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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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The Scoop on Poop

Some sites around Grinnell, like Ahrens Park and Grinnell College, provide
doggy bags for local pet owners. Photo by Andrew Tucker.

By Wini Austin

Look before you leap: recent concern over an increase in dog waste around Grinnell’s parks and sidewalks has the community paying extra attention to the ground beneath their feet.

This week, resident Kelley Cox took to the local Facebook group “Hey Grinnell, did you know …” to report recent experiences with dog waste on downtown sidewalks and inquire about the city’s guidelines requiring owners to pick up after their pets. In her post, Cox wrote, “It’s worse than the crow problem.” Which is to say, it’s pretty bad. The online discourse has gained traction, with more than 20 others sharing their own experiences and calling for action on the issue.

Longtime Grinnell resident Mary Allison also reached out to The S&B via Facebook, writing that she no longer takes her grandchildren to play in Central Park — a recently-renovated city amenity — because she sees it as a health issue. Allison has also noticed dog waste showing up in residential areas, and even in her own yard. “Nothing like mowing your yard and stepping in dog poop when you don’t own a dog!” she wrote.

A brief walk through Central Park confirmed the issue. Although the City provides plastic bags for pet waste removal at every public park, it wasn’t hard to spot piles of dog waste showing up under the melting snow — and more recent violations on top of it. At the very least, these ones weren’t on the sidewalk. But as the sign above the box of doggy bags reminds park goers, animal waste transmits disease and is just generally unsanitary. This is especially pertinent in playgrounds and parks where children play, even in the winter months.

So, does the city of Grinnell have any laws requiring pet owners to take responsibility for what their animals can’t? I sat down one afternoon with Rachel Bly, director of conference operations and events at Grinnell College and three-term city councilwoman, to comb the city code for an ordinance addressing the matter. Surprisingly, there isn’t one. In Chapter 136, Section 15 of the Grinnell City Code, there is an ordinance condemning the general deposit of debris and waste on city sidewalks, but it doesn’t mention animal excrement outright.

This is unusual; comparable towns to Grinnell — Spencer, Pella and Mount Vernon, for example — all have ordinances which explicitly require pet owners to deal with pet waste on private and public property. Bly said she plans to bring up the issue at the next City Council meeting on Feb. 17. But she also stressed the importance of keeping fellow community members accountable.

“It’s important for us to call out people when we see it happening,” said Bly.

She was equally open to working towards a city ordinance proposal. “Maybe if this is becoming an issue, what we have right now is not enough,” she said.

From a law enforcement perspective, the issue can get complicated. According to Police Captain Zach Sittig, the police department is aware of the issue and are in “absolute agreement” that it is a concerning trend in the community. Under the current sidewalk waste and debris ordinance, a person could potentially be fined $100 for failing to clean up after their dog.

However, Sittig pointed out that a fine can be difficult to enforce in a close-knit town like Grinnell, where neighbor relationships are at stake. “We’ll definitely take the call,” he said.

But in the past, they’ve had trouble getting people to be witnesses in code violation cases. Ultimately, a code ordinance can only go so far in tackling the problem. Sittig says it comes down to simply being a courteous, considerate pet owner and encouraging others to do the same.

“We don’t want confrontation,” he said. “If you’re a community member you should be taking pride in the nice downtown area we have. But at the same time, we don’t have a lot we can do for that, unless the city decide[s] to adopt a specific ordinance.”

Residents interested in addressing pet waste and other issues of public health and safety in Grinnell can email the city office detailing their concerns, said City Clerk and Finance Director Ann Wingerter. In an email to The S&B,

Wingerter wrote that messages must be received by the Wednesday before a Monday council meeting in order for them to be discussed. Those interested can email with their concerns.

City council meetings take place on the first and third Monday of every month. Kelley Cox, who wrote the original Facebook post, urged her fellow citizens to take action on the issue by contacting the city. “Things don’t change unless we act on [them],” she wrote.

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