Reaping what dogs sow

January 19, 2004

THE BUSY, pretty peninsula portion of Robert E. Lee Park is poisoned, and Buddy is to blame. And Duke. And Daisy.

Too many leashless dogs - and careless owners - have left enough dog feces to scare the city's Department of Recreation and Parks into declaring the prime play spot a "brownfield" in need of treatment.

Decontaminating the area was an avoidable expense. The soil cleanup is estimated to cost no more than $10,000, but that could have been better spent on a dozen other projects.

Ills, including ringworm, hookworm and giardia, can be transmitted by contact with earth soiled by dog leavings, plenty of which are seeping into the part of the park that juts into Lake Roland. City officials say tests have found fecal coliform bacteria hundreds of times above acceptable levels in the area.

Cleaning up the mess will take a year or so, and is timed to coincide with the long-planned construction of a sturdier bridge to give maintenance trucks access to the 25-acre peninsula. In case, say, the city needs to clean up some tons of dog droppings. Until the bridge is done, people and dogs - on leashes, please - will have to take the long way around, hiking through the forest, and must avoid the treatment areas.

That's sore news for many of our four-footed friends, who have pretty much marked the area as dogland. During the estimated 5,000 to 7,500 dog visits a week to the park's peninsula, it may be inevitable that some dog leavings won't get picked up. But it isn't legal, or neighborly.

Other dogs and their walkers - as well as the many dogless adults and kids trying to enjoy the park - shouldn't have to spend their hike looking down to avoid a slippery mess. And no one should have to worry about picking up a parasite or fungal infection left behind by a canine that should have seen the vet last week.

The carelessness of some dog owners also undercuts lobbying efforts by folks who want to set up legal off-leash sections in some city parks. Dogs outside must be on leashes at all times in the city and in Baltimore County (where Robert E. Lee Park sits, though it is owned by the city as part of the reservoir system). But the peninsula is infamous - via Web guides and word of mouth - for the number of visitors who flout that rule as well. It's tough to argue for special preferences - and respect for one's point of view - when one doesn't respect others enough to pick up after one's dog.

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