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Hagerstown deals with pet waste problem

March 14, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK | holly.shok@herald-mail.com
  • Trash cans with dispensers stocked with degradable dog waste bags line Hagerstown's downtown, yet the problem persists of owners failing to clean up after their pets.
Trash cans with dispensers stocked with degradable dog waste bags line Hagerstown's downtown, yet the problem persists of owners failing to clean up after their pets.

While Hagerstown officials are working to come up with a redevelopment plan for the city’s downtown, others are concerned about the city’s cleanliness with regard to pet refuse.

“Certainly, it’s like littering, obviously, and it’s even more disgusting than throwing a candy wrapper on the ground,” Mayor David S. Gysberts said recently. “But cleaning up after your pet or your animal is just your civic responsibility, it’s just the right thing to do.”

The pet droppings matter “can be enforced through code enforcement if a city official finds someone who’s doing that, they can cite that person for not picking up after their dogs,” Gysberts said.

Signs reading “Please clean up after your pet” and trash cans with dispensers stocked with degradable dog waste bags line Hagerstown’s downtown, yet the problem persists of owners failing to clean up after their pets on public property, and on private property they do not own, a caretaker of a local church said.

Jim Baker, caretaker and property manager of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, has seen an influx of dog debris on the church’s courtyard and Potomac Street sidewalks over the past six months, he said last week, citing three new residents with dogs living in the area.

“I guess a lot of people don’t realize when they have a dog downtown ... they need to clean up after themselves,” said Baker, a dog owner himself who said he confronted one of several people who have left their dog droppings on grass on church property or on public sidewalks.

Under the adoption of the Animal Control Ordinance for Washington County, the city prohibits an owner from allowing his or her pet to urinate or defecate on the property of another without consent, unless the owner of the animal immediately removes and disposes of the waste in a sanitary manner.

 The penalty for the municipal infraction is a fine not exceeding $1,000, according to city code.

“I don’t want to bother police with it, because that’s such an insignificant thing,” Baker said.

He said he attempts to police the property himself, politely informing perpetrators that the church would “appreciate” their dogs using the bathroom elsewhere.

Gysberts said the problem, aside from increased civic responsibility, can be thwarted with enforcement.

The city’s Director of Economic Development John Lestitian said that confusion exists regarding enforcement, which he said remains the responsibility of the Humane Society of Washington County.

Officer Carla Braden of the field services department said the Humane Society handles incoming complaints of a violation of county and city code, but does not have the personnel to actively patrol downtown.

“If somebody is able to direct us to an owner’s address, we can speak to them and give them a written warning,” Braden said. 

If the problem persists, she said, a person can issue a witness statement under penalty of perjury, which results in a fine for the offender. The first offense results in a $25 fine, the second a $100 fine, and for third and subsequent instances, the fine is $250, Braden said.

Gysberts said it’s important for the city’s Public Works personnel to continue looking at strategically placing dog waste bag receptacles throughout the area.

Public Works Director Eric Deike said there are 18 dispensers throughout downtown.

“If people don’t have easy access for something to pick up the dog waste then it’s much easier to justify leaving it behind,” Gysberts said, noting the dog waste bags were recently upgraded to a texture that is easier to open, even when wearing gloves.

“I think any time you have people who are acting irresponsibly, it’s frustrating, it’s not indicative of someone who cares about their community,” Gysberts said.

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