Jill Giese of Boise says 10 volunteers could solve the Boise Foothills’ dog poop problem.
All it takes is a change of perspective.
Giese, like many regular trail users, was annoyed by the amount of poop left behind — hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds a year. She decided the solution wasn’t more education or awareness. It was action.
Once a weekend, Giese takes extra grocery bags with her while walking her border collie-Jack Russell mix on the Hulls Gulch trails. She commits herself to filling two bags with other dogs’ poop.
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“If the problem is people don’t pick up, then you’re trying to change other people’s behavior, which is really hard,” Giese said. “If the problem is there’s dog poop on the trail, you can solve that problem pretty easily.”
Sometimes she finishes her 60-to-90-minute walk without filling both bags. Other times, they’re full three-quarters of the way.
She jokes that she’s learned far too much about dog poop since starting her effort last summer. Her conclusions: The same dogs are pooping in the same places on a regular basis, and most of them are big dogs.
“Most people know they’re supposed to pick up, and I would say 99 or 98 percent of people do, and then there’s just some that don’t and they’re just never going to,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be pointed out that there’s dog poop on the trails. Everybody knows.”
Dog waste is by far the No. 1 dog-related issue the city faces on the popular Foothills trail system. No. 2 is dogs running off-leash in parking lots. City of Boise officials prefer education over enforcement to handle the problems and ask other users to do what Giese has done: Turn their frustration into helpful action.
The city holds annual Scoop the Poop volunteer events to clean some of the most popular trails. Earlier this month, 51 volunteers collected 400 pounds of dog poop at three trailheads.
The same event last year at two trailheads netted 125 pounds.
“I’ve had people say we shouldn’t be picking up after folks because then we’re just facilitating the behavior,” said Sara Arkle, the Foothills manager for Boise Parks and Recreation. “That’s one of those, ‘An eye for an eye and everybody’s blind.’ There’s just people who are never going to pick up their dog’s poop. We’ll be doing those Scoop the Poop events every year. I hope that we’ll slowly expand every year.”
Conflicts between dog owners and other users jumped into the spotlight earlier this month when Benjamin Barnes reportedly menaced dog owners and shot a dog in the Hulls Gulch trail system. Barnes was later shot and killed by Boise Police.
Dog owners are a large, active user group in the Foothills — and off-leash policies are extremely popular. During a 2015 survey, 28 percent of users reported taking their dogs to the trails and 80 percent favored either the current off-leash policies or expanding them. Off-leash policies are in place on 166 of the 190 miles of Ridge to Rivers trails.
“This is one of those issues where no one is ever going to be 100 percent satisfied,” Arkle said, “... but we all have an ability to be part of the solution. That’s bringing an extra bag for picking up poop that your dog didn’t deposit, or nicely reminding folks to have their dogs on a leash in a parking lot and understanding that they’re not going to thank you for that.
“Especially after (the Barnes incident), each one of us, we all build the culture of the trails and we all have to be part of a positive culture.”
Dogs are required to stay within 30 feet of their owners and within voice control when off-leash; they must be on-leash in parking lots. Owners also are expected to pick up their dog’s waste. Violations of those policies could result in $25 fines, which cost almost $85 after court costs are added. But the city only has two animal control officers to enforce those rules in the parks and Foothills. Boise Police also can issue citations. The Idaho Humane Society provides enforcement outside of parks.
In 2016, Boise Parks and Rec addressed off-leash, failure to pick up and licensing violations 1,173 times citywide. It issued 342 citations.
“We do hear from both sides — there’s not a lot of in-between that we hear about,” Jerry Pugh, the community programs coordinator for Boise Parks and Rec, said last year for a story on dogs in the Foothills. “That’s why we’re trying to strike that balance — make sure that we offer up a good range of opportunities to go run their dogs and run them legally while respecting the folks that don’t want to see them out there, that are afraid of dogs.”
Dog owners may notice increased enforcement at the Healthwise trailhead for Hillside to Hollow, one of the places used most heavily by dogs. The city has reached an agreement with Healthwise (2601 N. Bogus Basin Road) to provide 18 marked parking spots in the company’s parking lot for access to Hillside to Hollow. That’s up from five previously. (There’s also a full parking lot available at Hillside Park.)
As part of the deal, the city is able to enforce its rules in the Healthwise parking lot for the first time.
“This is great that we have 18 new spots,” Arkle said. “We really need to be respectful. We’re going to try to bring people with us. I know that nobody wants a heavy hand.”
Giese, who is a real estate agent, posts the results of her weekly cleanup project on the North End Facebook page. She also was featured in the winter edition of the North End News newsletter (northendboise.org). She also tries to turn other trail users’ questions about what she’s doing, expressions of gratitude or frustrations about poop into a chance to recruit others to help pick up. She has been told by a couple of people that they’ve started cleaning the trails, too.
On top of the community benefit, Giese says the project has changed her attitude while walking. She’s been using the same trails for 25 years.
“I was just out walking one day and just being irritated that there was so much dog poop on the trail,” she said, “and it just kind of came to me. ‘All I’m doing by being irritated is bringing myself down.’ It’s not solving the problem, and I just feel bad.”
It wouldn’t take many more people contributing to make the problem all but disappear, she figures.
“Ten people could solve the problem,” Giese said. “People will think that’s crazy. It seems like there’s a lot, but I might pick up 50 piles (a week). If 10 people were picking up 50 piles, it would be pretty easy.”