Pooper-Scooper Laws

Do the right thing: clean up after your dog.

Dog droppings have become a scourge, a form of environmental pollution no less dangerous and degrading than the poisons that we exude and dump into our air and water. —New Jersey Superior Court, Town of Nutley v. Forney, 283 A.2d 142 (1971)

Anyone who has stumbled into the particular form of pollution dogs are prone to leave is likely to become, instantaneously, a committed environmentalist. While dog droppings on the bottom of a shoe aren't the most serious urban problem we face, the experience doesn't brighten anyone's day, either. Many local governments have declared that enough is enough and have passed ordinances making owners responsible for dogs that hit and run. Crowded cities such as New York led the way, but many other municipalities, small and large, have followed suit.

A typical ordinance simply requires dog owners to immediately dispose of, in a sanitary manner, droppings deposited anywhere except on their own property. If they don't, they face a fine of about $20 to $50. In New York City, the tab can go as high as $250.

Still, as anyone who's walked around the block lately knows, many dog owners neglect this law, not to mention basic good manners. People who would never dream of dropping a soft drink can in a park literally look the other way as their pets deposit unsightly and unsanitary droppings in public places. It's these owners who are giving dogs—who, after all, are only doing what comes naturally—a bad name.

Assistance dogs. Owners of guide, signal, and service dogs are often exempt from pooper-scooper laws.

Religious objections. The New York statute requiring dog owners to clean up after their pets was challenged on the ground that it interfered with the free exercise of religion—because Orthodox Jews are forbidden from picking up litter on the Sabbath. The court said the law was reasonable, anyway. (Schnapp. v. Lefkowitz, 422 NY.S. 2d 798 (1979).)

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