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Residents walk their dogs at Hollenbeck Park. Photo by Rene Ayala

Residents walk their dogs at Hollenbeck Park. Photo by Rene Ayala

While many Boyle Heights residents may not think picking up after their pets is necessary, others say it should become a habit. The Neighborhood Council has taken up the issue because residents are concerned about the health problems that pet waste can cause in the community.

With the number of households owning pets at an all time high, according to the Humane Society of America, the responsibility of “curbing” your dog is becoming even more important. Veta Gashgai, 38, a Boyle Heights resident, says too many people in the neighborhood don’t pick up after their dogs.

“I see a lot of people walking by with their animal empty-handed,” Gashgai says. It’s “an easy thing to notice if people are being responsible, because if they are, they’ll have a bag in their hand, and you can easily see.”

The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council addressed the issue last summer. The Council heard comments about the need to do something about the problem.

Council Chair Carlos Montes says it’s important to raise awareness. The Neighborhood Council has received kits from the city, including plastic bags for picking up poop, and has been passing them out at the Farmer’s Market at Mariachi Plaza.

The new campaign hopes to educate people about the dangers of leaving waste behind and encourage residents to do their part.

Autumn Walters, 37, an Echo Park resident who works in Boyle Heights, walks her dog twice a day at nearby Hollenbeck Park. She says she likes when parks have pet waste stands where people can contribute plastic bags brought from home and others can take the free bags if they need them.

Why not Boyle Heights?

“I’ve seen some parks where they offer free bags, but this one doesn’t have that. So if other parks in Los Angeles have pet waste stands, why not in Boyle Heights?” asked Walters, referring to Hollenbeck Park.

Some Boyle Heights residents are trying to get the City of Los Angeles to place bag stands in its parks. Others are stressing the need for educating residents about the duties that come with pet ownership.

Alana Yánez, 34, is manager for Pets for Life of Los Angeles. Pets for Life has been offering low cost vaccination clinics, spay-neuter clinics and training sessions in Boyle Heights for nearly two years.

Yánez says the group aims to teach owners about pet responsibility, which includes picking up after their pets.

“We educate people to pick up waste, because we have a lot of dog waste lying around. You know kids can touch it. Little kids put hands in their mouths, and they can get sick from animal feces,” says Yánez.

In the last 30 years, the number of dog owners has doubled nationwide, according to the Humane Society of America. Recent studies show that Hispanics are the highest percentage of new pet owners in Los Angeles.

Gashgai says a lot of community members don’t understand pet ownership responsibilities. In a community with limited park space, pet waste actually keeps people from utilizing some of the parks.

Boyle Heights resident Rolando Mena, 56, walks and runs with his dog at least three times a week. He says he doesn’t like to walk at Hollenbeck Park because people don’t clean up after their dogs.

Less waste at Lincoln Park

“At Lincoln Park, there is less pet waste. I don’t know why, but more people take their bags there, and I see a lot less pet waste around,” Mena says.

Mena said some people in the community don’t have the right attitude about cleaning up after their dogs. “They’ll just be there standing on their phones waiting for their dogs to finish doing their business and not caring at all,” he says. “It looks ugly.”

Aesthetics aren’t the only issue. Pet waste that is not disposed of properly can be tracked into homes and businesses. Flies gather, increasing the chance of food contamination. And pet waste can be washed down the storm drains that lead to the ocean, causing problems for marine mammals and swimmers.

Adding to the problem, according to Yánez, are the stray dogs in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights. “People can’t afford to fix their pets, and pets probably end up having litters. Sometimes they just leave them at the park, hoping someone would pick them up, or they just give them to people, and they just end up letting them loose,” she says.

She hopes this will change as owners have their pets spayed or neutered.

In the city of Los Angeles, it is against the law to leave dog waste on public or private property, punishable with a $20 fine. For polluting storm water, fines can be as high as $1,000, and imprisonment is possible.

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