Pasco neighbors seeing yellow over dogs
A conflict about public pet urination brews in a Hudson deed restricted community, which is considering whether the act violates covenants.

Published May 24, 2004

HUDSON - Some of the neighbors get nervous when DoeD or Ginger stop trotting and start squatting.

It's not what you think.

Vivian Bogul always picks up after her female dogs, a beagle mix and a Labrador mix that accompany her on morning walks through Autumn Oaks, a deed-restricted subdivision off County Line Road.

It's the urine that's the problem.

"If you don't water it and dilute it, it kills the grass," said Ron Ruppe, a retired New York police officer who lives down the street. "If that happens, you're in violation of the deed restrictions because your grass is dead."

The problem gets worse when other dogs sniff out the spot and decide to mark it, too, he said.

That's why some neighbors are questioning whether public pet urination violates the deed restrictions in Autumn Oaks. Neighbor Tom Contino cites this passage in the community's covenants: "No noxious or offensive activity or nuisance shall be carried (out) on, in or about any lot, unit or common area."

The homeowners association's attorney is reviewing the matter, and the board of directors could decide at its June 2 meeting whether that passage applies to Mrs. Bogul's dogs.

She finds the idea ridiculous.

"If they wanted this to be a pet-free community, they should have put that in the deed restrictions, and I wouldn't have bought here," said Mrs. Bogul, who happens to sit on the board of directors. She also owns a water and air purification business with her husband, Jim Bogul.

Mrs. Bogul has looked up maps, ordinances and covenants and insists she's doing nothing wrong. She only allows her dogs on the grassy right-of-way between the road and the sidewalk - land that is publicly owned, although the homeowners must maintain it under the deed restriction.

Neither she nor her husband has seen signs of any damage to anyone's grass.

"Their complaint is a complaint about something that isn't happening," Mr. Bogul said.

But the dispute has created quite a stink.

Mrs. Bogul accuses some neighbors of turning their sprinklers on her (they say they're just washing away the dog urine). Ruppe and Contino accuse Mrs. Bogul of encouraging her dogs to relieve themselves near their yards (she says the dogs simply go where they want).

When a dog squats or the sprinklers go on, neighbors start snapping pictures of each other. And Contino admits "giving (the Boguls) the bird" with both hands when a camera was turned on him.

"This never should have gone anywhere," Ruppe said. "This is childish."

Ever since Fido took his first squat, the question has lingered: What do you do about the doo?

Centuries ago it was used as manure or burned with other garbage. During the Industrial Revolution, scavengers scooped it up and sold it to tanners, who used it in leather softening treatments.

As more people and their pets moved to the cities in the 20th century, communities began requiring people to "curb" - or clean up - after their dogs. That messy task inspired Japanese inventor Takeki Narita to create the first pooper scooper - a long stick attached to a box with a hinged lid - which received a patent in 1969.

The courts waded into the dog doo debate in 1971, when the Essex County Court upheld a Nutley, N.J., curb-your-dog law. The judge ruled that, "Dog droppings have become a scourge, a form of environmental pollution, no less dangerous and degrading than the poisons that we exude and dump into our air and water." The man who challenged the law had to pay a $10 fine for his Great Dane's great dump.

If "dangerous" sounds like an overstatement, consider this: About 600 people were hospitalized or treated for broken limbs each year after slipping on dog droppings in Paris, the New York Times reported in 2001. A law requiring people to curb their pets went into effect the following year, ending the city's strange practice of sending out workers on bright green motor scooters to suck up the dog doo with a vacuum-cleanerlike contraption.

Today there are numerous pooper scooper patents and dozens of "doody duty" services across the country that clean up after pets for a price. They even have their own trade organization: the Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists (aPAWS).

But while poop has inspired laws, sparked inventions and spawned an industry, dog urine largely goes unnoticed and unregulated, aPAWS president Debra Levy said.

"It's more of a be-nice-to-your-neighbor kind of thing," said Levy, owner of Yucko's scooper service, the self-dubbed No. 1 "turd-herder" in St. Louis. "You do have the power to direct your dog to urinate somewhere else. If a dog has to urinate, I don't have a problem with it - just not on my mums."

In Pasco County, the ordinances are anything but clear on the matter.

The county's antilittering law - which bans people from littering on public roads, rights-of-way, water bodies or private properties - includes "animal waste" among the definitions of litter.

A pet owner risks a $155 fine for leaving it behind, although citations are rare because the pet must be caught in the act, Assistant County Attorney Kristi Wooden said.

The legal hair-splitting arises over urine. Technically, it's waste. Practically speaking, however, there's no way to force people to clean it up, she said.

"It might not be the most polite thing to do, but it's not something I'm going to be prosecuting until someone tells me I must," said Wooden, who handles animal control and code enforcement cases in county court.

Her rule of thumb: "The more solid the waste, the more solid the case."

But deed restrictions are another matter.

Residents agree to stricter, self-imposed rules on the theory that it keeps the neighborhood nicer. By the same token, the homeowners association can be a place where personalities clash.

Mrs. Bogul thinks she ruffled feathers earlier this year when she questioned the way certain members handled deed restriction issues without consulting the full board.

John Tallarine, president of the board, acknowledged the dog urine debate includes a "personality conflict." But he said his only concern is whether the public urinating violates the deed restrictions.

"Anything else is a civil matter," Tallarine said.

Ruppe and Contino describe themselves as dog lovers and former dog owners. Contino used to hold birthday parties for his dog Uno, an Alaskan malamute/golden retriever mix, and now keeps the urn of Uno's cremains on a table at his home, surrounded by the dog's squeak toys and pictures.

They're not asking Mrs. Bogul to stop her walks. Just don't let the dogs relieve themselves along the way, or use a vacant property where no one will care, they said.

"All you have to do is pull the leash," Ruppe said.

Ray Kleckner, former president of the association, thinks Mrs. Bogul has the right to let her dogs use the right-of-way, as long as she picks up after them.

But he added: "I do feel that, to relieve the tension, maybe Vivian (Bogul) should walk a different route."

Mrs. Bogul doesn't plan to change her path, however. She must walk on certain sides of the street to see oncoming cars around the corners, she said.

Based on her research, she thinks she is following the rules. She even takes her dogs to her back yard to empty out before the walk.

Her morning stroll should not be a matter for the deed restriction committee, she said.

"If we lose our right to walk on public land, what are they going to go after next?" she asked.