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Fewer fines poop-scoop fines for careless dog owners

The city has been scooping up fewer dog poop outlaws.

A year after jacking up the fines for dog owners who don’t pick up after their pets, the city was handing out almost half as many tickets, even as complaints continued to rise.

In November 2008, the fine for not curbing a dog shot up to $250 from $100to deter irresponsible pet owners from turning the sidewalks into minefields of poop.

In fiscal year 2009, the Department of Sanitation issued 580 fines, down from 903 the previous year. The higher fines were in effect eight of those 12 months.

While some speculate the threat of higher penalties have discouraged dog walkers from breaking the law, others say they see no change.

“I don't think most dog walkers know the difference,” said Michelle Jean, 28, a dog owner in Manhattan. “Whoever picks up after their dogs are going to do it, regardless of a fine.”

A spokesman for the Department of Sanitation, which enforces the law, would not say whether the agency believes the higher fines have been a deterrent.

The spokesman, Matthew Lipani, said there are 24 officers assigned to the K-9 unit, which also monitors for dogs off the leash and related violations. There hasn’t been a reduction in manpower since the fines went up.

“This summons is among the most difficult for the department to write, since our enforcement agents must see the dog owner walk away from their dog’s waste,” Lipani said.

The city has collected more money from these fines – the penalty went up from $50 to $100 on Dec. 31, 2007 – each of the last three years.

The K-9 officers, who travel around the city by car, generally start out their days with a list of potential troublespots, which supervisors put together from complaints from 311 or off the city’s Web site. Often, the sanitation workers simply learn the hot spots and cruise particular neighborhoods.

“It seems better,” said Assemb. Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), who sponsored the legislation increasing the fines. “Maybe it’s just because it was the first year.”

But, in fact, complaints to 311 have gone up.

In 2009, there were 4,443 calls about dog waste, a three-year high.

“The threat of fines has never worked in convincing New Yorkers to follow this law,” said Michael Brandow, author of a book on the city’s pooper scooper law. “If there has been a decrease in the number of summonses issued, it has not been because of a decrease in the number of law-breaking dog owners.”

Brandow said attitudes have gradually shifted since the first pooper scooper law was passed in 1978 and that peer pressure has made pet owners more compliant.

Still, Adrian Rivera, 30, of Manhattan, said it seems enforcement has gone down. She suggested there should be more signs highlighting the health hazards uncollected dog poop can cause.

"People are disgusting,” she said. “We can get sick.”

(Taneish Hamilton contributed to this story)

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