Signs of humor counter signs of dogs that foul park

JACQUES KELLY

January 22, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

In Druid Hill Park, a new weapon is being aimed at dog walkers, those noxious urban polluters who don't tidy up after their canines' constitutionals. The weapon is a dose of sarcasm mixed with humor.

Tiny signs reading, "Who Left This?" "Lassie Go Home" and "Take Me Away" now dot the southernmost part of Druid Hill Park, where residents of Reservoir Hill walk their dogs. The plywood signs stand an inch or two from the precise place where dogs have relieved themselves.

Reservoir Hill residents regard this portion of Druid Hill Park as personal property. In the 1950s, a large piece of green space at North and Mount Royal avenues that once faced their homes was sacrificed for construction of the Jones Falls Expressway.

But in the 1970s, residents along Mount Royal Terrace reclaimed the remaining sliver of park land that wasn't used for the JFX. They obtained city assistance in building a small hill to screen highway traffic from their homes.

The park includes two stately limestone entrance columns, a Victorian statue of Lady Baltimore salvaged from the old Calvert Street Bridge and trees planted in honor of deceased residents and friends. It is this sliver of parkland that is being fouled by canines.

The idea for the signs warning dog walkers to clean up after their pets originated about 10 days ago when a monthly meeting of Reservoir Hill residents erupted into a noisy and verbose session of complaints.

Dog walkers and protectors of the park argued about the relative cleanliness of a small strip of Druid Hill Park that faces the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Mount Royal Terrace, a picturesque Baltimore preservation district that has been used as a background in several motion pictures.

Rick Shelley and Jim Houston, a pair of Mount Royal Terrace residents whose home faces the miniature greensward, listened to the verbal combat between the two factions and decided to do something to bring about peace and a cleaner park.

Within a few days, nearly 20 small signs, mounted on wire stakes and discreetly placed at the sites of fresh piles of dog manure, had been put up in Druid Hill Park. Shelley and Houston also

made a large sign that read "Poop Awareness Week." They also constructed a low pedestal with a hand-made ceramic replica of the substance they were protesting. It was adorned with a silk blue ribbon and marked "Best in Show."

The eight-inch signs -- some shaped like an eye -- reflect the good nature of their creators and have made people laugh. Undoubtedly, they have made others squirm and think. The pointed messages read:

"Come and Get It!"

"One for the Road"

"Eyes on the Prize"

"Keep It off the Grass"

"Risky Business"

"We Are Watching"

"Whoops!"

"No Dumping"

"This One's On Me"

"Locate Owner"

"A Real Beauty!"

"Who Wants It?"

"Scenic Trail"

"One More Time"

"I guess we got the idea for this years ago when we were living in an old warehouse near Maryland General Hospital," says Shelley, an artist and ceramics instructor. "People thought the area was abandoned and they'd come out at lunchtime and leave trash all over the steps. It was a mess.

"So we made some papier mache piles of what looked like dog droppings," Shelley continues. "They were very realistic. We put them on the steps and the people cleared away. There was no more trash."

Shelley says that he cut out and painted the signs aimed at the dog walkers in one evening. He hung a cardboard variety from the fruit trees in the park. He and Houston also made several pooper scoopers from broom handles and plastic pipes. They hung these over the edge of a trash can the city supplies for the park.

"Let's face it. The signs get you mad. Then they have the potential for humor. It's a very benign vigilante approach," says Shelley.

The signs seem to be working. People are using the pooper scoopers. Others look at the signs, get puzzled looks on their faces, then tug on the leash and head home with Fido.

"We pride ourselves on novel solutions to common problems," says Dan Sellers, president of Historic Mount Royal, the group that represents people who live on Mount Royal Terrace and Lennox and Reservoir streets.

"When people aren't interested in hearing and following official city rules, we try another route," Sellers says.

"I realize what we've done might gross out some people, yet you can laugh at it. It's in the John Waters tradition," Shelley says.

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