Stepping carefully into spring after snow retreats

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Mar 29, 2014 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

Linda Zager certainly doesn’t want to complain about the warmer temperatures melting away snow banks — hopefully for good –after a brutal winter in Chicago.

But the thaw has forced the River North resident and her two dogs to step into a whole new problem: dog waste no longer camouflaged by snow on public walkways, parks and in other high traffic areas.

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    Winter’s remains

“It is absolutely worse this year, I think because it was colder,” said Zager, who in the past has handed out fliers in the spring reminding fellow dog-owners that picking up after your pet is a year-round responsibility.

This year, however, she and other members of River North Residents Association Pet Owner’s committee think it may take more drastic measures, from new plastic bag receptacles bought with private funds to city-wide education campaigns –to get the Polar Vortex Poop crisis under control.

And park officials from the city to suburbs say they, too, are bracing for the unpleasant task of picking up after negligent pet owners who had an extra long and snowy season to make a mess.

“Any time there’s snow cover, people use that as an opportunity to not pick up after their dogs,” said Kelly O’Brien, park operations manager for the Naperville Park District, where dogs are allowed at all 140 parks.

“If it’s an area that’s really bad, we’ll send crews out there with shovels. We don’t want to leave it and have people just walking through.”

Steve Dale, a certified animal behavior consultant and host of Steve Dale’s Pet World on WGN 720, said he has a line of shoes at his door that offer evidence of the poop pollution. Dale, a Lakeview resident who has two dogs, noted that often, other dog owners are the first ones to experience the problem.

“If you have a dog, you tend to go where other dogs relieve themselves,” said Dale. “I can’t explain the motivation people have for not picking up. Maybe people think that when the snow melts, it magically disappears. Of course, it does not.”

There are health reasons why the offenders need to be stopped, he added.

“As a result of all this, dog poop can transmit diseases to people as well as to dogs,” said Dale, who said instances are rare, but ailments such as Roundworm, salmonella, Giardia and Woodworm can all be transmitted through animal waste.

In the cold winter months, rats and other rodents may also be inclined to dine on dog waste left on the street, which helps sustain the population, Dale said.

For his part, Dale said he is working with the Chicago Park District to find ways to address the issue city-wide.

“The big thing for me is it’s not fair,” he said. “It’s not fair for the other dogs who step in other dog’s poo. It’s not fair to the other citizens of Chicago. It’s irresponsible dog ownership.”

In Naperville, park district officials have posted plastic bag dispensers throughout the many walking trails in hope of deterring the waste. But each spring, employees see that the culprits have persisted.

“It still goes on, for some reason,” O’Brien said of people who cover dog poop with snow. “It’s just like out of sight, out of mind.”

Zager and Brett Bunke, also of the River North Residents Association Pet Owner’s Committee, believe it’s going to take a cultural shift to curb the dog waste problem.

They hope that by working with local businesses, the group can begin to create a social change.  Their objectives include adding plastic bags in their storefronts, improving signage at parks reminding dog owners to pick up and perhaps even sponsoring classes to educate the public on the health issues.

“Obviously you can’t eradicate the problem one hundred percent,” Bunke said. “Our approach is how can we pull back and have less dog waste left on the streets and in our parks.”

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