'Poop Police' campaign for dog park

By Tina Swanson | Aug 27, 2014
Photo by: Tina Swanson Linda Athearn, left, and Valerie Hooper seek public help to develop a dog park.

Rockland — “Are you going to clean up after your dog?”

This is the question Linda Athearn and Valerie Hooper ask pet owners that seem oblivious to the mess they leave behind. A common response is “Who are you? The Poop Police?”

While that is not a term they would use to describe themselves, Athearn and Hooper have taken on the challenge of enforcing the law that demands the proper disposal of dog feces.

“We stepped into it about two years ago,” said Athearn, with no pun intended.

The cleanup crusade began one day at Snow Marine Park when Athearn and Hooper saw a little girl go “sliding into dog poop” while playing. They said they picked up two buckets full of dog poop from the field before the children could play a game of soccer.

“I wish somebody would do something,” said Hooper at the time. “We can't just let this go.”

“We started taking down license plate numbers,” Athearn said. But the police were unwilling or unable to follow up investigating the alleged offenders, according to Athearn and Hooper. Hooper said this is understandable as “crime and other things are more important — drugs and killings.”

The pair then began an education campaign on the law, handing out fliers signed by former Mayor Will Clayton. They said their efforts were met with resistance from the beginning. Some would refuse the fliers, and others would shout obscenities and insults.

Athearn and Hooper said the majority clean up after their dogs, but there is a minority that is very resistant to change, and very angry. They sometimes fear for their safety and feel there is a real threat of retaliation. The pair did not want to be photographed with their dogs, as they feared for their dogs' safety as well.

Athearn said that she was assaulted at Snow Marine Park twice. Both times she was pushed from behind and fell into dog feces, she said. She was unable to see her alleged attackers.

They said the resistance has only made them more determined.

The pair said that City Hall has not been as helpful as they would like, but they believe their repeated visits to City Council meetings have made a difference. They said the attention they brought to the dog feces issue led to the discovery of E. coli from human waste at Snow Marine Park, which is now being remedied with repairs to the sewer system.

They said even though the E.coli discovered in the park was from human feces and not dogs, opening the park back up to dogs is not the solution. Both Athearn and Hooper said their dogs became ill as a result of exposure to other dogs' feces, and that the health of safety of humans and dogs is the paramount issue.

“What's it going to take?” asked Hooper.“The death of a child?”

Athearn and Hooper said that a dog park is the solution that will work for everyone. City Council stated that there is no money in the budget for a dog park, according to Athearn and Hooper, so the pair will turn to the public to make the park a reality.

“This is a community that can come together,” said Hooper.

Hooper said that she and Athearn realize they cannot do it alone and need the help of others with the expertise required to shepherd a project of this scale. They asked that individuals outside of the city government with knowledge of regulations, fundraising, and applicable laws contact them to get involved.

Hooper can be reached at 594-0696 and Athearn can be reached via email at lindaathearn@gmail.com.

“We need the cooperation of the people,” said Hooper. “That's what makes a community strong.”

“We're going to keep fighting,” said Athearn.

“Because the people of this community deserve it,” said Hooper.

Courier-Gazette reporter Tina Swanson can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at Tswanson@villagesoup.com

Comments (8)
Posted by: Karin Ludewig | Aug 28, 2014 14:20

By Walt Ludewig: My wife and I took our dog to this park fairly often, and had him off the leash----but always in sight and under voice control. There was never a problem with our dog, the other dogs and the other owners. A very few times an owner would not clean up after their dog, but other owners would do it, and tell the offenders they and their dog were NOT/NO/ NEVER welcome back.

 

The park was a very nice facility, and almost all people did what they could to keep it that way. As always, the sociopaths who have no regard for anyone, spoil the park for everyone else. The problem with enforcement is that the City may be proceeding by Criminal Law, which requires police enforcement, District Attorney's office prosecution, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This approach requires a lot of time and expense, and so is not much used.

 

Perhaps the City Council and the City Attorney could pass a Civil Ordinance, where an ordinary resident could bring a complaint against an offending dog owner, maybe in Small Claims Court? It would have to be creative, a real new way of handling things, and most bureaucracies will instantly reject it without even thinking about the possibilities. "You can't do that----we never have done anything like it before----it won't work!" etc., etc., etc.

 

It could work something like the "WhistleBlower" laws. The people who actually see the violations would have the power to do something about it----what an idea!

 

 



Posted by: Deborah Wagner | Aug 28, 2014 06:32

It seems your little city is way behind compared to most municipalities.  Fines are handed out in so many cities across America. I'm a dog owner and have no problem using a little public peer pressure when someone blows off cleaning up their dog sh__!



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Aug 27, 2014 18:07

A dog park will not prevent irresponsible dog owners. Some people just think it's no big deal to not clean up after their dogs. These are usually the people that don't care about anyone but themselves and even their pet is an inconvenience to them.



Posted by: Susan Sinclair | Aug 27, 2014 16:49

Susan! I'm right proud of ya on that one! I HATE that dog owners think it's OK for their dog to be off leash because of course their dog can do no wrong. "No dog" signs at beaches? Oh, that doesn't mean my dog. Unfortunately it's the horrible few who ruin it for everyone. A dog park, plus restrictions enforced perhaps by random police checks (ticket revenue!) would go a long way. Frankly, citizens should not have to work this hard to get the law enforced, I'm really not impressed by police and town reaction to this issue.



Posted by: Susan P Reitman | Aug 27, 2014 12:53

RIDICULOUS!!!  Means that if people with dogs do not have the common courtesy to clean up after their dogs they are DOGS THEMSELVES.  Personally I don't know what the answer is but I do know there is a leash law in Rockland but people in my neighborhood do not obey the law and the police don't care. I guess maybe you can find some people who will monitor the park in shifts and work something out with the police so the park monitor's can write tickets but what would the fine be?  Maybe you would need some kind of law passed to make it illegal for not cleaning up the poop so people can be fined. Who knows what the answer is.  I probably should not say this but I am a cat person and am not crazy about dogs.  I probably should not tell this either but when I lived in Key West, Fl I had a neighbor with dogs and the dogs were constantly pooping in my yard.  I talked to the neighbor nicely and asked to clean up after her dogs WHICH SHE DID NOT DO so I picked up the dog poop and put it in her mail box and after a while she got the message and cleaned up after her dogs.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Aug 27, 2014 08:27

I am appalled to read that dog owners were so cruel and ignored the health safety issues to humans and dogs here. Cleanup your own feces! Safeguard your own and neighbors health. Clean grass and clean air is "Maine" and any good Down-Easter would agree.

Mickey McKeever

 



Posted by: Susan Sinclair | Aug 27, 2014 07:48

Oh, God Bless you both!! A dog park would help sooo many issues. Susan, please explain? What's ridiculous? As a fellow "from away"er, I world think you'd support a dog park, which is a very common solution when dog owners want a fun place for dogs to roam free. They're great socialization opportunities for dogs AND owners. Linda and Valerie, know that you have MANY supporters!!



Posted by: Susan P Reitman | Aug 27, 2014 07:33

RIDICULOUS!!!!



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Tina Richey Swanson
Tina Swanson
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Tina Swanson is a Staff Reporter for the Courier-Gazette covering primarily the city of Rockland.

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