Old City residents launch Scoop the Poop campaign

It’s one thing no one likes about the dog-friendly streets of Old City.

But when dog waste was the big topic of conversation at a neighborhood dinner party this past summer, Janet Kalter decided to do something about it.  And so the Scoop The Poop campaign was born.

It started with Kalter floating a few potential slogans in the Old City Civic newsletter, which she edits. Now, a stern-but-adorable bulldog general reminds dog walkers to “Leave no pile behind!” from posters around the neighborhood, designed by Kalter’s campaign partner, Tony Lucente.

A friendly dog duty reminder was just half the prospective solution, Kalter and Lucente said. Residents were finding bags of waste that had been scooped up, then left in planters or on doorways or windowsills.

The city has public trash cans in the neighborhood – the solar-operated Big Belly trash compactor kind. But in some cases, they are many blocks apart, Lucente said. He and Kalter believe that some who try to do right become frustrated when they can’t spot a can, and leave the bag of droppings somewhere inappropriate.

“I believe that people have been beautifully trained to dispose of their trash in an appropriate place, but there are not appropriate places to dispose of their trash,” Kalter said.

Kalter and Lucenti explain Scoop The Poop

The Scoop The Poop team decided to provide dog waste stations with plastic bag dispensers and a can. They  wanted something functional, fairly discrete, inexpensive and urban-looking. Inspiration came from a light-weight, ribbed plastic-like material spotted at a construction site. Kalter found a New Jersey distributer of the stuff. Her life partner, Joe Schiavo, enjoys a bit of industrial engineering, so he designed the bag dispensers and cans.

There are now about a dozen complete stations hanging on poles around Old City.

“It’s genius,” said Jack Laffer, who lives and walks his chihuahua, Gino Franco, in Old City. “Whenever I walked my dog, I would see little…gifts, where people were not cleaning up after their dogs,” he said. It’s gotten much better since the flyers and cans went up, he said. “Thank you for making an impact,” he said to Kalter, whom he knew only as ‘the dog poster lady.’  

Professional dog walker Jaime Bennett, owner of Happy Tails of Philly and a friend of Lucenti, walks 20 dogs a day in Old City. The new can made “a huge difference on Arch Street near the firehouse,” she said.

Representatives from other neighborhoods, including Bella Vista, Washington Square West, Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Queen Village, wanted posters for their communities, and Scoop the Poop emailed them an image to print at no cost. Tourists from Maine requested a poster for their town.

The bull dog general who reminds dog walkers to leave no pile behind also has fans in city government.  “We love the poster,” said Andrew Stober, chief of staff for the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. “We love the message they are sending – and to do it in a way that’s fun and engaging,” Stober said.

“It’s a cool flyer,” agreed Managing Director Chief of Staff Brian Abernathy.

The city’s Water Department has launched a campaign to educate dog owners about the serious environmental impact of improperly disposed of dog waste, and is looking for spokesdogs of its own.

But the fate of the Scoop the Poop bags and cans is uncertain.

The stations were put up on city property without city permission.

Kalter spoke to Abernathy, whom she knows from his days on outgoing First District Councilman Frank DiCicco’s staff, before anything was hung. But they report different understandings of the  conversation.

Abernathy says that acting as a liaison, he spoke to people who could grant permission, and the answer was no “because of long-term maintenance concerns.” Right now, Lucente and Kalter are keeping bag dispensers full and emptying the cans. They have begun assembling other volunteers to help. A local vet has given sponsor money for bags. And the Old City District is helping out by picking up full bags left at curbside during its routine street cleaning sessions.

Volunteers are great, but people move, or lose interest in projects, Abernathy said. At minimum, more discussion with folks from city streets or the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities is needed, he said.

Lucente and Kalter are working on a formal proposal.

Stober, the Transportation and Utilities chief of staff, said “we would be pretty unlikely to grant permission” for any program that provided dog poop bags and dog poop-only receptacles.

“There is somewhat of a health concern around creating receptacles just for dog waste and concentrating animal waste in a single location,” Stober said.

And providing bags for poop sends exactly the wrong message to dog owners, he said. They need to carry their own bags at all times, rather than depend on a dispenser that might be empty, or not handy to the spot their dog picks.

But Stober says another solution is possible.

Old City resident Tom Anderson, and his new puppy, Beau
Kalter and Lucente have been tracking how often each of them need to be dumped, and the trash-to-poop ratio of the contents. They are still crunching the numbers, which will be included in their proposal. But preliminary results show all cans have some trash in them. Cans near green areas tend to be used mostly to toss away poop, while others are used at least half the time for other trash.

Lucente said, however, that by volume, most of the cans are filled with more trash than dog waste.

Kalter said this frustrated her until she began work on another part of the report – charting the locations of the big belly trash compactors. She realized recently that the Scoop The Poop receptacle on Church Street is about two blocks away from any Big Belly trash can, “so it’s understandable” that it is filling so quickly with trash.

 “We love a pilot program,” he Stober said, adding that he looked forward to the data in the report, which could show what solution was the right one.

Among the options:

-So long as no receptacle is receiving primarily poop, his office might agree to allowing the Scoop the Poop campaign to set up and maintain its own trash cans. There could be no poop bags provided, he said. But Stober says when this has been tried in other neighborhoods, the volunteers soon are overwhelmed by trash, and “almost always get rid of them,” he said.  Receptacles placed in residential areas wind up being filled quickly by trash that people would otherwise be tossing out at home, he said. People clean out their cars and toss everything in the street can, for example, he said.

-Rather than create its own receptacles, Scoop The Poop could raise money to buy Big Belly Trash Compactors through the city’s contract. So long as the cans were along the city trash pick-up route – which Stober believes all of Old City is – city workers would take care of dumping them. This was done in the South of South neighborhood, Stober said.

-If the data proves there is a need for more Big Bellies, the city may decide to put more of them in Old City, at city expense, Stober said. But Stober said it is reasonable to expect people to carry dog- and other waste a bit. Crossing the street, for example, is no big deal, he said.

Professional dog walker Jaime Bennett

That last alternative would make Old City District Executive Director Graham Copeland a happy man.

“We’ve had some conversations over the past year with the folks in the streets department about more locations for the Big Bellies,” he said.  Dog waste is just one part of the problem, he said. Things can be especially bad on First Fridays, when many head to Old City’s galleries. “There are no Big Bellies up and down 2nd Street, where there is a lot of activity,” Copeland said.

Scoop The Poop had been seeking sponsors for the can cost in Old City. And inquiries had begun coming in from other parts of the city. Civic groups and apartment buildings have shown interest in buying the stations, which Kalter and Lucenti figured they could sell at a cost much less than those commercially available. The proceeds would make the Old City program sustainable, and any extra would go to paying for other street improvements, like landscaping.

But Kalter said she’d consider any of the alternatives presented by Stober a victory.

Center City resident Sabrina Reese, walking Lucian the Great Dane, said there was still work to be done. “People are still not picking up dog waste, especially if the dog goes in the leaves,” she said.

Kalter and Stober are looking for a local bulldog to replace the file art guy now on their posters. Think you’ve got the dog? Email his or her photo to scoopthepoopcampaign@gmail.com by the end of December.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal