Mary Ann Bonnell spends a lot of time studying animal and human behavior as the visitor services manager for Jefferson County Open Space.
Animal behavior can be a lot easier to understand. And few things baffle her more — among all of the weird things in a park system that attracts 7 million people a year — than when people leave bags filled with dog poop along trails for someone else to pick up.
These “poopetrators,” as Bonnell calls them, are expecting all those bags to be picked up magically by the “Poop Fairy” — a mythical creature that has become part of the outdoors lexicon among people who find the abandoned bags disgusting.
Ten years ago, Jefferson County Animal Control began a public awareness campaign that included a Facebook page named “There is no Poop Fairy,” which still exists. But it hasn’t changed behaviors.
“We have people acting outside the norm, and that’s such an interesting question: When did it become OK to leave the bag, either for someone else to pick up, or ‘I’m going to pick it up on my way back.’ Who thinks like that?” Bonnell said. “It’s such a disrespectful decision. Do you really care about this trail or not? Or is it just about you, because you don’t want to carry a stinky bag?”
Bonnell and other rangers do pick up doo-doo bags while they are on patrol, but that’s not their job. On a recent Sunday, Bonnell picked up so many, a man asked her if she was carrying her lunch.
“No,” she said, “this is a grocery bag full of poop bags.”
It isn’t a problem unique to Jeffco Open Space; it also happens throughout the Front Range. Carla Zinanti, animal control officer for the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office, said she’s even heard from officials in New York City, Chicago, California and Canada inquiring about the “Poop Fairy” campaign.
“You see it pretty much everywhere,” said Al Hardy, recreation and facilities manager for Boulder County Parks and Open Space. “It’s an issue. I don’t know if people think, ‘I’ll remember to pick it up on my way back.’ It just never happens.”
Some visitors are so brazen they will leave a poop bag on the ground when a ranger is present, Bonnell said.
“One woman sat it on top of a fence post, right in front of me at South Valley Park. It’s this stunning geologic setting, and here’s this orange poop bag on top of a fence post. I was like, ‘Excuse me?’ I’m always incredulous. I’d love to ask them, what possessed you to think this is OK?”
There are reasons dog poop should be bagged and removed. For one thing, experts say, deer and elk are herbivores, which means their feces takes less time to decompose than dog feces.
Dog poop also can contain parasites and diseases that are harmful to humans; the Environmental Protection Agency even defines it as an environmental pollutant.
“Dog waste creates its own nasty, naughty, horrible ecosystem that is terrible for water quality, terrible for soil quality, and recruits non-native species,” Bonnell said. “It’s terrible for the watershed, it’s terrible for soil quality, and nature never planned for three million canines to be entering the front Foothills. We invite people in, we want them to come, but we need them to be good stewards.”
Bonnell concedes that most dog owners handle their pet’s poop responsibly, because the problem would be far worse if they didn’t.
“If people weren’t picking up after their dogs and picking up the bags,” Bonnell said, “we would be up to our armpits in poop bags.”
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