The hundred feet of climb at the northern terminus of Trail 22 would be easy, if it didn’t take place in less than a tenth of a mile. One dreary fall day as I made my way to the top, dodging craggy rocks and ruts the depth of my trail running shoes, a mid-size, scruffy dog dashed in my direction. After it had already reached me, its owner called out the words that madden me the most when I encounter an unleashed dog up close, “He’s friendly.” I engaged my best resting bitch face and continued upward, passing her companion, whose leashed dog…sat obediently by her side. The encounter was memorable for the dichotomy between the two pet owners’ actions.
I log most of my thousandish annual trail running miles within the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL), which has allowed me the opportunity to observe the dog-handling behavior of hundreds of hikers, trail runners and cyclists. The first year we lived adjacent the ACFL, a neighbor stopped to greet me while his off leash dog sauntered by en route to his house. The man said with a straight face that his previous dog pooped in their yard, but he takes this one to the woods to do his business. For the last five years, I’ve watched Rover (not his real name) stroll past on his way to and from the forest to enjoy the outdoors and drop a daily deuce, while I follow the leash and animal waste laws with our two pooches.
According to the City of Anacortes website, “Dog owners are required to immediately pick up fecal matter deposited by their dog on public or private property before leaving the immediate area. They must then properly dispose of it as well.” The fine for disobeying the leash law within the City of Anacortes and ACFL is eighty-seven dollars for the first infraction, but a law is only as good as its enforcement and during the eight years I’ve spent traversing trails on Fidalgo Island, I’ve encountered animal control enforcement one time. As we crossed paths, the pair said that they were educating people about the leash law and thanked us for following it.
Friends of the Forest suggests the following course of action for those who encounter an off leash dog in the ACFL, “the best thing that you can do if you see someone violating any laws in the forest, leash or otherwise, is to report it to the police. If it is an emergency you can dial 911, otherwise you can call the non-emergency line at 360-428-3211 and give them a description of the person and the dog.” Zabrina Nybo, Code Enforcement Officer Animal Control/Parking Enforcement for the City of Anacortes, advised an even more proactive response to off-leash law infractors:
The Washington State Department of Ecology explains what you can do to manage animal waste and why. “Dog poop is…a health risk to dogs and people, especially children. It’s full of bacteria that can make people sick. And it’s a source of water pollution. When it rains, dog poop melts away and runoff carries it to storm drains, ditches, and streams that feed rivers, lakes, and marine waters.
Dog poop left on the ground is no small problem. Based on a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, it’s estimated there are 1.6 million dogs in Washington.” “The Food and Drug Administration estimates that a dog excretes 0.75 pounds of waste per day.” Distributing dogs per capita (the population of Anacortes is about 17,000, or 0.2% of Washington State’s 7.5 million residents), yields 3,200 dogs producing 2,400 pounds of poop per day in Anacortes.
The author of an Outside Online article spells out why a person should pack out their canine’s crap, “One gram of dog poop can contain up to 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, and dog poop is also a common carrier of whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, parvo, coronavirus, giardia, salmonella, cryptosporidium and campylobacter. [one study showed that] 42 percent of the controllable bacteria load in the water came from dog poop…All the healthy nutrients in dog food result in poop that’s very rich in substances like nitrogen and phosphorous—the same ingredients you’ll find in fertilizer. The addition of that nutrient-rich poop to an ecosystem leads to an imbalance that, when it’s washed into water sources, can lead to algae blooms and promote the growth of invasive plant species on land.” Unfortunately, concern for the environment is not incentive enough for pet owners to comply with leash laws; however, a reminder that Fido might bite is.
According to the study Evaluating Persuasive Messages to Influence Dog Leash Law Compliance… “The majority of respondents agreed with the statement [prevent bites] and believed it was factually correct. Dog owners indicated this message was more effective than the mere existence of a leash law and the one most likely to persuade them to leash their dogs… Dog owners’ awareness of the personal harm, and medical and legal consequences, of their dog biting someone or being injured in a fight is a reasonable explanation for why dog owners were more receptive to this message.” Washington’s Laws are clear in spelling out a pet’s person as the responsible party in the event that the animal sinks their teeth into someone, “The owner of any dog which shall bite any person while such person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner of such dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
Short of DNA testing every dog before it can enter the City of Anacortes or the ACFL and using PooPrints to track down and fine infractors, what can be done to encourage pet owners to follow the law? Number One: Switch to signs that inform owners that they are liable in the event that their dog bites a human or domestic animal and suggest that people report off-leash sightings to the Animal Control Department. Number Two: Decide that you just don’t give a crap.