Dog owners who are spotted cleaning up after their pets in Ashland might end up with pleasant rewards in their hands along with bags of poo.
Beginning on Saturday, volunteers plan to walk around town handing out gift certificates to responsible pet owners who they see cleaning up after their dogs.
Go out for a walk with your dog, and you might come home with anything from a coffee shop gift certificate to a certificate for a free Zumba fitness class.
The reward program kicked off at noon on Saturday at Rogue Valley Roasting Co., 917 E. Main St. Organizers handed out bumper stickers proclaiming that Ashland loves dogs and encouraged dog owners to take a pledge to carry bags and clean up after their pets. (Correction: See below.)
Volunteers began searching for responsible dog owners and handing out gift certificates that day.
"It's using a concept from dog training to reward what you like, only we're rewarding people," said volunteer and co-organizer Colleen Shanahan, owner of the local Dog Gone Fun! dog training business. "When we see people cleaning up after their pets, we're going to go over and thank them and reward them."
One goal of the effort is to raise awareness about responsible dog ownership, she said.
Encouraging dog owners to pick up waste is also a way to try and overcome lingering resistance to the idea of dogs in parks, Shanahan said.
In 2011, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission agreed to allow dogs in several parks around town, overturning a longstanding ban that had kept dogs out of most developed parks in Ashland.
But while leashed dogs are now allowed in most parks, they must be kept within six feet or less of paved surfaces. That means they cannot romp across lawns with their owners.
People opposed to dogs in parks said they feared they would be bitten and also didn't like to step in dog waste while trying to enjoy parks.
Responsible dog ownership and dog access to Ashland parks helps the town's economy, Shanahan said.
When it had a ban on dogs in most parks, Ashland was blacklisted by many travel websites devoted to helping tourists find dog-friendly cities to visit.
The site www.dogfriendly.com still erroneously states that Ashland bans dogs in almost all parks. The site says that Ashland is one of the most dog unfriendly cities on the West Coast.
"Best to just keep on driving on I-5," dogfriendly.com concludes.
Shanahan said volunteers have been working to get travel websites to update their information about dogs and parks in Ashland.
In 2011, concerned residents formed the group Ashland Loves Dogs to try and change Ashland's reputation. Shanahan is a member of that group.
Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner Stefani Seffinger, who supports park access for dog owners and responsible pet ownership, said cleaning up waste has important environmental and health benefits.
She is taking part in the effort to reward responsible dog owners with gift certificates.
The parks department has installed dog waste bag dispensing stations in many locations to make in easier to pick up after pets.
A study showed that E. coli contamination in Ashland Creek fell after stations were set up along a Talent Irrigation District canal trail in town. The canal eventually drains into the creek.
Dog waste that is left on streets or sidewalks eventually washes into storm drains, which empty into local creeks, Seffinger said.
She said responsible dog ownership could lead to more park access for dog owners.
Seffinger said dogs help people live healthier lives by keeping them active.
Dog owners walk an average of 300 minutes each week, she said, and many senior citizens are more active because of their pets.
Dogs are allowed on most developed and undeveloped park land, except for Lithia Park, North Mountain Park and Bluebird Park.
For a complete list of parks properties that are open to dogs and to read park rules about dogs, visit http://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=14451.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify when the program started.