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On This Day: New York Becomes First Big City to Establish “Pooper Scooper” Law

Last updated: February 13, 2023

On Aug. 1, 1978, New York City’s Canine Waste Law, referred to as the “pooper-scooper” law, took effect, requiring dog owners to pick up after their pets.

The Pooper Scooper Law

In 1978, New York had an estimated half-million dogs, most of which were not licensed. Complaints about dog feces on city sidewalks were common, so, in an effort to clean up the “littered” sidewalks, the City of New York passed the Canine Waste Law.

The New Yorker’s Lauren Collins, in a review of Michael Brandow’s “New York’s Poop Scoop Law: Dogs, the Dirt, and Due Process,” says the story of the pooper scooper law “begins in Nutley, New Jersey, in 1971 (some citizens band together against a neighborhood Great Dane), crosses the Hudson (a hundred and twenty-five tons of dog shit a day clotting the sidewalks of ‘Dung City’!), skips to Albany (Koch kicks the issue upstate after the City Council fails to take action), and culminates in New York’s becoming the first big city to force owners to clean up after their dogs.”

The law, 161.03 of the New York City Health Code, states, “A person who owns, possesses or controls a dog, cat or other animal shall not permit the animal to commit a nuisance on a sidewalk of any public place.”

The law, which went into effect Aug. 1, has been adopted by many cities and towns in the last 31 years. Ed Koch, mayor of New York when the law was passed, noted the value of the pooper scooper law on its 25th anniversary: “If you’ve ever stepped in dog doo, you know how important it is to enforce the canine waste law.”

Enforcing the Law and Assessing Its Effectiveness

Sources in this Story

  • The New Yorker: Scooped
  • City of New York: Health Code of the City of New York: Article 161 Animals
  • New York City Department of Parks and Recreation: New Yorkers Are Reminded of Canine Waste Law
  • The New York Times: With More Dog Waste on Streets, Crackdown Vowed
  • The New York Times: Dog-Waste Management

The law’s effectiveness is debated, as the amount of feces on sidewalks is difficult to quantify, but most New Yorkers agree that the situation improved.

The city’s Sanitation Department has seen variance in related complaints since the law’s inception. In 1997, the department estimated that 60 percent of residents abided by the law, roughly the same as in 1978, but with twice as many pets roaming the streets.

Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, authors of “Freakonomics,” argue in a 2005 article that “the city is plainly cleaner, poop-wise, than it was.” Though the law is difficult to enforce, the authors say that ““social incentives—the hard glare of a passer-by and the offender’s feelings of guilt—are at least as powerful as financial and legal incentives.”

Reference: Dog Care

FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to Dog Care covers selecting a dog, finding a veterinarian, the basics of dog care, buying dog food and medication, and finding accessories—including those that help you obey dog waste laws.

Source: findingDulcinea

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