Pamela Focia lives at 15th and Clark streets and has two Australian Shepherds, Bijvoet and Jaldi. Every time she walks her dogs, she sees piles of dog waste and gets annoyed by the owners who fail to pick it up. She wants dog owners that leave the mess behind to be caught and fined, but she’s not holding her breath that will happen.
“You have a dog, you live in the city, you need to do the right thing,” she said. “If the police caught you, you would have to pay a fine … They just never get caught.”
A 35-year-old Chicago law prohibits dog feces on all property and requires immediate removal of dog waste. Failure to comply with the law could result in a fine of $50 to $500.
The Chicago Police Department issues a ticket and a fine to anyone who is seen leaving dog waste behind. There is one patrol car to monitor each park in the city, and only if seen can a “pooper and owner” be ticketed, but if no one is caught in the act, “then there’s nothing we can do,” said Officer Beals from the Chicago police station on the 1700 block of State Street, who would not release her first name. Beals said she’s never given a ticket for the crime and doesn’t know of any officer who has.
In 1996, former 42nd Ward Ald. Burton Natarus wanted to hire more animal control officers to write tickets and catch violators to prevent the issue from growing into a city rat problem. Currently officers from the Chicago Police Department, the Department of Streets and Sanitation, and the Department of Animal Care and Control are permitted to write citations for the issue.
According to Chicago’s Administrative Hearing Query Report, there have been more citations written for violating this law in 2010 than in 2008 and 2009 combined. In 2008, 30 people were given tickets in Chicago for breaking Municipal Code 7-12-420. Thirteen of those tickets were issued in the vicinity of the central hearing facility located at 400 W. Superior, which includes the South Loop.
In 2009, only 18 tickets were written, 12 of which were handed out in the central area. As of Dec. 18, 2010, 59 citations had been given since January 2010 and 36 were from the central area.
Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said he knows this is an issue, and he also said he will be looking into how the law is being implemented.
“When we’re down on police — we’re 800 police officers short … when we have to make sure children graduate schools — we have a lot of issues out there. While this is an important one in terms of quality of life, we need to be concerned on how we enforce the quality of life,” said Fioretti.
The South Loop is one of the city’s most dog-friendly neighborhoods in Chicago, said Fioretti. It’s common to see people walking their dogs down Polk Street or to see a crowd of dogs at the unofficial dog park at the corner of State and Harrison streets. The Chicago Park District includes 14 dog parks or dog-friendly areas around the city, two of which are located in the South Loop.
Focia said the truth is that out of the 12,423 “South Loopers,” some just don’t like dogs. She’s disturbed by lazy dog owners who make it hard for the owners who do the right thing to get along with people who don’t have them. She said even though it keeps the peace, and it’s the right thing to do, she’s tired of picking up other dog’s messes.
“I go to the extra mile, and I pick up what we call ‘orphan poos,’” said Focia.
Ryan and Jessica Hitch have lived in the South Loop for the past three years with Bolu, a 120-pound Great Dane. Ryan Hitch said he leaves picking up extra poop to his wife.
“I’ve never actually seen anyone not pick it up, but I’ve actually picked up other people’s stuff because when I’m down getting [Bolu’s], I’m like, oh well,” said Jessica Hitch.
John Simeone takes his Hound mixed, Maverick, to the unofficial dog park next to their apartment on State and Harrison streets every day. He picks up after other dogs, as well. He said as dog owners, people need to start taking responsibility.
“I’m as annoyed about that as anyone else,” said Simeone. “I think it’s incumbent upon other people who own dogs to kind of police themselves, and make sure people are picking up after their dogs.”
But Focia thinks there should be cameras to catch people, like the police cameras that take pictures when people run red lights. She said the signs that are posted at every park about the fine aren’t working.
“It’s almost like they’re invisible, you don’t see it until there’s a pile of poop,” she said. “I don’t know what to do besides have secret cameras around the neighborhoods, so we can catch them in the act.”
Jessica Hitch said the signs aren’t enough either, and increasing the fine might make people obey the law.
Fioretti is confident that community pressure will force people to stop.
“People have to take responsibility for their own actions and their pets actions, and this isn’t something to be treated lightly because it’s less than one out of 10 dog owners that are bad citizens, but one can become disruptive to the whole community.”
As a board member on the South Loop Dog Park Action Cooperative, Focia said the neighborhood group maintains two dog parks, Grant Bark Park and a small dog park near 14th and State streets, Coliseum Dog Park, which have dog waste bag dispensers installed to alleviate the problem. The bags are for people who forget their own bags at home, which Ryan Hitch said can be adding to the problem.
“I’ve been in that situation and luckily I’ve been around other dog people that have had bags,” he said.
The South Loop Dog PAC provided an estimated 22,000 bags last year but wants more dispensers around the South Loop. Focia said they need more sponsorship in order to afford the biodegradable waste bags.
Jessica Hitch said some of the other parks that have dispensable waste bags don’t get refilled. Ryan Hitch added, sometimes people just forget their waste bags.
Fioretti granted land for a new dog park at 16th Street and Wabash Avenue in November. Focia thinks the new park will get more people on board with South Loop PAC’s plan to keep the neighborhood free of dog waste.