Check out the audio version of this story on Newsworks Tonight.
THERE'S no easy way to say this, so we'll just come out and say it: There's a whole lot of poop on the sidewalks of Fairmount. It's no secret, either. Fairmount parent Jerilyn Dressler says that it's always been a problem, but that one weekend, while she was walking around the neighborhood with friends, the words "fecal minefield" came to mind.
"It was all shapes and sizes," she said. "It was poop in its purest form; it was poop in doggy bags. . . . There were smears. I mean, it was gross."
That's when Dressler decided: Enough. Enough with the dog poop. There has to be something we can do about it, she thought.
Dressler's not alone. We spoke with several dog owners who were out walking their dogs last week around Eastern State Penitentiary, and about half agreed that it was a problem. They pointed to the high number of dog-owners in the neighborhood, the (controversial) closing of the dog park a few years ago and, most of all, the lack of trash cans.
Chris Clemente, who was walking his dachshund mixes, Charlie and Toby, said that since the city picks up garbage only once a week, bags of dog droppings often pile up at the few cans around the penitentiary.
"It's almost as disgusting as leaving it on the sidewalk," he said.
The fact that a Tacony man lost his life a few weeks ago after confronting a neighbor who didn't pick up after his dog was, of course, a rare and tragic incident. But dog poop in general is more than a minor nuisance. It's gross.
CURB YOUR DOG: It's against the law not to pick up after your dog, and you can get slapped with a $300 ticket - if you get caught. That's the problem, said Brian Abernathy, chief of staff to the city's managing director, who oversees animal control.
Like littering, this is a law that's "almost impossible" to enforce, Abernathy said.
At any given time there are from one to three officers from the Animal Control and Control Team (ACCT) on duty in Philadelphia, and catching careless dog- owners in the act is not their No. 1 priority. (That's catching dogs on the loose.) Police can enforce the law, too, but, for obvious reasons, it's not the No. 1 priority for them either.
If you know of a repeat offender, you can call 3-1-1, ACCT officers will come out and discuss the issue with the dog owner.
Chicago and Washington, D.C., have similar policies - if you're caught in the act by police or animal-control officers, you'll get a ticket. New York City's Sanitation Department has a canine unit, composed of about 20 enforcement officers who issue tickets for dog waste and unleashed dogs.
But, spokesman Keith Mellis said, it's a tough ticket to issue, even in New York.
NO, SERIOUSLY, PLEASE CURB YOUR DOG: Since the law is little help, are there other steps that can be taken to make the city's sidewalks less crappy?
Many Fairmount residents thought that more trash cans would help. And the good news here is that if you ask, the city will give you a wire can for your block.
The bad news is that you have to empty it and make sure that people don't dump household trash there. If you've seen other garbage cans in residential neighborhoods around the city, you'll know that's no small task.
The worse news is that the city will pick up the trash from that garbage can only once a week, which isn't enough to keep the cans empty in many places. Deputy Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams said that the city lacks resources to make more frequent pickups.
But neighbor initiatives can work. Take Old City's successful Scoop the Poop campaign, pioneered by residents Janet Kalter and Tony Lucente. Along with volunteers, they maintain several dog-waste stations - basically garbage cans with plastic-bag dispensers.
There's one key reason more garbage cans work for Old City, though: It's a special-services district, where businesses pay an extra tax for more services, like street-cleaning. The organization that provides those services, Old City District, empties the dog-waste stations a few times a week.
But Dressler says that she'll keep trying to tackle the issue, even if it is a . . . less-than-savory cause. "My husband said, 'You're the Fairmount poop mom!' " she said.
"I'm like, 'Don't call me that!' . . . I'm not quite sure where I go from here, but I'm not going to give up the ship just yet."
Got a less-than-savory city problem? We're here to help. Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org, @phillyhowl on Twitter or 215-854-5855.