up after their pets.
Reporter Sean Doogan from the Alaska Dispatch attended the meeting and did a nice story pointing out the problems and solutions being discussed to address the issue. It's worth a read if you're as frustrated by the problem as many members of the Scoop the Poop committee are.
Despite thousands of dollars spent every year on education and a significant number of man hours delivering the message, it's hard to tell if a dent has been made in the problem. Organized volunteer cleanups seem to help and temporarily appease park users, but year after year, fecal coliform still infests our waterways, especially during the spring, and piles of dog doo still await unsuspecting visitors to our ball fields, parks and trails.
It makes you wonder why. In my neighborhood, I see kids walking dogs all the time, both leashed and otherwise. I've never seen one with a plastic bag to scoop up after them. Are parents sending them out on dog-walking duties without giving them a lesson? Do they not see it as a problem?
And it's not limited to kids. I know dog owners, educated adults, who don't think it's a problem. Dog poop is biodegradeable, they'll say. Keep it in the woods, give it a little time, and the problem will take care of itself. It's better than putting it in a nonbiodegradeable bag and filling up our landfills, they'll say.
I'm no scientist, but I would suspect they have a case, especially outside of the city where there is a smaller concentration of dogs doing their business. In the city, where we have an estimated 74,000 dogs, I do question it. Is dog poop in the woods 50 feet from a lake or stream going to biodegrate harmlessly? Or is spring runoff going to wash it into the lake or stream? And if you head out without a bag to clean it up, how are you sure your dog is going to go deep into the woods and not in the middle of the trail?
Seventy-four thousand is a lot of dogs, for sure, but they're owned by only a fraction of the population. To those who don't own dogs, dog owners are the new smokers. It's a nasty, filthy habit that they have to put up with. It makes you wonder how much longer they will.
But that's just my take on it. What do you think? Is it a problem? Is filling our landfills with nonbiodegradeable bags of poop a bigger problem? Can the problem of poop on our trails and in our streams be solved? If you were in charge, how would you do it? Reply here and let me know what you think.