With the recent ban on single-use plastic bags and the proposed ordinance to hold merchants responsible for cigarette butts and debris in front of their business, we need to talk about Newport’s big dog poop problem.

I’m going to start with this letting you know (if you don’t know already) that I’m a dog owner. My 7-year-old Siberian Husky and I spend several hours per day walking the sidewalks of Newport on our way to Queen Anne Square, Morton Park, King Park and Aquidneck Park.

It seems like everywhere I go in the city, whether it’s part of a dog walk or just a walk downtown to get something to eat, dog poop and/or full dog poop bags litters the sidewalks, parking lots, and parks throughout Newport.

It’s embarrassing as a dog owner, resident, and taxpayer to come across this (and sometimes, unfortunately through it) on a daily basis. On a recent walk from Morton Park to Washington Square (up Spring Street and down Thames Street) and for research for this story, I encountered 9 different land mines and 3 full dog poop bags on the sidewalk, on the side of a building or in a bush.

What do non-dog owners, tourists, and first-time visitors think when they see dog poop all over some of our most popular streets?

It’s bad enough that it happens in the first place, but during our busy season it’s even worse – it attracts flies, strollers tires,  stroller tires, joggers and curious young children. During Newport’s long winters, irresponsible dog owners and walkers attempt to use snow to their advantage, by allowing their dog to poop anywhere and relying on snow to make it disappear.

When the snow melts in our parks, sidewalks, parking lots and everywhere else we choose to walk and play and the dog poop comes out of hibernation, it literally could be the most disgusting thing to experience in the city.

It’s gross and most importantly, unsanitary. I think it’s safe to say that everyone knows this.

Not only is it rude to leave dog poop wherever it drops, but it poses potential health risks to adults, children, animals, our water supply and sacred environment.wh.o might come in contact with it

“For Clean Ocean Access, the environmental issues associated with animal waste disposal is where our ‘Clean’ program focusing on marine debris and litter, intersects with our ‘Ocean’ program focused on improving water quality. If a bag of dog waste enters the stormwater system and finds a new home in a catch basin, it essentially becomes a point source for pollution and leaks bacteria into the stormwater for weeks or longer, so this is a major concern because it can result in beach closures which has a huge negative impact on our tourist economy in the summer, add nutrients to our watershed leading to algae blooms, and in both cases it results in a false message that the municipal infrastructure has a problem. “Proper disposal of animal waste is a responsibility of the pet owner, often we hear ‘why are there no trash barrels at 2nd Beach’, but that isn’t the solution. We all have to make an effort to embrace environmentally responsible behaviors in our daily practice and adopting the mindset of ‘carry in and carry out’ and working towards ‘leave no trace’. The reason people enjoy time outside with their pets, is simply because it is beautiful outside! We need to work together and take simple steps each day to Keep Aquidneck Island Beautiful! Let us make it happen!”

~ Dave McLaughlin, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Access

The City Council ordinance governing dog poop on city sidewalks, streets and parks is 6.08.050 – “Restraint of Animals”. It says that “No person having control of an animal shall knowingly permit the same to defecate in or upon any sidewalk, public place, park or building, or in or upon any part of a building used by or open to the public, or upon the property of a person other than the owner of such animal. Any person having control of an animal which defecates in or upon any sidewalk, public place, park or building, or in or upon any part of a building used by or open to the public, or upon the property of a person other than the owner of such animal, shall forthwith remove the feces.”

In February, Newport City Council awarded a contract for the Mutt Mitt program in the amount of $17,500 to provide degradable dog waste bags throughout the city. The Mutt Mitt Program is a program designed to alleviate the nuisance of dog waste in public parks and fields. According to the City of Newport website, the City has 44 dispensers located in various public locations around the City (“normally trash barrels near each dispenser.”), that are filled 3 times per week.

Every year dog owners and walkers use over 320,000 of these dog bags, according to city officials. Obviously and in my opinion, we have a long way to go to keep our entire city clean. If anything, I believe the dog poop problem has gotten worse over the last five years.

So if there’s an ordinance saying not to do it and there’s resources to help with the issue, why do people do it or allow it to happen?

A citation “may be issued” for a violation of said ordinance.

If we can make business owners responsible for picking up cigarette butts and debris in front of their business, where the possibility is that their business will be warned, fined and then possibly lose their business license; I certainly believe that City Council could (and should) request an ordinance from City Administration to require dog owners and walkers to clean up after their four-legged friends. Significant fines should be enforced for a violation of said proposed ordinance.

In closing, I think the City can do a much better job of enforcing the ordinance that is in place. I think they should actually reevaluate it and make it known that you will be issued a violation if you’re court. Also, the fine should be significant. In a perfect world, I’d love to see a bag dispenser on the side of every trash can in the city. Maybe it will help remind people that bags and trash cans go together.

If we can attach cigarette butts, single-use plastic bags and smoking in city parks via ordinances, we can certainly tighten up the grossest of them all with some strong-arm city ordinancee and violations.

But, let’s be honest – fines don’t fix the world. Every dog owner and dog walker has to take responsibility for this right now and show pride for our beautiful city. There’s nothing that will hurt our reputation as a world-class destination quicker than tourists and visitors going back to where they came from and telling all their friends that they’ve never seen so much dog poop on a city’s sidewalks, or that their favorite pair of boat shoes is ruined from the experience.

The City, dog owners & walkers and every resident has to do better with this – our health and city deserves it.

Be safe and walk carefully out there.

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Ryan Belmore has been the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp since 2012. He also currently works for Mountain News, where he serves as Senior Editor - North America for OnTheSnow. He previously worked for the New England Patriots and American Cancer Society. He currently serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).