Law-breaking pet owners unpunished for dog deeds

Friday, October 15, 2004

Some Cape Girardeau pet owners regularly break the law when they allow their pets to poop in neighbors' yards or in city parks.

But city officials concede that such pet owners seldom are punished.

"We have an ordinance that says you can't do it, but there is no enforcement," said parks and recreation director Dan Muser.

A city ordinance, adopted in 1998, includes a provision that requires pet owners to clean up after their animals defecate on other people's or public property.

But in many cases that's not happening.

It's a noticeable problem at Riverfront Park, where dog excrement is a common sight on the concrete walkway that overlooks the Mississippi River, said Bill Dunham, one of a dozen or so people who regularly bring their lawn chairs to the riverfront to watch sunsets.

Dunham called the problem an unsightly mess.

"It is something nobody likes to talk about," he said. "If nothing is done about it, people won't come down here."

Cape Girardeau police Lt. Mark Majoros handles animal-control and other nuisance problems. He said police investigate such cases on a complaint basis.

Violators could face a fine of up to $500.

But Majoros said police don't often get formal complaints about dogs defecating.

"I don't know of any time in the last three years that somebody has actually been prosecuted for that," he said.

The city plans to establish a new animal-control task force. That advisory board, among other things, might consider posting signs at Riverfront Park to alert pet owners to the regulation.

But Muser said signs alone won't make pet owners pick up after their pets.

Muser said the city has signs along the Cape LaCroix walking trail that list various rules and regulations, including the "pooper scooper" provision.

But people routinely let their pets defecate along the trail and even on the asphalt walkway without bothering to clean it up, he said.

"I think most people walk their dog specifically for that purpose," he said.

Muser said he can't understand why any pet owner wouldn't carry a plastic bag to clean up the mess.

He doesn't think the problem is any worse at Riverfront Park than in other city parks. The only difference, he said, is that it might be more visible at the riverfront because that park is covered with concrete rather than grass.

Muser said police have more important duties than to tackle this nuisance.

"I think people need to use a little common courtesy," he said.

Requi Salter, who owns three dogs, said her pets generally do their business in her back yard. But she carries a plastic bag with her whenever she walks her pets just in case.

But she said probably no more than half of pet owners in her neighborhood pick up after their pets.

"They don't think about it," she said.

Charles Stucker, director of the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri's shelter, helped write the "pooper scooper" provision when he worked for the city in nuisance abatement.

"We were getting a lot of complaints about people walking their dogs and letting the dogs go to the bathroom on other people's property," he said.

Stucker said the city initially prosecuted a few pet owners who violated the law.

The excrement isn't just unsightly, Stucker said. It also can transmit diseases from one animal to another.

"It's always best to get it cleaned up," he said.

335-6611, extension 123

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