Anne L. Dodd, manager of Columbia's Kings Contrivance, cringes at the thought of "the onslaught of calls." Joe Gabriszeski, a resident of that village, sounds besieged and sees the problem "all around." Bill Sowders, chairman of the village board, says that discussions about it dragged for weeks: "You'd think it was the Middle East peace accords."
No such weighty issue is hanging in the balance. The problem we're talking about is dogs. Or more to the point, owners who allow their dogs to defecate on neighbors' properties.
It is illegal in Howard County not to clean up after one's pet. An offense can bring fines from $25 to $250, but before that can happen, offended neighbors are required to report the infraction, swear to it in an affidavit and notify the county's Animal Control offices. The process, as one can imagine, does not engender neighborhood peace.
The problem appears particularly nettlesome in the densely populated, meticulously landscaped neighborhoods of Columbia. Even the Howard County Council has seen fit to weigh in on the dilemma. Chairman C. Vernon Gray went so far as to propose criminal penalties for errant pet owners.
Other council members chose to step more gingerly around the problem. Some fretted that criminal charges would equate animal accidents with cruelty and neglect to pets, already punishable by fines or a prison sentence, so they backed off.
Then, someone came up with an idea. Why not post signs similar to those planted by lawn care services to warn people when a lawn has been chemically treated? Thus was born a new symbol for the times; the silhouette of a dog doing what dogs invariably do, surrounded by a circle with a line running through the middle. Similar signs warn people against excessive drinking, smoking and illegal drug use. Why not for proper pet-owner conduct?
Some 500 signs will be posted in Kings Contrivance for a period of two weeks. Village officials don't want residents to become so accustomed to the signs that they start to ignore them.
The fact is, though, the signs will probably have negligible impact on pet owners who are intent on breaking the law. It's easy to do the wrong thing. To paraphrase what in all likelihood goes through the offender's mind at the time of the offense, "Stuff happens."