New York's dog owners can barely curb their anger over a new law that, if enforced, will have them picking up from the streets what their pets put down.
By official estimate New York's dogs drop 250,000 pounds daily onto the city's streets and sidewalks, providing numerous opportunities each day for the pedestrian to demonstrate his agility as he keeps one eye on traffic and the other on the ground.
New York State Public Health Law 1310 takes effect Tuesday and requires a person walking a dog to intercept excrement before it hits the ground (a feat likely to be accomplished only by those with specially designed equipment and a vast amount of agility) or clean up after his pet, rather than follow the longstanding tradition of simply walking away.
Only the blind, with their seeing-eye companions, are exempt from the law and its fines ranging from $25 to $100.
City police, Sanitation Department police and Supervisors, Department of Air Resources inspectors, Housing authority Police and Health Department Sanitarians will be empowered to issue summonses upon witnessing a dog and masters during their backs on their responsibility.
Questions remain, however, whether the habits of an estimated 1 million dog owners can be changed.
Chicago has had a similar law for less than a year. Does it work the police department was asked. "From what I have seen, no," officer Dean Ford replied. 'But it has been enforced a few times."
Even if every New York dog owner compiled fully and immediately with the new law, New York would have a problem.
Dr. John Kullberg director of the American Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals, estimates that there are about 400,000 stray dogs in the city and fears that the new law will increase that population. "It's a good law in theory," Kullberg said, "It's part of the interface between having animals and living in the city."
Kullberg fears that the law will devalue man's best friend in his owner's eyes. Concern about fines or reluctance to stoop and scoop may prompt owners to release their dogs to the streets to fend for and defecate by themselves.
An increase in the stray dog population plus any reduction in ASPCA operating funds, Kullberg warns, could have disastrous effects. Packs of sick, hungry dogs would roam the streets, in this scenario, causing problems that would make waste underfoot seem mere molehills, Kullberg says.
"We're going out of the business of rounding up strays," he says, if the ASPCA - the only dogcatcher in the city - doesn't receive the $1.7 million a year in city funds he says it needs to do the job.
Dog owners have not been threatening to abandon their pets, but dogdom's lack of enthusiasm for the law is pronounced. "This definitely takes away from having a pet," Alice Kennedy said while walking her boxer in the East Side.
A young man walking two German shepherds predicted that many dog owners like himself would flout the law and that it would prove unenforceable. He refused to give his name.
Patrecia Peil, the owner of Petti-Paws, a dog-walking, training and boarding business, said she has had many inquiries from worried dog owners.
Longtime clients wanted to know how Petti-Paws would meet the challenge, and new clients were seeking someone else to take over the walking and cleaning up after their pets. "There's tremendous concern," Peil said. "It's going to be a very sticky wicket."
She said she asked some callers: "Didn't you ever change a diaper?" It struck her that people ought to care enough about their pet to be willing to help it keep the streets clean.
Lots of New Yorkers are preparing for Tuesday by buying "pooper-scoopers" - tools that come in a variety of shapes and prices, and basically enable the owner to remain some distance from what he is picking up while complying with the law.
More expensive models come equipped with flashlight attachments for nighttime use and most leave the owner with his problem in a small plastic bag.
"As to how they dispose of it" said Vito Turso, spokesman for the Sanitation Department, "we're giving them several options."
The ideal would be for each owner to carry his package back home and flush it down the toilet, but that is likely to remain a dream except in rare cases.
As long as the waste is well-wrapped in a bag, box or layers of paper, it can be dropped into a city litter basket, Turso said.
If there's a litter basket.
Kullberg points out that vandals have removed baskets from many streets and a New Yorker can often walk blocks before finding a place to put trash.
Enforcement, Turso explained, will be carried out as follows:
When an officer observes dog and owner leaving the scene, he will inform the owner of the new law. If the owner refuses to do his duty, he will be given a summons like a parking ticket costing him $25 if he choses to plead guilty or offering him a hearing before an official of the Environmental Control Board. At the hearing he can be found innocent or fined from $25 to $100. Failure to mail in the summons or attend the scheduled hearing results in a $100 fine.
Kullberg said: "We hope they'll be lenient at first and see if this is workable."
if it isn't State Public Health Law 1310 will not die a dog's death, but, like other impractical statutes, lie doggo.