By: Roy Helsing
From a reader: I would like to see an article focusing on pet cleanliness as a rule. There are rules that govern limitations of pets, insurance, etc. but I would like emphasis on cleanliness as a responsibility to the community. -What are the rules? Are there penalties? What can someone like me do if this is happening in our area? Where can we get help? Things like these would be great information. I know we can research, but information from your newsletter is there for us to read, and therefore no excuse not to know.
I think people that don’t care about their environment need to know that a person next door to them does, and it is their responsibility as a pet owner to do what needs to be done as part of their community. I wish there was more I could do. It’s just frustrating to me that people think it’s ok to leave their garbage behind without consideration for neighbors.
I tried to find a better title then this – but it is what it is. While we have had two other articles concerning pets recently, this reader lives in a community of socially irresponsible pet owners. While I am aware of this community and they do have more than their share of pet owners who do not seem to feel it is necessary to clean up after their pets, the problem is universal. At any given time, we are dealing with a handful of communities where the number of uncaring pet owners is disproportionately large. Since I am going to take some hate mail for this article, let me say up front I am a dog lover. While we currently have two toy fox terriers (basically large rats wearing dog costumes), I am a big-dog lover, my last dog being a large Akita. I understand firsthand that cleaning up after your dog – particularly a large dog – is not a pleasant experience, no matter how sanitary you make it. Walking around for 30 minutes with a pound or so of warm substance in a plastic bag is not the most enjoyable way to take a walk. However, cleaning the mess from someone else’s dog from your shoes, or your children’s clothing, is even less enjoyable. Unfortunately, some pet owners just don’t care!
So, how can your association deal with the uncaring? – because the responsible and caring pet owners are not the problem. My first suggestion is that if possible, try to put both doggie stations with bags and a place to dispose of the bags in discreet places in the common area. You can typically add a few dollars to the landscaper’s contract to keep the stations full of bags and to empty the containers. I think that is a responsible thing for the association to do, but in all honesty it mostly seems to help the socially responsible pet owners who probably carry their own baggies in any case. The slobs simply won’t use the stations even if they are right in front of them – and the slobs are the problem.
You could also try to designate specific dog walking areas, although their effectiveness is questionable. Sometimes, once the dog gets outside it just has to go – and while it may try to make it to a convenient location, often it will not. In those cases, even when the owner picks up after the dog there are those that that still get upset with the owner because they were unable to get the dog to hold it to the designated area. Good luck with that – because you can fine all day long and it won’t stop the dog in those situations. It may move most of the problem to designated areas, but again only for responsible pet owners – the problem owners just don’t care.
OK – pet stations and pet walking areas will only do so much. What next? You can always fine folks who do not clean up after their pets. This is not particularly effective either, because first you have to find out who is not cleaning up after their pet. It is interesting that residents like to send us pictures of dog messes with complaints and requests to stop it, but almost never information about whose pet is making the mess. (By the way, we don’t need a picture – but we do need a witness.) Fining is not terribly effective because typically you send a warning letter, and then eventually you call the offender to a hearing. If this is a socially irresponsible pet owner, the mess will be taking place for days (if not weeks) before a hearing actually takes place. This is a long, arduous process and really does little to stop the problem pet owners.
I personally like reimbursement assessments. Most documents allow you to levy a reimbursement assessment against an owner if they cause damage to the common area. In my opinion, this is far more effective than fines, but again you have to have witnesses. If you do, however, have someone come out and clean up the mess (yes, you do have to pay them). Have them replace the sod if it is urine. You still need to call the owner to a reimbursement hearing before you can levy the assessment – but if they are recidivist and you have witnesses, you can have many incidents (and their related costs) bundled up into a single hearing. This is much more effective than fines, and if your association’s documents allow for reimbursement assessments to be subject to a lien, collecting on the assessment becomes easier. If it does not, you might want to get with your attorney and see if you can make them subject to lien.
The same solution is also effective in buildings with carpets and elevators and dogs that don’t make it outside. Many buildings have cameras in their elevators for safety reasons, and that really helps identify the responsible owners. Replacing carpet is expensive.
Lastly, a dog that constantly messes up the common area can be declared a nuisance and removed from the property with proper due diligence.
Notice, however, that all of these solutions require witnesses and that is hard for two reasons. First, people can’t watch all of the places all of the time. Secondly, while homeowners like to complain about others in general, they do not like to tattle. We could argue that those that complain but won’t provide names are also irresponsible, but that would just show that I am getting older and grew up in a different time. It seems that to younger generations, complaining but never ratting anyone out is the norm. In any case, complaints without witnesses are useless – the problem will never be solved.
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