The District’s population has been steadily growing for the past 13 years. Much of this new population is moving into high-rise developments and many of these new residents – the National Apartment Association estimates up to 72% — are pet owners.
This increase in people and pet density, particularly in areas like NoMa, the Southwest Waterfront and Capitol Riverfront, has led to increased tensions between neighbors regarding pet care and, in particular, pet waste.
Southwest resident Barbara Ehrlich has been working to find ways to alleviate those tensions. She said that twenty years ago, it was hard to find an apartment building that allowed residents to have pets. “Now, buildings allow pets, but they don’t all do anything about their needs,” Ehrlich said.
NoMa resident Geneva Kropper agrees. She says that the disrespect of pet owners congregating in unfenced, private areas such as the Pierce Street lot –rather than the new Swampdoodle Park a few blocks down—is a safety hazard for pedestrians.
The struggle with respect is an issue, she says, but the real problem is the smell. “The smell from hundreds of dogs peeing on turf creates an overwhelming waft that overtakes the entirety of Pierce St, especially on hot and humid days,” she said.
Neglecting to collect your pet’s waste could result in a fine up to $1,500, but in practice it is difficult to catch people in the act, said Mayor’s Office of the Clean City Director Julie Lawson. “You should still call 311 and report it,” she said. “It gives us the address so we can keep track via a heat map of problem areas where greater intervention and education are needed.”
The Office of the Clean City coordinates the city’s response to pet waste, partnering with other District agencies such as the Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) for technical advice, the Department of Public Works (DPW) on waste issues and the Department of Health (DOH) on rodent control.
Pet waste is dangerous, said Lawson, because dogs don’t digest all the food they eat, leaving food for rats. It can also make both humans and animals sick, as waste can wash into waterways.
Lawson said that as a whole the District government is responsive to areas of new development, but there are many factors that go into planning decisions like where garbage cans will be located. However, in areas of residential growth the Office of the Clean city can help local BIDs or Main Street organizations augment their efforts.
Solutions to a Problem
ANC’s are taking action to address the issue of pet waste. For the past two years, representatives on Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D have worked to ensure pet waste stations are part of any major residential development. Developers are required to include a place for pets to relieve themselves on private property rather than in public space.
“We’ve gotten pretty much 100 percent compliance with developers,” said ANC 6D Chair Gail Fast, who said that property managers recognize the benefits of having pet facilities in attracting tenants. “Some of them have come up with innovative ideas –one developer is putting the relief station in the garage,” she said. “They now make a kind of turf to use in relief stations so that you can clean waste from underneath.”
“There are tons of new technological innovations to minimize the smell that obviously comes with having stations in closed areas or on the room near the pool or other amenities.”
Fast, a dog owner herself, said that Southwest is very dog friendly and that many dog owners are doing their best to pick up after pets. “We have a lot of green space and we want to preserve and enhance those spaces in Southwest, and ensure that kids can enjoy them safely.”
“Some days we do really well, and some days we do really poorly.”
Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) say that developer provision of these amenities has been effective, though the the BID cleaning crews provide some help in cleaning up waste. The NoMa BID, for instance, provides waste bag stations and branded waste-bag dispensers, and the NoMa Clean Team picks up waste left behind by pet owners.
In April, Mars Incorporated announced a $20,000 grant to the Southwest Business Improvement District (SWBID) and Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) to help make Southwest D.C. a better place for pets and people living in the neighborhood.
Mars Policy Director Kelly Horton said the company had met Southwest residents at the 2018 Cherry Blossom Festival who noted the impact of new pets on the community. “They explained that there was a lot of tension in the neighborhood as new people came in with pets, and were maybe not making the full effort to collect waste,” she said.
Funds will go towards giving the Southwest area a pet-friendly makeover by adding hands-free seating, portable hydration, expanded waste stations, shaded areas, educational materials and signage.
Barbara Ehrlich, who had identified the grant opportunity and connected Mars with SWBID, thinks her neighborhood will benefit significantly from the new amenities.
“They are really great, because we have so many pet owners here, and our green spaces are being used in ways they were never used before,” she said.
Mayor’s Office of the Clean City Director Julie Lawson said that the partnership with SWBID will enhance the relationships that the office has built with local businesses, many of whom help facilitate education to pet owners. Mars Inc. is already a partner in the Better Cities for Pets Program, working with the Office of the Clean City and the Human Rescue Alliance (HRA).
Announced in April 2018, the program features an educational messaging campaign focused on encouraging the public to enjoy the District with their companion dog responsibly, including picking up waste as well as outreach programs instilling good pet behavior, including partnerships with local businesses. Pet amenity stations containing educational messaging and waste bags have been placed in key locations in the city.
Lawson said that as part of phase two of the campaign there will be a tool kit for property managers of pet friendly buildings to remind residents about their responsibilities.
However, Lawson and Commissioner Fast agree that programs and facilities can only do so much. In the end, the issue is one of human behavior.
“I think the question to ask is about waste that we see in public space,” said Commissioner Fast, “and that just comes down to responsible pet owners. They have to do their duty, and we’ll be fine.”
Lawson said that pets want to be good neighbors, too –but they can’t pick up after themselves.
“We’re looking forward to making sure everyone hears the message: that picking up #2 makes you #1.”
Learn more about the management of pet waste by visiting cleancity.dc.gov/petwaste. To report issues of unscooped poop, please contact 311 via phone, app, web, text, or Twitter.