As kids file back into school after recess, there’s one thing teachers dread smelling: dog poop.
At Juniper Elementary School in Bend, students stepped in droppings so often the principal had to reach out to the neighborhood association.
“It stops the educational process — we have to stop what we’re doing and it requires a staff member or custodian to clean up, and they don’t get to give instruction,” Principal Dan Wolnick said about cleaning dog poop off students’ shoes.
According to Wolnick, students’ shoes had to be scraped off once or twice a week so far this school year due to dog owners not picking up after their pets. He said although community members have always used Juniper’s grassy area when students aren’t in school, he’s noticed more dog owners the last few months on school grounds, resulting in more poop on the field.
Bill Caram, the chair of the Orchard District neighborhood association, agreed and believed there were more people using Juniper’s grounds to walk their dogs because nearby Marshall High School closed its grounds recently. He said after being contacted by Wolnick, he began encouraging the community to be more responsible.
“You can’t have kids stepping in dog poop in the rate that they have,” he said. “That’s why I’ve tried to reach out to the neighborhood in order to keep it under control so we can keep that privilege.”
This stinky issue isn’t limited to Juniper — dog poop being left on school grounds has become a thorn in many schools’ sides. Bend-La Pine Schools spokeswoman Julianne Repman said the district mostly focuses on educating the community about the importance of cleaning up after pets, but many schools try different techniques to handle the droppings.
Brian Kissell, principal at Highland Magnet School, said he doesn’t think dog poop is an issue at his school, but he and his staff diligently check the school’s fields and even the median strips next to the sidewalks nearby for piles. He said they typically find feces a couple of times a month.
“It takes one time and it ruins your day for the poor kid who steps in it, so it tends to be a pretty big deal for the one time it does happen,” he said.
However, Kessel said, he focused more on praising the responsible dog owners.
“When I do find myself getting upset, I try to remind myself that more people than not do pick up after their dogs,” he said. “I would rather express my gratitude for them than worry about the people who don’t.”
At Juniper, Wolnick spent about $20 of school discretionary funds to put plastic bags at the field’s gate and posted a laminated sign about the poop crisis last week, signed by Juniper’s students.
“Friends of Juniper — this year we are finding way more doggie remains around the campus,” the sign reads. “This is really hard for us students because we have to stop everything to clean it off our shoes and it smells terrible. Please help us and clean up after your dog.”
Caram said his neighborhood would be willing to support Wolnick by purchasing extra doggie bags in case the current stash runs out.
“We have a great neighborhood of active people, so I’m sure somebody will volunteer to take that on,” he said.
Some schools, meanwhile, have taken a more hard-line approach to avoid nasty shoes, such as Pine Ridge and Elk Meadow elementary schools, which have large “No Dogs Allowed” signs along their fences. Nathan Hovekamp, who is a former Bend-La Pine Schools board member and currently serves on the Bend Park & Recreation District’s board, said if he had his way, no dogs would be allowed on any Bend school property 24/7.
“Even if somebody picks up after their animal, if you have hundreds and hundreds of dogs using the grounds as a toilet, you accumulate a residue there (and) it very quickly becomes untenable,” he said. “I believe many schools are finding that, unfortunately, there’s little room for reasonable compromise here.”
On the other side, one Bend school reversed its no-dogs rule. When Andy Slavin became principal at Amity Creek Magnet School in 2016, he was told by staff the school locked up its field after school hours due to issues with dog poop. However, he kept finding cut locks and talked with neighbors who begged him to reopen the field so kids could use the playground on weekends. That fall, Slavin decided to “roll the dice” and reopen the gates, and he said it’s been a success.
“We leave one of our gates open, and twice in the last three years, we’ve found dog poop,” he said. “I’m out there every day, and it hasn’t been an issue at this point. I think the playgrounds should be open … and if it becomes a problem, then we’ll address it with neighbors.”
And at Juniper, the frequency of poop-encrusted shoes has dropped significantly since the sign and doggie bags were posted recently, Wolnick said.
“That has made an impact, I hope, on the occurrence of what used to be almost a daily problem,” he said. “It’s made a good difference, and hopefully that will continue.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, email@example.com
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated Brian Kissell’s name. The Bulletin regrets the error.