Guest post written by Susan Cohen, Class 11 Steward Candidate
Just after I moved into the Moorings on the Magothy community in January 2018, I adopted a rescue puppy. I began walking her in the neighborhood and meeting my neighbors, those with and without dogs. Everyone wanted to say hello and pet 8 week-old Zooey, which allowed me to make over 35 new friends very quickly and to meet almost everyone who owned dogs. One of the first things I noticed about my small community of 80 townhomes was that there was a pet waste problem. I began modeling good pet waste clean-up behavior immediately (using eco-friendly bags, cleaning up after every time, and carrying a flashlight at night) but only a few of the neighbors seemed to notice. So for my first WSA action in the community I began a pet-waste awareness and action campaign.
While I did raise the issue at a HOA meeting and present facts about pet waste and the environment, I did not feel this was effective—group think has a way of focusing on the negatives. I believe that talking directly to neighbors, one-to-one, is the more effective way to help them feel connected and to help them take responsibility for mitigating environmental problems it the community. For my pet waste campaign I dreamed up a plan to talk with every dog owner in the community and give them an eco-friendly pet waste bag filled with information about pet waste, organic dog treats, and my contact information which was attached with my WSA card by a hemp string. This way, I could also hang the information on the front door if I was unable to talk with folks directly. I also wanted to find a way to get other members of the community involved in meeting their neighbors and empowering them to help keep the pet waste out of our communal yard.
By the time I enacted the pet-waste campaign in my neighborhood, I had determined which households were the worst offenders, so I asked those specific neighbors if they would like to help me with the pet-waste campaign. I was positive and did not indicate that I had noticed that they were more likely than other neighbors to leave pet waste in our communal yard areas. I was delighted when these specific neighbors agreed to help and I talked with them about the environmental and other reasons for being responsible for their dogs’ pet waste.
Within Moorings on the Magothy there are three distinct sections, so we approached those sections on different days. We either spoke directly to the dog owners or left the pet-waste informational goody bags on the front door with my contact information. WSA also provided me with pet waste information signage which we posted in very visible areas in the community.
While the problem is not 100% solved, it is significantly improved. I will do a follow-up this fall and try to get the teenagers in the neighborhood more involved.
All in all, it the pet waste education action was effective, the neighbors noticed the change, and it is no longer an issue that emerges during HOA meetings or causes finger pointing in the neighborhood. But I do feel it will require occasional follow actions to maintain awareness and to celebrate and reinforce the positive changes.