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Originally published January 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 15, 2009 at 11:18 AM

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Dog owner says rules about droppings stink

An estimated 125,000 dogs live in Seattle, and each day they dump 41,250 pounds of poop onto yards, sidewalks, parks and maybe where you stepped this morning. That's bound to spark confrontations.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Is there a tactful way to write this story?

No.

An estimated 125,000 dogs live in Seattle, and each day they dump 41,250 pounds of poop onto yards, sidewalks, parks and maybe where you stepped this morning.

It doesn't matter that we live in unsure times, with all kinds of nervous headlines about the future. Dog droppings are always here — a steady, daily occurrence. We're a city in which there are 45 percent more canines than children. That means Seattle gets 15.1 million pounds of this stuff a year.

And, because of dogs and their trot treats, there are numerous confrontations between neighbors, between dog owners and animal-control officers, and between dog owners and passers-by.

So when Steve Guiling, a Mount Vernon wooden-boat builder living temporarily in Seattle, decided to challenge a dog-poop citation he was given at Discovery Park on Nov. 6, he was joining a long list of people unloading their frustrations on this matter.

On a rainy November morning, Guiling decided to take Amy, his 13-year-old shepherd-mix dog, to Discovery Park.

He did not have a leash, his excuse being, "she's 13. She can barely walk."

On the scene happened two humane law-enforcement officers once known as dog catchers. Seattle has 13 in the field.

They wrote out a citation for Amy not being leashed, which Guiling accepted.

When Guiling later took the time to look at the ticket, he found he had actually been given two $54 citations, the other for failure to carry scoop equipment.

The latter is what Guiling is challenging.

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He's now heading to court concerning the wording of Seattle Municipal Code 18.12.080 about dogs in parks, which says the owner "shall carry equipment for removing feces."

That's the dog-scoop law.

According to Guiling's version of events, although he wasn't carrying a plastic bag to pick up Amy's poop, what he did was walk to a nearby garbage can, find an empty plastic bag and use that.

Guiling drove to the animal-control offices and talked to Don Baxter, the enforcement supervisor, about what exactly would constitute a poop scoop.

"My point was that there is no definition," Guiling said. "It could be the hat on your head, it could be your hand. For $54, I'd take off my shirt and use it."

It's true, says Baxter, that what is and isn't a scoop isn't really defined.

"I've had people say they'd take off their stocking cap and use this if the dog defecates," Baxter said. "Another individual said they'd pull their glove out of their pocket."

But, come on, Baxter said, "these are not reasonable expectations, that somebody would use nice gloves to pick up dog waste."

How about $500?

In 2007, the city issued 65 citations related to dog poop — from the scoop law to allowing accumulation of feces on one's property.

That's a small percentage of the 2,574 animal-control citations issued (the largest number being for failure to obtain a license) that year by the city.

But the more one investigates dog-poop issues, the ever-expanding the matter becomes.

It turns out that dog-scoop laws are studied in a law and economics class taught by Steve Calandrillo, a University of Washington professor.

Chances are, if you're not picking up after your dog, Calandrillo said, "you're caught one time out of 100."

So what would make it worth it for you to obey the scoop law? he asks.

How about $500?

Of course, such a hefty fine could lead to more scoop confrontations such as this one, from an animal-control officer's report dated May 30, 2007:

It concerned a man and his Boston terrier at the Gilman Playground in Ballard.

The officer said the man told him: "What if I take that citation and throw it in your [bleep] face?"

The man then told the officer: "Yeah, I'm a tough guy. Are you a tough guy?"

When Seattle police were called for assistance, the report said, the dog's owner "took off running eastbound out of the park with the dog following. ... He eventually had to stop and pick up the dog as it couldn't keep up."

Roundworms, E. coli

But picking up dog poop isn't just about the unpleasantness of stepping into a pile of it.

In these green times, it's about how, when it rains, it runs into storm drains, and then into lakes and streams and eventually Puget Sound.

That kid playing in the summertime in what looks like a pristine stream, "getting their hands wet in the water, licking their fingers?" said Dave Ward, principal watershed steward for Snohomish County.

Ha!

They also could be licking up roundworms, E. coli and Giardia.

"Pet waste comes consistently to the top as one of the principal sources of contamination in urban waterways," Ward said.

All of which led to a study by the Snohomish County Surface Water Management Division.

It was a hefty, four-year, $480,000 study on dog poop — as well as waste from hobby farms and commercial pet facilities, such as veterinary offices.

At first, Ward said, a $480,000 poop study "raised questions."

But then the county would point out the magnitude of the problem.

Snohomish County has about the same number of dogs as Seattle.

And, according to the study's estimate of 0.33 pounds of dog poop per day each, "that's the equivalent of a city of 32,000 people dropping their sewage every day, and it's important to realize this is raw sewage."

Three-quarters of the study was funded by the state, and its results are being used by all kinds of agencies, including King County and Seattle.

The study included trying to persuade homeowners — as 89 percent of dog waste lands in backyards and not public places — to bag the poop and put it in the garbage can.

"Then the waste goes to a landfill, which is a controlled situation and it won't be carried away by the rainfall," Ward said.

The study included the creation of posters and mailers with such slogans as: "It's a minefield out there."

Ward says it's too early to tell if bacteria counts in streams are going down because of the education effort.

What likely won't be diminishing are further encounters between dog owners and animal-control officers, such as this one on Nov. 8, 2007, at Magnolia Manor Park:

A woman solved the matter of not wanting to accept poop-scoop and other citations by loading her two dogs into her car.

She faced the animal-control officer, the report said, and "deliberately pushed me out of the way with her vehicle ... and then fled the scene."

The citations were mailed to the address listed for the car's license plates.

This is Day 15 of the New Year in Seattle.

Or, in another way of marking the passing of time, we're 618,750 pounds into 2009.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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