Last Sunday, while jogging up Wightman Street through City Heights, I had to avoid five piles of dog crap, seven fecal smears, and one brown lumpy puddle — all on city sidewalks. These numbers do not include the piles and Chihuahua-sized nuggets that littered the grassy areas beside the sidewalks, areas where I forbid my child to walk because there the fecal matter is less visible.
A year or so ago, I wrote a story about City Heights in which I mentioned, in passing, the dog poo on the sidewalks. One reader wrote in with a complaint that I was mistaken, that he lived in the neighborhood and had never seen such a thing. My husband and I had a good laugh over that one.
Early one Wednesday evening, I find teens Mercedes, Gustavo, and Robert hanging around outside a City Heights apartment building. When I ask whether they’ve noticed an inordinate amount of dog feces on neighborhood sidewalks, Gustavo points behind me and says, “Yeah, there’s actually some right there.”
And, sure enough, there is. I take two steps to my right.
“It smells,” Mercedes says, “and it makes the neighborhood look dirty.”
Neither of the two boys has a dog, but Mercedes does. She makes sure it defecates in her yard before she takes it out for a walk. But she also carries plastic bags — just in case.
“I’ve seen some neighborhoods that have little bag things wrapped around palm trees or something,” Gustavo says.
Mercedes agrees. “Yeah, that would help a lot because some people don’t think their dogs are gonna go, so they don’t bring a bag. But if people could just grab one and then…” She pauses and adds, “We should also have trash cans.”
If you’ve ever walked through Little Italy, you may have noticed an abundance of little green metal boxes attached to light posts and stop signs. These are Dogipot pet stations. Inside the green metal boxes are bright blue bags. Some of the boxes have diagrams and written instructions on how to use the bags to pick up poop. And near the boxes stand trash cans. This setup makes it convenient for dog owners to pick up after their pets.
According to Chris Gomez, district manager of the Little Italy Association, the 60-plus pet stations in 48 square blocks cost $8000 per year to maintain. This is paid for by the neighborhood’s property owners by way of maintenance assessment district fees.
Roxanne Stuber, co-owner of Walk N Roll Doggie, a San Diego dog-walking, boarding, day-care service, tells me Little Italy is among the top neighborhoods in the city for cleanliness but also for convenience of dog-poop pickup.
“There are trash cans all over,” she says of Little Italy, “so you’re not walking around for a half hour with a bag full of poop in your hand.”
Stuber, who provides her services to clients in many of the city’s urban neighborhoods, notes that even those without Dogipots or trash cans tend to have significantly less fecal matter on their sidewalks than City Heights.
“Hillcrest has a shortage of trash cans and no Dogipots to speak of,” she says. “But dog owners are very responsible there. Everybody picks up pretty well.”
And City Heights?
“I have stepped in poop there,” she says. “There’s poop all over the streets. If you were to compare City Heights with, say, South Park — and they’re pretty close in distance — City Heights isn’t a very pleasant place to be walking.”
When I make a call to the County’s Department of Animal Services to ask what I can do about the dog feces on sidewalks in my neighborhood, I’m told by the man on the phone that the only way his department can do anything is if one of his officers witnesses the defecation. Or, if I witnessed it, and I can give him the name and address of the person who did not pick up after his dog, then someone can come out and write a ticket on my behalf. Not cleaning up after one’s dog is a violation of municipal code 44.0304.1, he tells me.
But what about the poop that’s already there?
“Unfortunately, that just sounds like a sanitation issue for the City of San Diego,” he tells me.
When I call the City’s Environmental Services Department, I’m told that no one in the office is allowed to speak to me because I write for the Reader.
Later in the afternoon, I speak to Lieutenant Dan DeSousa at the County’s Department of Animal Services, and he tells me that there is one patrol officer per 85,000 people. So it’s unlikely that his officers will catch many offenders by witnessing the offense themselves.
“The community has to be the eyes and the ears,” he says.
However, he notes that the amount of feces on sidewalks in City Heights may not be solely the result of lazy dog owners.
“Dogs running loose is probably our biggest request for service throughout our jurisdiction,” DeSousa says.
For fiscal year 2011 — July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011 — DeSousa estimates that his department received “about 400” calls about loose dogs in the 92105 zip code.
Ricardo Rojas, employee of Acacia Landscape, the company contracted to maintain the Landis and Highland Park, says that at least once a day he has to pick up dog feces on the walkway that cuts between the football/soccer fields and the City Heights performance annex. He sees a lot of dogs off leash, he tells me, and he sometimes witnesses those dogs defecate in the park, but he usually doesn’t say anything to the dog owner.
“I’m not a security guard. My job is to maintain this park,” he says. “This is one of those places where I don’t like to say anything because people get offended easily. That’s why I usually just ignore it and pick it up myself.”