County says too much poop in the dog park

Dakota Memorial Dog Park could close if folks don't scoop up their pets' doo

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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People often cry foul over government waste. On Wednesday, Clark County flipped the script and took aim at its residents' waste.

Specifically dog waste, and how it's piling up at Dakota Memorial Dog Park, an 8-acre off-leash area on the north side of Pacific Community Park at Northeast 18th Street and 164th Avenue.

The county's parks department has placed signs at Dakota reminding dog owners that it isn't a canine commode. The county warns that if the wayward piles of dog doo don't disappear from the park, then the park will close — at least temporarily.

"We're going to monitor it for a month and see if the conditions improve or not," said Bill Bjerke, county parks manager.

Animal control officers plan to make their presence known at the park and hand out citations to people failing to pick up after their pooches. A first-time offense can fetch a $100 fine. The county can charge chronic offenders as much as $1,000.

There are waste disposal bins throughout the park. But they haven't been enough to prevent Dakota from turning into something akin to a poop-laden minefield, say volunteers who work to maintain it.

People who use the park regularly say they'd hate to see it go.

Shane Fischer and his 1½-year-old dogo Argentino, Lexi, come to the park four times a week. It's a great way for the two of them to get some exercise together, he said.

And for Lexi, who's deaf, the park is a safe place for her to romp with friends.

If the park disappeared, "I'd have to find someplace else for us," Fischer said. "That's unfortunate. For a deaf dog, this is one of the few places you can let her off the leash, because it's fenced."

He said he understands the frustration with people not picking up after their dogs. When he sees someone who's unaware their dog went to the bathroom, he said he points it out. After all, he said, "It's your dog. It's the law. Come on."

The situation has been a source of frustration for both the county and a nonprofit organization called Dog Owners Group for Park Access in Washington (Dogpaw), whose volunteers maintain the off-leash area.

Mark Watson, maintenance manager for Dogpaw, said the situation has gotten worse this year. Not everyone is receptive to the message that dog owners are responsible for their dog's waste, he said. There have been confrontations between noncomplying dog owners and volunteers.

Watson chalks it up to a sense of entitlement.

So it's been up to the volunteers to canvass the park and survey for droppings. They clean the park daily. Watson said the amount of waste volunteers remove each day can fill several 5-gallon buckets.

Most of the park users are good about cleaning up after their pets, Watson said. But the few that aren't are ruining it for everyone else.

"Responsible pet owners are stepping up to help the organization," he said. "But the bottom line is if it gets too bad, the park will be (closed)."