Calgary off-leash parks contaminated with dog feces, causing health problems: study

A new study suggests that public park visitors in Calgary, especially those visiting off-leash parks, are likely to be exposed to large amounts of dog feces.

It’s a problem that can cause social conflict and can pose serious heath risks to both dogs and humans, according the the report’s authors.

A paper completed by several University of Calgary researchers gives a rough estimate of the total fecal contamination of the urban parks in the City of Calgary during a six month snow-free period.

The data was collected back in 2011, but used in a recently-published paper. The report’s authors included several University of Calgary researchers.

Dogged researchers from the U of C found that 127 grams of dog poop, per hectare, per week, is left behind in Calgary parks.

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According to their calculations, the rate of fecal contamination of the public parks in the City of Calgary was close to 1.5 tons of dog feces per week.

“We noticed that the amount of fecal matter in areas that where the owners are allowed to walk the dogs off leash was huge. This is not good. It’s not good for the dogs that go off leash. It’s not good for the owners,”  Alessandro Massolo said.

Click to play video: 'St. Albert to crack down on dog owners who don’t clean up waste'

St. Albert to crack down on dog owners who don’t clean up waste

Massolo is the report’s senior author is an adjunct professfor for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary and is an associate professor at the Department of Biology at the University of Pisa, Italy.

Parks with off-leash bylaws had significantly larger amounts of dog feces left unpicked by owners, according to the research.

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Researchers say the “on-leash” designation of parks in addition to education may be the way to reduce the problem.

John Merriman, a community strategist with the City of Calgary parks and open spaces said the city does not have the capacity to clean feces at city parks.

Read more: Dog killed by moose in Calgary park

He said  if a group of volunteers wanted to get together to do a clean up, they would be provided with bags and shovels.

As for changing a contaminated off-leash area to on-leash, Merriman said it would require public support.

“We have an off leash area management plan.  In order to put an off leash area in you have to do public engagement. To take an off leash area out or to get rid of that designation, we would also have to do public engagement on that. Likely not going to be well supported,” Merriman said.

The City manages over 150 public off-leash areas in Calgary. These off-leash designations make up for approximately 13% of the parkland that the city maintains.

The report states it’s important the interests of off leash supporters be balanced with concerns that a location is getting too contaminated.

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Click to play video: 'Increase in dog poop reported around Toronto'

Increase in dog poop reported around Toronto

“If you create conflict, people will ask for closing off-leash areas, so it’s a combination of factors. People need to be accountable and they have to understand it’s much more than a simple dog feces on the ground. It’s much more than that. There are health issues — health issues in terms of social health, social wellness and social conflict. We need to reduce that,”  Massolo said.

He added it’s a problem that can pose serious health risks to both dogs and humans and can lead to “the tragedy of the commons.”

“There is a park and everyone wants to use it. I am a dog owner and when I go to the park without my dog, I am not a dog owner. I would like to walk in the park that is not covered with fecal matter,” Massolo said.

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Researchers say the fecal material can be washed into rivers and streams by a heavy rain, contaminating the water downstream.

The paper states “such a fecal contamination has serious direct effects on both public and wildlife health.”

Read more: Dog owners dismayed by City of Calgary’s decision to shut down water station at southwest park

Massolo said  he personally picks up waste left behind by other people’s dogs.

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“It doesn’t matter if it’s not your dog’s poop — just pick it up. That would be a solution,” Massolo said.

The problem is more about responsibility. If you have to a dog you have to be accountable.”

On Monday, Jim Sangster was doing a little spring cleaning on Tom Campbell’s Hill in Calgary.

With a shovel and bucket in hand, he scooped up the mess other dog owners left behind.

“You have a bag, you pick up your dog’s stuff and you pick up an other one over there. That’s a compassionate way of seeing the problem,” Sangster said.

“It’s a place I come every day and I like to keep it clean for everybody.”


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