East Contra Costa County is encompassed with many miles of multipurpose trails, acres of beautiful parkland, and swaths of wide open space. Offering a wide range of scenic backdrops and beauty, including grassy plains, rounded foothills, and access to the waterfront, these trails provide stunning and visually striking views of the scenery and allure of East County, as trail users may enjoy many activities such as walking, running, hiking, biking, and for enjoying quality time with family and pets.
However, the use of the trails for pets and their owners has been a noticeable cause of concern amongst other trail users due to uncollected pet waste. And it is an ongoing problem that continues to persist in many places.
“I see both pet waste on the trails as well as pet waste in bags on the trails,” said Roberto Flores, a frequent hiker at Contra Loma Regional Park in Antioch. “It’s sad to see that some people don’t care too much about the environment. It’s common sense to not litter and to keep the environment clean, but it seems like some people don’t care or worry about that.”
Often times, pet waste, either bagged or unbagged, can be seen alongside many trails, at parks, or even in residential areas, leaving a visual eyesore and a foul-smelling, odious mess on trails or sidewalks. As a result, trail users are then forced to carefully negotiate around piles of excrement to avoid stepping in it, resulting in a potentially bigger (and unsanitary) mess. Despite numerous signs and pet waste bag dispensers posted in many areas explaining in detail that pet owners must clean up after their pets, these rules have largely gone ignored, as some pet owners inexplicably refuse to clean up their pets’ waste.
“Dog owners are a large user group for Regional Parks and we need their help to keep parks clean and safe,” said East Bay Regional Park District Public Information Supervisor Dave Mason. “We ask dog owners to be respectful of the rules, including properly disposing of waste.”
According to Mason, there are many responsible pet owners who will take it upon themselves to clean up not only after their own pets, but as well as other people’s pets by removing bagged or unbagged waste off the trails. Still, pet owners not cleaning up after their pets or leaving bagged pet waste behind on trails continues to be a major issue in District Parks.
“Do they think someone else will be by to clean up after their pet?” asked Bay Area Dog Owner Stacey Frost. “Being a responsible pet owner means being responsible for all of your dogs’ actions, not only having them on a leash or having them licensed, but it means having a supply of bags to clean up after your dog any time they are not at home. We cannot control when our pet needs to go to the bathroom, but we can control what happens after they do.”
According to the Contra Costa County Animal Control Ordinance, Division 416 of the Contra Costa County Code and enforced by the Contra Costa County Animal Services Department, it states:
416-12.204 – Animal wastes.
Any person having the ownership, custody, or control of any animal which defecates on public walks, in public recreation areas, in public buildings, or without the owner’s consent on private property, shall immediately remove the excrement from any such place to a site not prohibited by law. (Ord. 80-97 § 2).
The ordinance goes on to state that restrictions shall not apply on horse trails, possibly due to the fact that horse waste, while bigger in size and therefore much more visible on trails, is considered to be less harmful than dog waste, due to a horse’s herbivorous diet and thus carrying less harmful pathogens in their waste.
On the contrary, uncollected dog waste may serve as a vector for disease due to increased harmful bacteria levels and pathogens they carry, and waste leftover on trails could potentially lead to water quality impacts in and around creeks.
“Leaving dog waste behind not only leaves a mess that others and their pets can step in, it also leaves a waste that breaks down to pollute our water sources with diseases such as salmonella and E-coli,” added Frost. “It also can expose other dogs or people who encounter it to a variety of things such as worms, Giardia, and even parvo, a disease that can be deadly to dogs if they are exposed to it.”
While it is difficult to calculate the exact cost of cleaning up dog waste since it is part of the general cleaning responsibilities of local park and landscaping crews, the neglecting of picking up dog waste appears to only be part of a much larger problem; that being littering and illegal dumping of trash and debris.
“It is irresponsible,” said Oakley City Assistant Manager Nancy Marquez. “One irresponsible dog owner with one dog visiting the same park or trail seven days a week can produce enough feces to make it look like it never gets cleaned up. Some people just don’t seem to care much about leaving debris, waste, or litter on the ground, and it is a societal problem.”
Similar to littering, dog owners caught not properly disposing of their pet’s waste can expect to receive a fine. While pet waste ordinance laws can vary regionally, the East Bay Regional Park District fine is $50, which could potentially be increased due to additional court and processing fees. Despite this fact, as well as numerous signs in many locations in parks and on trails, residents and trail users feel that this is not enough.
“I see it all the time on the trails and sidewalks, even on my grass in the front yard,” said Antioch Resident Brian Buccellato. “People should get fined for allowing their dogs to defecate on trails and sidewalks. They should send flyers or pamphlets in the mail telling citizens about the rules and regulations of owning a dog. A lot of people let their dogs do whatever they want, and the owners forget about them.”
Frost added, “We can’t be the people complaining about the garbage all over the streets, in our waterways and in remote areas of the county, and then leaving dog waste bags behind in our parks or on the trails. It makes you the same type of person; a litterbug.”
According to Marquez, park goers and trail users can also be more proactive in helping to keep parks clean and reporting those that fail to clean up after their pets, adding that a clean and safe park or trail devoid of litter and pet waste makes for a more enjoyable experience for everyone.
“First and foremost, enjoy the trails and parks,” said Marquez. “Help keep our parks and trails clean and don’t let the irresponsible spoil the significant investment in our parks and trails. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to know that littering is bad.”
While things like increasing signage explaining rules and policies to dog owners in parks or trails, or providing more complimentary pet waste bags can assist in educating the public, at the end of the day, officials agree that it is up to the pet owners themselves to be accountable for cleaning up after their pets.
“There is NO ‘Poop Fairy’!” exclaimed Mason. “Dog owners need to clean up after their dogs. Do not leave dog waste in plastic bags along the trails; it is considered littering and against park rules. Visitors should always follow the mantra, ‘leave no trace’.”
Further information, including park and trail rules, can be found at the following link. http://www.ebparks.org/.
Specific rules about dogs on trails can be found at http://www.ebparks.org/activities/dogs/.