by Kaylyn Bills, for Community News Service
On Saturday morning, a half-dozen volunteers with plastic bags, bright-colored buckets and claw-like scoopers scanned Wheeler Dog Park for dog waste, toy scraps and other garbage for an April Stools Day cleanup event.
“How’d you make out?” shouted Betty Milizia, chair of the South Burlington committee on common areas for dogs, as volunteer Annalise Lundeen headed out of the dog park.
“I got some good ones!” Lundeen replied, lugging her poop-filled bucket to a trash bin. Lundeen, a Hinesburg resident, agreed to help clean up the park when she brought her Catahoula leopard dog and Boston terrier to Wheeler Park to play that morning, as she does every day. The park was closed for the cleanup.
The committee and the city’s recreation and parks department organized the first Stools Day event, originally scheduled for April 1 and moved to April 22 for Earth Day, to remove debris of all sorts that piled up in the dog park. Poop, dismantled tennis balls and water bottles, left behind by dogs and their owners, littered the perimeter along the fence.
Unattended dog waste can be ingested by other canines, passing along bacteria, illnesses and parasites from one dog to another. Dog feces can get washed into waterways and decay into water supplies, causing serious sanitation and health threats to wildlife, dogs and humans.
“A lot of people don’t clean up after their dogs,” Milizia said. “It’s an issue even on the trails. A lot of people let their dogs off-leash and don’t pick up after their dogs.”
Wheeler Park draws dogs and guardians from all over both Chittenden and Addison County, Milizia said. It’s not necessarily that owners ignore their dogs’ bathroom activities or refuse to address when they happen, Milizia explained.
“The big thing for this is people aren’t aware,” she continued. “The other thing for us, particularly in this dog park, is that because of how beautiful it is, people socialize and gather in the middle of the park and when the dogs are having fun, you’ll find that people aren’t aware of their dogs.”
Animal waste is a major culprit in the development of blue-green algae, a type of cyanobacteria that plagues Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways, largely because of soil runoff into rivers and streams. In full bloom, this algae can make animals and humans sick, in some cases killing canine companions.
“During the summer when they close the beaches and stuff, some of that can be attributed to dog feces getting into the water and creating blue algae,” said Emma Nicholas, an intern for the recreation and parks department and a University of Vermont senior studying global studies and health and society.
“I’m interested in just making it more equitable for everyone to have the opportunity to live a healthy life because it is super preventable stuff,” Nicholas continued. “Especially with stuff like this, just picking up dog waste so it doesn’t get into the water that people drink, and that people want to swim in.”
Many park visitors who came between 9 and 11 a.m. planned to let their dogs play but learned that the larger section of the dog park would be closed for the event. Milizia encouraged them to lend a hand with the cleanup.
Only a handful of dog guardians volunteered to scoop poop and other trash with Milizia and other committee members.
Grace Callahan was one of them. She brings her dog, Maple, to Wheeler Park a couple of times a week and said dog waste at the park is a big problem. The messes have even driven some dog owners to go to other parks.
“My dog gets into the poop sometimes, which is kinda gross,” said Callahan, who lives in Burlington. “There were a couple weeks where I stopped coming and went to a different dog park because it just got so bad. Definitely some people don’t pick up the poop, and you always want to say something, but it’s kinda hard and awkward to say something in time.”
Lundeen said she sees the poop as less of a problem. “I feel like people are pretty responsible,” she said. “It’s just a very busy dog park and I think sometimes you just don’t see it happen.”
The Stools Day organizers plan to host more events that help make the spaces for all members of the community, including dogs, safe and healthy to gather and socialize.
“I feel like we come here and enjoy the park, so it makes sense to help out,” Lundeen said.
Read the original story in the Other Paper