KIRKLAND — A French bulldog trots along Kirkland’s Juanita Beach Park, followed by his walker who is chatting on her cell phone. The plump dog stops, snorts and gets in position. Snout up, hips back, bear down.
The dog walker, distracted by her conversation, pulls on the leash, seemingly unaware that the dog just did his business on the grass. The pair exit, leaving another casualty in Kirkland’s War on Dog Poop.
The bulldog’s feces, along with other unscooped piles, will eventually be cataloged by Kirkland city officials, who have been working since September to monitor how much dog poop is left at two of the city’s parks.
Yellow flags now dot Juanita Beach Park and Hazen Hills Park, which the poop monitors — they volunteered for this task — used to mark every pile of dog waste. Over a three-week period, they documented more than 250 “findings” in the two parks.
“The flags show that it’s not just your dog doing this,” said Aaron Hussmann, Kirkland’s environmental education and outreach specialist. “And it shows that someone is watching.”
The flags, along with the accompanying yellow signs explaining their purpose, are part of Kirkland’s campaign to encourage more residents to scoop their dogs’ poop. It’s a widespread problem, as the flags show, and city officials warn that the poop can spread disease to people and other animals, and pollute water.
“It’s important that Kirkland residents know this,” Hussmann said. “Every time it rains, it’s introducing a lot of bacteria into the water.”
As more people have moved to Kirkland, so too have the dogs. There are about 20,000 dogs in Kirkland, or about one dog per every four residents, according to city estimates. And with pooches comes poop: about 6,000 pounds per day. That waste is “a lot of excess nutrients that we don’t need” in nature, Hussmann said.
The city also installed six bag dispensers containing 20,000 individual bags near trash cans in both parks. This will help a common scoop-rule violator — the dog walker who forgot the waste bags at home or ran out. Other common scenarios are the distracted walker, like the French bulldog’s handler, or those who think that the poop can be helpful as fertilizer.
At Juanita Beach Park, Kirkland resident Dan Dailey made sure to pick up after Xena and Samson, his two Chihuahua-terrier mixes wearing dog hoodies. He says he’s only seen compliant dog walkers, “but obviously some people aren’t,” he said as he looked at the flags in the sand. The nonscoopers, he added, “gives us all a bad name.”
To address the poop problem, the city applied for and received a grant from the King Conservation District. The grant paid for bacteria monitoring in the parks to determine if waste came from humans or other animals, as well as flags, signs and bags. The poop monitors used a grid system to look for waste piles and identify any “hot spots,” like a heavily flagged point directly under a low-hanging tree branch that appears to be a popular poop spot.
“Someone joked that we should have had search-and-rescue come to look over the grid instead of us,” Hussmann said.
Other cities in the region have worked to decrease the amount of waste left outside. Seattle has an enforcement team that monitors dog parks for scoop-law violators. Redmond installed pet-waste bag dispensers along its trails and parks. The city has also partnered with housing complexes to install more pet-waste stations, said Redmond spokeswoman Jill Smith.
Issaquah plans to replace the plastic bags it provides at parks with compostable ones, spokeswoman Autumn Monahan said.
Some cities have taken to shaming miscreants. “Poop fairies” donning green wings visited parks throughout Whatcom County last month and scooped piles they found, then posted “scoop it, bag it, and trash it” signs. Police in Springfield, Missouri, are planting small flags in piles of abandoned dog poop and posting photos on its Facebook page. The flags contain messages such as, “Is this your turd? ‘Cuz that’s absurd” and “This is a nudge to pick up the fudge.”
In Kirkland, the campaign seems to be working. The monitors have seen a 68% decrease in waste piles found since they put in the flags and installed the dispensers. They’re aiming for a 100% decrease in poop-pile frequency by the time they take the flags down later this month.
The city is also offering a poop-scoop kit, which includes waste bags and a bag holder, for anyone who signs a pledge to pick up their dog’s poop. They’ve had 330 pledges within the past week.
“It’s glorious work,” Hussmann said, then laughed. “People have been really excited about it.”