HARLEM — When she's out walking her two dogs, Susan Rodriguez always makes sure to bring extra plastic bags. She's seen one too many pooch owners in her East Harlem neighborhood not clean up after their pet.
"It's just plain nasty to leave dog poop on the sidewalk," said Rodriguez, who owns an Italian greyhound named Ollie and a long-haired Chihuahua named Mork.
"People are too lazy or feel they are too good [to touch it] or expect someone else to do it,"
Dog waste has E. coli, salmonella and other organisms that can be harmful to humans, she said. Those who step on the waste are in danger of transmitting those germs into their home.
Worse yet, if left on the sidewalk, the poop can be swept into the water supply, added Rodriguez, who has been working with City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito to raise awareness about the issue.
In an effort to educate East Harlem residents about the health hazards of not picking up after their dogs, Rodriguez, who runs a non-profit, and Mark-Viverito are launching the "There is No Poop Fairy in East Harlem" campaign.
On Aug. 25, volunteers, armed with goodies such as doggie waste disposal bags and T-shirts, will educate dog owners about the importance of picking up after their pet.
"We are going to have people literally pick up some of the crap as part of the process," said Mark-Viverito, barely able to hide her anger at the dog poop issue in East Harlem.
While health is the main focus, Rodriguez points out in such a high-population area, the grossness of encountering a steaming pile of poop is nearly unavoidable.
"In some areas, it's like you are doing an obstacle course. You see people that have shopping carts and wheelchairs trying to dodge the stuff," Rodriguez said.
According to the Citizens Committee for New York, the 2 million dogs residing in the five boroughs produce 275,000 pounds of waste per year. Since 1978, New York City has had a "pooper scooper" law requiring owners to pick up after their pets. If caught not picking up the waste, pet owners face a $250 fine.
The city's sanitation department also has a public service campaign that urges New Yorkers to not be a "Pooper-trator."
As Harlem becomes more dog-friendly with dog runs, pet-friendly businesses and buildings popping up in the area, the problem is increasing, she said.
One group has begun placing bags for people to use in picking up after their dogs along Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
Because owners weren't picking up after their pet at Tom's Dog Run in Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem, people stopped bringing their dogs there, Rodriguez said.
"You step in this stuff and bring it home. This is really about individual responsibility and wanting a healthy, clean community," Mark-Viverito said.
The poop fairy campaign didn't originate in East Harlem. Mark-Viverito and her staff took the idea from the Animal Control Office in Jefferson County, Colo. which is located about 10 miles from Denver.
Carla Zinanti, animal control manager for the Jefferson County Sheriffs' Office, said the dog poop problem in the area was out of control. So much dog waste was left on area baseball and soccer fields that coaches began canceling youth league practices. Complaints rolled in from residents of condominium complexes, she said.
"We felt frustrated on how to make an impact and address the problem, and we thought maybe we will come up with a public education campaign and peer pressure will get people to do what they are supposed to do," Zinanti said.
"We brainstormed and decided we would address it as humor," she said.
They came up with a picture of the fabled poop fairy flying through the air with a broom and long-handled dustpan while picking up someone's dog waste.
"Like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, the fabled poop fairy has been the stuff of legend. Flying undetected in parks, neighborhoods and schoolyards, she was said to follow close behind dogs and their owners — picking up what the dog left behind, before flying off to the next canine creation," reads the public service announcement.
"A widespread belief that she existed seemed to reassure some that cleaning up after one’s dog was sort of … optional," it continued before hitting the punch line.
"There is no poop fairy. Please clean up after your dog," reads the poster.
The public service announcement went viral when it made MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's "Best New Thing in the World" list last July. Soon, other municipalities began adopting the campaign.
Zinanti says they have shared their materials with more than half dozen other locales from Minnesota to Oregon. Still, she said she realizes why it's a challenge to get dog-owners on board.
"It's not a pleasant thing to do. No one likes to pick up a warm handful of poop," said Zinanti. "But it's a health hazard to people and animals, and it carries a lot of nasty things that don't do the environment any good."
Since the campaign began, Zinanti said the department has noticed an increase in awareness and dog-poop complaints have gone down.
Mark-Viverito, who says she sees dog poop in front of her house, and has herself stepped into a pile, lately has been getting a lot of complaints from New York City Housing Authority residents. She hopes she also sees an uptick in awareness in East Harlem.
"You step in it and it's really upsetting," Mark-Viverito said.
Rodriguez, who faithfully picks up after her two dogs, also is hoping the project is a success.
"The saying is 'It's good luck to step in dog poop' but it ain't good luck to me," Rodriguez said. "It takes 10 seconds to pick it up, but it takes 10 minutes to scrape it off your shoe."