WEST LOOP — When a community leader in the West Loop recently took his children sledding at Mary Bartelme Park, he expected to return home with a snowy brood.
What he didn't expect? Boots and clothes decorated with dog poop.
"I spent more than 20 minutes scraping poop from my kids' boots and clothes. I was literally gagging," Armando Chacon said.
Chacon's dog dropping encounter is just the latest in dog-related problems at Mary Bartelme Park, which has West Loop residents calling for cops to ticket irresponsible owners.
Despite a designated dog area, irresponsible dog owners are increasingly bucking the park's rules on pet poop and allowing their dogs to roam off-leash, according to Scott Maesel, president of the park's advisory council.
Maybe dog poop cameras would do the trick:
Sunbathers and sprawled-out picnickers help keep careless dog parents in line during the park's busy summer months, Maesel said. But come winter, when snow blankets the ground and neighbors stay indoors, "It's free reign for the bad dog owners," he said.
Chacon, who is treasurer of the park council, says spotting dogs doing their business has become the norm.
"There will be five violations at one time," he said. "I hate to do it, but we need to ticket at this point."
Maesel, who lives near the park with his wife, two dogs and two children, said that Bartelme's dog problems have been "consistently bad" during his five years on the board. Now that more people are using the park, the problems have only gotten worse, he said.
Asking police to ticket in the park is a last resort, Maesel said. Over the years, the park council has requested more signage, added a designated dog-friendly board member and attempted to inform dog owners of the rules through word of mouth, but problems persist. Park district signs, reading "dogs allowed in dog area only" line the park.
Neighborly reminders to follow the rules haven't worked, either, Chacon said.
"I have personally nicely, politely told people, 'Please don't do this,' and they just are not receptive to that," he said. "They ignore me, or some will literally say, 'F.U.'"
Luke DeMarte, whose balcony overlooks Bartelme Park, wishes he could throw a ball in the park without encountering "piles of dog crap," he said. But his biggest concern is dogs that roam off-leash, sometimes approaching his 3½-year-old son.
"Dogs off the leash will just run up to us. And the owner will say he or she is friendly, 'Don't worry about it,'" DeMarte said. "But who knows? I don't know this dog."
Resident Shannon O'Neill, who frequents the park's fenced-in dog area with her 3-year-old Labradoodle Sox, said a group of dogs off-leash meet in the park's grassy area nightly.
"Whether people are allergic or just scared of dogs, they shouldn't have to be subjected to a dog off the leash," O'Neill said.
Chacon said a recent Facebook thread added to the "overwhelming" number of complaints the park advisory council has fielded on the issue. The park's dog rules exist to ensure the the park is an enjoyable place for everyone, including dog owners and families with young children, he said.
"I don't want to be the doggie boogie man. I see dog owners on a nice day. ... I like seeing that, that's great," he said. "But when I see people literally come and let their dog poop and pee and leave the park, you know, that's not what the park should be."
Rick Gray, who has lived in the neighborhood for 17 years, said the park's dog problems are annoying to dog owners, too — he has two Shih Tzus. Unfortunately, some dog owners are "lazy, selfish and disrespectful," he said.
"When it comes to being considerate of rules and regulations and others around you, it's difficult. People really have to think about it," Gray said. "Ultimately, we're going to have to ticket."
Chacon, who is also president of the West Central Association, said will ask Ald. Danny Solis (25th) to work with police to ticket unruly owners in the park. Solis is committed to finding ways to manage the situation, said Solis' spokeswoman Stacy Raker.
"These types of violations are notoriously difficult to enforce but the alderman hopes to develop creative ways to improve this issue alongside the community," Raker said.
Near West Side Police Cmdr. Melissa Staples, whose district includes Bartelme Park, could not be reached for comment.
Chacon said he believe ticketing will force bad dog owners to take the rules seriously. "Once some people are fined, it won't just be some open-ended threat," he said.
Under city ordinance, owners who fail to clean up their pet's poop face a $50 to $500 ticket for each offense, unless the dog owner is legally blind.
Pet owners are also required to restrain their dogs with a leash when the dog is off the owner's property. Owners who defy the city rule are subject to a $300 fine. But if the violation results in the serious injury or death of another person, the owner could face fines up to $10,000 and up to six months in jail.
Maesel said he would prefer the police dedicate their time to tackling serious crime, "but when there's this many people irate, it's reached a new level," he said.
Chacon understands the poop problem may seem petty to some.
"But in all fairness, in the West Loop, we don't shoot each other. We don't punch each other, for the most part," Chacon said. "So we pay on average higher taxes than other neighborhoods but don't utilize the services" as much as some neighborhoods.
While pet owners agree that Bartelme Park rules prohibit unleashed dogs and require owners to clean up after their pet, some owners believe dogs are allowed in grassy areas of the park.
Maesel said that isn't true. Dogs are only allowed in the designated gated dog area and on sidewalks that intersect the park property, he said, and signage spells out the no-grass rule.
"It's across the board: dogs are not allowed in any of the park's green space," Maesel said. "If [police] are going to enforce a law, unfortunately they are also going to have to enforce that rule."
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