Law and Odor

Posted March 09, 2010, at 6:15 p.m.

Spring has come early to Maine. So, too has the unpleasant reminder of a winter’s worth of dog walks.

The early weeks of springlike weather arrive with their cherished events: Crocuses lift through the thawing earth on the sunny sides of buildings, children begin searching for the baseball gloves they left somewhere (under the bed, maybe) and the Bangor Daily News appeals to scofflaws of Bangor’s pooper-scooper ordinance to make a clean break from their habit.

A whiff of spring has brought city residents to their local parks, where a whiff of the parks may send them home. The winter litter boxes for the canines have thawed again, and the word should go forth, again, to remind dog owners that other residents don’t want and shouldn’t have to encounter their pets’ excrement.

This is a safety and sanitation issue, and a losing one if it is merely seen as an enforcement question. Few people want police to spend their time waiting to hand a ticket to a scofflaw dog owner caught in the act of not cleaning up. But unless the city — its officials and its residents — acts as if the habits of some owners are unacceptable, the spring mess will be a permanent feature of the city’s parks and sidewalks and on its increasingly popular city forest trails.

During the past 20 years, Bangor’s parks have undergone a transformation, often at the insistence of parents who recalled what these recreational areas once looked like and could look like again. City officials have gone from merely listening to complaints to becoming leaders in turning parks such as Chapin and Broadway, Fairmount and Newbury Street into attractive family spots, places where children can find plenty to do and parents can feel their kids are safe. Except for the poop.

Bangor passed a pooper-scooper ordinance in 1984, and it has helped; it’s now common to see responsible pet owners cleaning up after their dogs, a very encouraging sign and evidence that this problem can be solved. But there are also those who do not care about much but the relief of their dar-ling Fifi.

Perhaps all that can be done is to appeal to the better natures of dog owners, to ask them to consider, of all the uses of the city’s parks, how their action — or inaction — fits into kids playing ball, families having picnics or folks enjoying an evening stroll.

A demand for owners to clean up is not anti-dog. It is a sincere effort to deal with an aesthetic problem that has serious potential health consequences. The parks around the city these days are evidence that too many dog owners still don’t care.

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