It may be the lack of snow cover, but it's hard to avoid seeing that more than a few of the town's nearly 2,100 dog owners aren't picking up after their pets.
The evidence is everywhere at John George Park in Danvers — and that's not counting the goose droppings.
It's a situation that frustrates not only residents who want to enjoy the park but other dog owners who do clean up after their pets.
Late last week, for example, John Kavanaugh, a 20-year resident of town, took his 13-year-old Labrador mutt, Shadow, for a walk at the riverside park, which sports a sign that says: "Dogs welcome on leash." He walked around the park and picked up after Shadow as they walked, but he said he encountered dozens of droppings from other people's dogs.
"People who don't pick up, they just think the laws and regulations are not for them," Kavanaugh said.
The town does a great job of maintaining the park, he said, but there is only so much they can do. People who don't pick up after their pets give other dog owners a bad name, he said.
"I don't think it's too much to ask dog owners to bend over and pick up the poop," Kavanaugh said.
Public Health Director Peter Mirandi said the town has addressed the issue with some "chronic folks" who used to refuse to pick up.
"We have been patrolling that park as best we can for years," he said.
As the weather gets nicer, he promised increasing surveillance there. Mirandi can write tickets for those who are caught violating animal control laws, with fines of $25 for the first offense and $50 for any additional offenses in a calendar year.
But it's hard to enforce such laws, he said. Health officials don't have the same authority as police officers when it comes to approaching people. And police often have more important things to do than investigating pooper-scooper violators.
"The vast majority of fines that we have issued over the years pertain to loose or unlicensed dogs responsible for causing personal injury or property damage, i.e., dog bites to persons or attacks on other pets," Mirandi said.
The problem is not isolated to John George Park. On Friday, Mirandi got two inquiries about the problem at other locations in town, including the Danvers Rail Trail.
The cost of surveillance at public parks and along the trail to discourage a few inconsiderate pet owners is prohibitive, he said, adding that it should not be necessary.
"The fundamental responsibility of owning a pet is to adequately care for the animal," Mirandi said. "Not picking up pet waste exposes all pets, and the public at large, to unsanitary conditions. This is a basic example of uncaring behavior."
In Salem, which has an off-leash dog park along the North River, residents have noticed a welcome decrease in problems at Salem Common, but not at all the city's parks.
"We are not without our problems," said Doug Bollen, Salem's director of park, recreation and community services, who helped develop Salem's dog park. "The dog walkers have got to police themselves."
Don Famico, the Salem police animal control officer, said a crime surveillance camera on Salem Common may be helping to cut down on problems with dog waste, along with good signage.
"The common is posted very well," Famico said. "We have it posted at eight areas before they even get into the common."
The fine for not picking up dog waste is $50, Famico said, and it's treated like a parking ticket. Not paying the fine within 21 days can lead to a hearing before a clerk-magistrate, and things can escalate if the fine is not paid.
"When we do get an offense, they get the ultimate fine, whatever it is," said Famico, who said he will also check to see if the dog was on a leash, is up-to-date on its rabies shots and is licensed. Those carry separate fines.
Lately, Famico has been receiving complaints about those who refuse to pick up at Forest River Park, and he has met with police Chief Paul Tucker about enforcing dog laws there.
"I do the best I can with the hours they give me," Famico said, but noted that policing dog owners is a "24/7 problem." Famico said the regular patrol officers support his efforts and report problems, such as dog bites, to him to investigate.
"It's unfortunate people don't clean up after themselves," said Danvers resident Gail Tyrrell, who is one of those leading an effort in town to create a new off-leash dog park.
A group called Friends of Danvers Dog Park has come up with a plan for an off-leash dog park at Endicott Park, behind the children's playground, a plan that has been approved by selectmen. Both Salem and Beverly have off-leash dog parks now. The group is now trying to raise $40,000 to pay for fencing and construction.
One possible advantage of a dog park is that it could reduce off-leash dog traffic in other parks, a situation that often leads to owners not picking up, said Matt Faino, a member of Friends of Danvers Dog Park.
"Like many things in this world," Faino said, "it is a minority of dog owners who do not pick up after their dogs, but they soil the reputation of all dog owners by failing to do so."
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.
DOG PARK FUNDRAISER
To raise money for the Danvers Dog Park, Friends of the Danvers Dog Park is holding a comedy night at the Oniontown Grill, 175 Water St., on Friday, March 9. Admission is $25. Contact Carla King for tickets or more information at Carla.King@comcast.net or 978-884-4866.