INWOOD — It's the pits!
Students and volunteers who built tree pit guards for an Inwood junior high school say their efforts to brighten the neighborhood are being undermined by thoughtless dog owners who let their pets use the spaces to do their business.
Dog owners have been ignoring — and sometimes outright flouting — the fences that students erected around the pits, located on Vermilyea Avenue on the east side of Inwood's I.S. 52, which have quickly become receptacles for dog urine and feces, volunteers said.
Some volunteers have seen dog owners pick up their pooches, lift them over the fences, and place them directly into the pits to do their business, they said.
"We're working in the tree pits, and as they see us working in one pit, you'll see a dog owner putting their dog in another pit so they can relieve themselves," said Louis Cabrera, the program manager for Inwood Community Services. "They're not thinking."
The three shin-high wooden pit guards, which surround a collection of trees on either side of the the side exit of the school, were built over the summer by I.S. 52 students with help from volunteers at Inwood Community Services, the New York Restoration Project and the Rotary Club of Inwood, Manhattan.
"These kids gave up their Saturday mornings," Tejada said, adding that he has seen students confront dog owners multiple times. "They feel ownership of the trees, so when they see this they get frustrated."
The tree guards were made possible by a $1,000 grant from the city's Million Trees Initiative. Over 40 students gave up time on weekends to help build the wooden guards, school Assistant Principal Luis Tejada said.
So many dogs use the pit guards, Tejada said, that the school's janitors are constantly removing poop and dropping sand to soak up waste.
And while dog owners might not think letting Fido go once or twice is a big deal, Williamson says that waste is very harmful to the trees.
"Dog urine destroys the nutrients in the soil that the tree needs to stay alive." Williamson said, adding that urine burns tree trunks, and dog feces can carry diseases like ringworm.
"You might think of it as innocent, that it's just your dog that's doing it," Tejada said. "But there's many other dogs. It's a constant cycle. Dogs are covering other dogs' smells."
Tejada, himself a dog owner, said he understands that pets need to relieve themselves, but that he would like to see owners train their dogs to go at the curb. He is considering hanging up Inwood resident Arlene Schulman's signs reminding owners to pick up after their pets.
Meanwhile, Kyla Williamson, president of the Rotary Club, said that her group is planning a big informational blitz in June, when volunteers will hand out materials telling owners that dog waste is bad for trees.
"Most people just don't know," said Williamson, who added that it sends a discouraging message to students.
"The volunteers put all of this effort in to building the tree guards and it goes back to looking bad in a couple of months," she said.