Words & Deeds

Enough of this crap! Boise's icky dog poop problem is piling up. I have the solution

Despite conscientious dog owners picking up pet waste, it still finds its way onto bike paths, hiking trails, sidewalks and into lawns.
Despite conscientious dog owners picking up pet waste, it still finds its way onto bike paths, hiking trails, sidewalks and into lawns. Getty Images

Although I am not fortunate enough to own one, I am blessed with many dogs in my life.

There's Maghy, my mother-in-law's reportedly brilliant Goldendoodle. Wagging her tail and squatting triumphantly, she reminds me of her high IQ by piddling enough brown patches in my lawn to score in the 99th doggie percentile.

There's also Henry, the rescued Kelpie. "Are your chickens out?" my buddy will ask as he pulls in my driveway. There is no correct answer. Henry zips out of the car, nips at the nearest child and disappears on his requisite rampage, leaving a path of forensic feathers.

I've met Titus, a large Doberman Pinscher, running loose in my yard more times (three) than I've met his owners (zero). The neighbors on both sides of the Deeds clan have pooches, too.

In other words, I love dogs. And I love that Boise is a dog town.

But we need to face it, if not rub our faces in it. We live in a gorgeous but crappy city. As Boise's population grows, it's crucial we take care of business — dogs doing their business.

"It's everywhere," acknowledges Sara Arkle, Boise Parks & Recreation's Foothills and Open Space Manager.

On the hiking trails. The sidewalks. The streets. "The Greenbelt," Arkle adds. "Everywhere."

I appreciate all the best-places-to-live hype. But thanks to the dregs of dog-owning society — losers who can't be bothered to pick up after their pets — Boise actually stinks.

Stalking my homestead with a shovel, I've had hours to consider our city's most pressing challenge. While many Idahoans fret about "vanishing Boise," this is an increasingly familiar sight we should want to vanish from Boise.

Dog waste isn't just disgusting. It's a health risk, an environmental contaminant and a driving hazard. Swerving a lawn mower to avoid doggie landmines may cause fatal rollovers.

What's the fix? Be like China and only allow one furry "child" per family? Tell California newcomers that they can stay, but their designer dogs must go? Institute a mandatory doggie diaper policy?

The solution is more utilitarian. It's a matter of Boise city leaders baring their fangs and taking a simple step or two. And cleaning their shoes with a hose afterward.

This city needs to raise fines and crack down. Cite violators aggressively. And if that isn't enough, consider implementing doggie DNA testing for poop perpetrator tracking.

If you get nailed for not cleaning up after your dog in Boise, it costs a measly $25, or about $85 after court costs.

The fine should be $250. (And $300 for the nitwits who scoop the poop then throw the plastic bag on the ground.)

About six months ago, the city doubled its number of animal control officers from two to four. That's a start — in the parks and Foothills, where those officers roam. "But it is so hard to catch someone in the act," Arkle admits.

The Idaho Humane Society deals with enforcement outside of parks. Boise Police can bust dastardly dog owners, too.

Yet there's still something slimy oozing between my toes as I stroll barefoot across my freshly mowed lawn.

I'll bet Boise cops would be more militant about our canine conundrum if they were on foot patrol.

Dog poop Boise Foothills
Red flags mark poop along Corrals, a popular Boise Foothills trail, in 2008. A decade later, the city of Boise estimates that the Ridge to Rivers trails system gets about 300,000 dog visits per year. Statesman file

"I think at the end of the day," Arkle says, "we're kind of balancing enforcement and education."

In Boise, the scale tips toward forgiveness.

"We always prefer education over enforcement, if it's possible," city of Boise spokesman Mike Journee says. "If a problem arises, however, we do step up education and other efforts to make sure people are aware. If that does not work, we will step up enforcement in an area."

Journee says that increasing fines is an option for the mayor and City Council, but it's not being considered right now.

In March, volunteers at Parks & Rec's third annual Scoop the Poop event lugged about 500 pounds of dog waste out of Hulls Gulch, Seaman's Gulch and Hillside to Hollow Reserve.

A quarter ton of dog crap? Sounds like enforcement could be stepped up there. Those doo-doo-gooders deserve our sincere gratitude — all 15 of them who showed up. In an Idaho Statesman article last year, one trail-cleaning diehard claimed that 10 volunteers could solve the entire Foothills’ problem.

Yet the poop keeps piling up. Relying on helpers to keep our trails clean is like having Mom pick up after you.

Communities in other cities are using DNA to enforce canine-waste rules. Pets' cheeks are swabbed, and the DNA is registered.

Step in an icky mess? Get a sample shipped to the lab. The dog owner is mailed a fine. Bam!

Look, nobody wants Big Brother watching. Or intrusive laws. But it's sort of like ordinances that ban smoking in bars. We hated the smell so much that we finally caved. We gave in to more lawmaking.

Brutal fines. DNA tests. Citizen's arrests where you cuff the negligent owner with Fido's shock collar. If you want results, the ideas are endless.

"But all of the enforcement pieces are going to cost money," Arkle says. "So people are going to have to be willing to pay for it."

Handle a new dog-poop program like the citywide composting system. Force it down our throats.

"That is a really unfortunate metaphor in this case," Arkle says, laughing.

She hears about dog poop all the time. "Parties," she says. "Saturday mornings with my family. Absolutely, constantly. Out in the coffee shop."

Arkle tells frustrated Boiseans about Scoop the Poop day. And about those newly added animal control officers. Soon, she'll also be able to explain that Boise's definition of an in-control dog has been placed into ordinance, so it can be legally enforced.

"People have to decide what they want," Arkle says. "Leaders will do what people tell them to. ... Most folks just don't want a heavy hand of enforcement, generally. Especially on the trail system."

"Is there a silver bullet?" she wonders.

Let me think about it more. I'll have time this weekend while I'm herding the Deeds' hens back from the neighbor's curb across the street. My ladies like to free-range.

If you walk past, make sure to leash your dog.

Watch out for chicken poop.

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