Greg Boatman isn’t sure whether there is more dog poop underfoot in Savage’s parks or if he’s simply spotting it more often.
But the city’s public works director said that either way, citizen behavior needs to change — people need to start picking up dog waste in public spaces.
That’s why Savage has embarked on a playful campaign designed to get people on board with bagging dog poop.
Using the hashtag SavageScoopThePoop, residents are being encouraged to pledge to clean up on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
If they take the pledge, they get a bone-shaped container filled with baggies, their dog’s picture posted at City Hall and a chance to be featured with their dog in the city’s Parks and Recreation calendar. There’s also a drawing for $50 worth of dog-walking services.
“We just thought it would be a fun way to educate the public and get that message out,” said Boatman, adding that the goal was to strike a “campy” tone.
Savage, like most cities, has an ordinance requiring pet owners to “immediately remove any feces” left on public or private property.
Leaving canine excrement where it lands isn’t healthy or natural, Boatman said, and it isn’t going to magically disappear. It can spread bacteria and disease, and contaminate water when the rain washes it into lakes and rivers.
“I think some people believe that because other animals … utilize space for their own restroom needs, if you will, they equate that with [being acceptable for] domesticated animals as well,” Boatman said.
Savage is the latest Minnesota city to tackle the stinky topic of left-behind dog dung. Under the slogan “There Is No Such Thing as the Poop Fairy,” Duluth began a campaign this spring with park and trailhead signage, social media posts and fliers for new pet owners. The “poop fairy” concept has been used by other cities such as Santa Cruz, Calif., which inspired Duluth’s effort.
“We just thought the idea was pretty charming and addressed an issue that we saw in our community,” said Cheryl Skafte, a volunteer coordinator for Duluth. “It’s a funny message but it’s also a serious one, too.”
A study done by University of Minnesota Duluth students estimated that there are 20,000 dogs in Duluth and that they produce about 4 million pounds of stool annually.
Duluth gets lots of calls about the poop pileup in parks, especially in winter, said Alayna Johnson, a parks worker who designed the city’s poop fairy logo.
“Come spring, it’s like a large poop melt, basically,” she said.
Minnetonka ran a “Doo Your Part” program from 2015 to 2017, flashing its message on billboards and posting children’s drawings at parks. The city right now is focused on road salt pollution but aims to revive its poop campaign, which involved a park cleanup day that collected over 200 pounds of excrement, said Leslie Yetka, Minnetonka’s natural resources manager.
“This is not something that is going to go away,” she said.
From Washington to Maine, cities across the country have had the same idea in recent years. “I think there’s generally more awareness about connecting dogs and their waste to our water quality,” Yetka said.
As pet waste breaks down in water, the bacterial action it produces uses oxygen, depleting the oxygen available to aquatic life. The nutrients in excrement contribute to excessive algae growth, and it can spread E. coli or salmonella, Yetka said.
Studies show that about one in three Americans have dogs but owners properly dispose of only about 60% of pet poop in public places, Yetka said.
Savage officials say 43 people have taken the pledge since July 1, despite the holiday week. Many have included pictures of their dogs on the city’s Parks and Recreation Facebook page.
Resident Janet Perreault wrote: “Done! Bailey doesn’t leave her mess for anyone to clean up but us!” She posted a picture of Bailey wearing a plaid bandanna.
Macaille Mahoney Hafner took the pledge, adding a picture of her black-and-white pooch, Brooks: “We know that poop isn’t fertilizer and while unsightly can also spread disease.”
Residents seem to appreciate the lighthearted nature of Duluth’s effort so far, Skafte said. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has even contacted city officials to see about extending the poop fairy’s reach.
Savage officials plan to assess the program’s effectiveness at the end of the summer and decide whether to do it again or to “try something even grander,” Boatman said. “The measuring stick for that is just strictly anecdotal. Any impact is really a good impact.”