Picking Up the Poop in Anchorage

Dog walkers enjoy one of Anchorage's Dog Parks.
Dog walkers enjoy one of Anchorage’s Dog Parks.

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dog poop final

Today we’re picking up after our dogs. Yes, today’s topic is dog poop. Not the most glamorous subject, but one that inspires a lot of angst that Cherie Northon hears about all the time.

“It’s a very contentious issue because we get a lot of complaints. Some people will just call me up and say, ‘what’s the hottest topic?’ Dog poop.”

Northon is the Executive Director of the Anchorage Waterways Council. She says she get’s phone calls and e-mails every day from Anchorage residents complaining about people not picking up their dog droppings.

“One gentleman called me a couple years ago complaining about Ship Creek. He said ‘why can’t we put a person in every park to write tickets?’ That’s 200 and some odd people. That isn’t realistic.”

But Northon says something does need to be done. Surveys indicate that there are roughly 70,000 dogs in the Anchorage area, producing 10 tons of waste per day. And irresponsible dog owners are creating a major problem.

“All of our creeks in Anchorage, except for one, have fecal coliform impairments. Which means they’re on the EPA’s impairment list for fecal coliform.”

Cherie Norton poses near one of the posted warning signs.
Cherie Northon poses near one of the posted warning signs.

That’s because Anchorage’s storm water runoff, basically all of the water on the ground, eventually ends up in our creeks.

“So it doesn’t matter if it’s a cigarette butt or dog poop, it goes down the storm drain and goes untreated into the creeks. And a lot of people think it goes into the waste treatment plant, but that’s just for buildings.”

Northon says thankfully, Fish and Game studies haven’t found that fecal coliform is harming our fish, but that doesn’t mean it can’t harm humans. She uses Campbell Creek as an example.

“There’s a little beach there, and little kids splash around and play in the sand. And you know toddlers, they may not take a glass of it and drink it, but they splash in it and it’s on their hands. You could get Giardia or round worms depending on how bad the situation is.”

As far as which spots are problem areas, Northon says dog parks are on the top of the list. Parks like University Lake, which is where we’ve met today. She says the high concentration of dogs, and the fact they’re mostly off leash can be a nasty combination.

“When they’re off leash the owner isn’t paying 100 percent attention to what their dog is doing. As opposed to when they’re on leash, you know when your dog poops, and it’s easy to pick up.”

The passer bys I did ask about the dog poop problem didn’t seem to think there was one. One walker didn’t want to be identified, but she did say people take good care of the park.

“People usually pick up pretty well; more when there’s no snow of course. But that’s why they have the spring clean up days, because a lot of times in the winter it’s hard to see where they go when it’s snowing. But people do come down and participate in the doggy clean up days,” said one dog walker.

Northon says the clean up days do help. And there are some dog owners that go above and beyond to keep the parks clean. Like the people who stock grocery bags at the trail entrances.

“This is someone’s trash bags they’re bringing here. They’re grocery bags; Wal-Mart bags, Fred Meyer bags, vegetable bags. We see bags of poop in the trash can. That’s great.”

But Northon says extra bags and a few clean up days a year just isn’t enough. Her waterway council tries to combat the problem by handing out flyers, and posting signs. Signs that read “be a responsible pet owner, clean up after you pet” and “dog feces fine, 75 dollars.” She says even those aren’t very effective though, as they are rarely enforced. In order to get an owner fined, someone has to get visual proof of the culprit, and then submit that proof to animal care and control. And getting proof isn’t always easy.

“People just drive up to parks and let their dogs do stealth poops. You can take their license number and turn them in, and then they’ll usually say ‘ok you caught me’.”

But for most people, that’s just too much work. Northon says nobody wants to be the poop police. Not even her.

“I have a chronic problem in my neighborhood of a fellow who goes across the street with his three dogs by Campbell Creek. He goes about within 20 feet of the creek and lets them poop. And he just stands there with his hands crossed and then walks back to his house.”

I asked her if she’d like to mention him by name.

“I don’t know his name, but I know what kind of dogs he has, a German shepherd and two Shelties. And he’s well known. Even people at Fish and Game know about him, but nobody’s been able to stop him,” Norton said with a laugh.

Northon doesn’t want to sound like a dog hater. She has three of her own, and has lived with dogs her entire life. But Northon says dog negligence needs to stop.

“I don’t understand the mentality. It wrecks the creeks, it wrecks the environment, it’s unhealthy. It’s just gross, and rude.”



Dave Waldron began his radio career in 2000 as a volunteer DJ at UAA’s radio station KRUA 88.1, where he hosted a weekend music show. In 2004 he was hired as the station’s music director, and held the position until his graduation in 2007. He was hired by Alaska Public Media in 2008 and since then has worked as an audio engineer, editor, and producer. He currently runs his own small business AK Audio Pro, and is a host of Alaska Public Media’s Hometown, Alaska.

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