BY LYNN PACIFICO | I saw him again today, the man I confronted about not picking up after his dog. I had asked if he wanted a bag. He ignored me. I asked again, louder. He ducked into Rite Aid. As I waited, I noticed that all of the tree pits nearby were littered with the same elimination piles and realized that I had found the area poop scofflaw. It only takes one inconsiderate person, not picking up after his or her dog to create a dirty neighborhood. Current law states that New Yorkers pick up their dogs’ fecal matter but police must witness the offense to issue a ticket.
New York City litter laws can be confusing. We had a sanitation campaign for “curb your dog” but it was never a law. Section 1310 of the New York State Public Health Law, known as the “Canine Litter Law,” went into effect in 1978, requiring dog owners in large cities to clean up after their pets on “any street, sidewalk, gutter or other public area.” Those failing to do so risk a $250 fine.
People new to the city can be reluctant to pick up dog waste, as can people returning from a summer away. But most West Village dog owners are responsible. Those with a service dog and some of our elderly cannot always pick up, especially in slippery weather. Having the companionship of a dog earns a 24 percent lower risk of death for all causes and for those with heart troubles, the benefits are a 31 percent reduced risk of early death.
How can we tell anyone that they must live alone without the love, comfort and health benefits of a canine companion just because they might not be able to pick up at times? We are a community. Please volunteer to walk an elder’s dog, especially in bad weather. I have picked up after other people’s dogs and have picked up in dog runs many times.
Until recently there were vacant properties in the neighborhood, with trash and weeds where it was O.K. for dogs to urinate. Dogs don’t urinate just to relieve themselves but also to mark spots by leaving a liquid “I was here” message for other scent-sensitive animals. These spots act as canine neighborhood bulletin boards. With the development and manicuring of the West Village, these “O.K. to urinate” spots disappeared and I have had to become much more restrictive with my dogs in order to respect others’ property.
I have pondered the does and don’ts of walking a dog in Downtown Manhattan, where we have few trees and little parkland. It is very different and much more challenging to walk a dog here than in the rest of the city, with parks, grass, many trees and off-leash hours.
My dogs do not relieve themselves on trees or plantings as I have affection for our scant neighborhood flora. I keep my dogs away from buildings, and because urine and salt erode wire coverings, light poles are dangerous. I would include garbage in the “no-go” category because it is handled by workers and others, but garbage is often near fire hydrants so it is almost impossible to keep dogs from marking it.
Some dog owners, including those who do pick up after their dog, allow their dogs to urinate in inappropriate places and my dogs are drawn to these popular marking spots. I don’t allow my dogs to mark inappropriate “urine targets.” Yet, restricting a dog keeps it out of the neighborhood’s canine social conversation — like preventing a child from speaking with the other children. Appropriate urinating is difficult when there are few appropriate targets. But the more that people discourage their dogs from going on other people’s property and plantings, the easier it is for all of us to do the same.
I like “curbing” since it gets us out of sidewalk traffic and away from people’s property. However, I will no longer teach a dog to go off the curb to relieve itself because it is too dangerous. Parkers backing up cannot see a squatting dog or an owner bending to pick up. Bikers cannot see us until it is too late. One driver tried to bully my dog into hurrying by revving his engine. I stepped between his car and my dog but he kept revving. (Should we not have left him that gift?)
Confronting someone about not picking up in New York City is unwise. I won’t do it again. Still, a neighborhood has a problem if one dog relieves itself daily without its owner picking up. That equals seven to 14 litter piles each week from our neighborhood scofflaw and it makes all dog owners look bad.
Since all of Downtown is short on parks, with few dog owner facilities and no off-leash areas, how are other Downtown neighborhoods doing with canine nuisance litter? Positive and constructive solution ideas are welcome.
There are thousands of dog owners in Downtown Manhattan. Thank you to the 99.9 percent of dog owners who pick up!
Pacifico is a fourth-generation Villager who loves dogs, nature and New York City.