Abstract

The goal of this project is to implement a pilot outreach program in the City of Frederick, Maryland focused on increasing the number of dog owners who clean up after their pets, resulting in cleaner, more attractive neighborhoods and reduced inputs of pathogens and nutrients to Carroll Creek, the Monocacy River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. The specific objectives are to implement a Clean Streets and Yards Challenge, measure its effectiveness and investigate the potential to implement a Dog License Amnesty Program.

Behavior

Behaviors: Picking up pet waste

Behavior Pattern: Continous

Why was this behavior selected?

Pet waste has been identified as a problem in the City of Frederick, Maryland’s downtown area. In addition to being a nuisance, pet waste is a water quality issue, contributing bacteria and other pathogens and nutrients to local waterways. The City of Frederick recently completed the project planning phase of a behavior change study focused on pet waste pickup with the Center for Watershed Protection (the Center) and Water Words That Work© (WWTW). The purpose of this request is to implement the recommendations from the planning study, which showed:

  • A small number of repeat offenders may account for a majority of the pet waste in public areas;
  • Pet owners are less likely to dispose of pet waste left in their yards than in public areas;
  • 33 of the 38 pet waste stations are found in the downtown area with limited stations; elsewhere in the City. In spite of these stations downtown, the area is a notable hotspot for pet waste with high visibility from businesses and tourists; and
  • There are a significant number of dogs that are not licensed.

Target Audiences

Audiences: Pet owners

Primary Audience: Pet owners

Secondary Audience: N/A

Demographics: Asia/pacificislander, Black or african american, Hispanic or latino, Native american or indian, Other, White

Ages: 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+

Description of Target Audience

The target audience for the Pet Waste Program is pet owners with yards in the City of Frederick. According to WWTW’s Audience Targeter, there are 7,428 dog-owning households in the City of Frederick. This sub-segment of dog owners in the City was chosen based on the assessment completed during Phase 1 that found pet owners were less conscientious about removing pet waste from their own yards than from public areas. The pilot program will focus on dog owners with yards in up to three (3) Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NACs). Pet owners who do not license their dogs is another a sub-segment of the target audience, selected because the Phase I results suggest that the small proportion of dog owners who do not pick up after their dogs in public spaces may also comprise the portion of the pet owner population that does not license their dog with Frederick County. Therefore, an alternative approach to incentivize this population to license their dogs and pick up after their pets will be investigated as part of the Implementation Phase. A review of the Frederick County database of registered dogs indicates that approximately 1,200 dogs are licensed in the City. Estimates of dog ownership from national data sources indicate that only 1 out of every 4 dogs are licensed, where INFOUSA and USADATA estimate there are more likely 5,500 to 8,800 dogs in the City. This suggests that there are many unlicensed dogs in the City of Frederick and the total number of dogs is higher than previously estimated.

Research

How did you research your audiences: A combination of in-person interviews or focus groups and then broader surveys

Barriers

  • It’s smelly and messy
  • Pet waste is natural and is biodegradable/fertilizer
  • My individual pile of pet waste isn’t a problem
  • It’s in my yard
  • Too much work/inconvenient/Don’t want to carry bags
  • Limited number of pet waste stations outside the downtown area
  • The major competing alternative behavior to properly disposing of pet waste is the habitual behavior of not picking up the pet waste and leaving it on the ground.

External factors

  • City law enforcement places low priority on enforcing pet waste laws
  • Few social consequences exist for residents having waste in their own backyards

Benefits

  • Clean streets and sidewalks downtown (City’s major tourist area)
  • Supports dog-friendly downtown Frederick atmosphere
  • Clean and “healthy” backyards
  • Reinforce responsible dog owner part of the community
  • Avoid stepping in and seeing pet waste
  • Improvement to water runoff and quality.

Gaining insight into your target audience

The Center and WWTW conducted a nationwide case study of pet waste programs, due diligence test panels to review pet waste education materials, and a targeted survey of City residents.

Strategy

Outreach Tactics: Feedback, Public commitment statements, Social diffusion

What media/communication channels did you use? Face to face, Small group or public meetings, Events

Products and services

The City reviewed the planning phase results and found that a voluntary, incentive-based program would be more desirable and acceptable by decision-makers than a regulatory or enforcement approach. The “Clean Yards and Streets Challenge” directed towards the NACs is recommended as a pilot project to evaluate the city-wide implementation of the revised pet waste program. The Challenge would be limited to dog owners within the participating neighborhoods who would be asked to complete a short survey during registration that characterizes their pet waste pickup behavior, along with completing a revised City of Frederick Pet Waste Pledge. The participants would record their behavior during the Challenge period (i.e., two weeks). The winner of the Challenge would receive prizes sponsored by local businesses. The pounds of pet waste collected would provide a statistic to inform the broader dog-owner population of Frederick of how much pet waste is produced and left behind when it is not picked up and disposed of properly. Promotional messages developed for print and social media campaigns would reinforce the desired behavior, along with advertising the event and its winners. This challenge could be repeated annually and open to all NACs City-wide, if the pilot program is determined to be successful. The Phase I results suggest that the small proportion of dog owners who do not pick up after their dogs in public spaces may also comprise the (likely significant) part of the pet owner population that does not license their dog with Frederick County. Therefore, an alternative approach to incentivize this population to license their dogs and pick up after their pets was recommended as part of the Implementation Phase. A proposed budget of $49,968 is estimated to implement work described in Phase II.

Cost or Trade Off

The primary incentive is a relevant and attractive prize (i.e., via local Sponsorship) awarded to the NAC that collects the most pledges to include for example pet waste stations, coupons or free dog grooming or pet products. The winning NAC will also receive recognition for the positive civic behavior at a Council meeting or other public event. It is necessary to incentivize the desired behavior for two reasons:

City law enforcement places low priority on enforcing pet waste laws

Few social consequences exist for residents having waste in their own backyards

The primary cost to residents who follow through on the pledge is their time to pick up the waste and potentially the cost for pet waste bags (some residents may use a scooper or grocery bags). The issuance of fines by local law enforcement may provide a financial disincentive for residents to leave pet waste on the ground.

Place

Residents can initially participate in the Challenge from any location by filling out the online form. Residents will follow through on the pledged behavior in public areas and in their own yards in the City of Frederick. Initially, downtown Frederick was viewed by the City as the pet waste problem area and there was a need to keep it clean of pet waste given its marketing as a tourist destination. While the survey respondents identified the downtown as a problem area for pet waste, parks and sidewalks throughout the City are seen as additional hotspots for pet waste; this also includes the downtown dog park – Baker Park. Based on the results of the current study, a more effective pet waste program would use incentives, targeted messaging and other types of assistance for the broader population of City dog owners to adopt the desired behavior.

Primary Messages

Positioning statement: We want all dog owners to license their pets and to pick up pet waste and dispose of it properly to keep the City of Frederick and backyards clean.

Lessons

How did you measure impact? N/A

Most significant lessons learned

Evaluation:

Primarily, before and after surveys of residents participating in the Challenge will be used to verify or modify the current baseline of pet waste pick-up behavior and estimate changes from this baseline. The survey will also provide information to quantify the amount of pet waste typically generated by a pet-owning household (e.g. based on number of dogs, frequency of pick-up, bags of waste generated daily). The repetition of the Challenge and survey can then track behavior change over time. The program will be considered effective if the resulting behavior change results in an increase to 98% from 94% of pet owners who report they “always” pick up their pet waste in public spaces, and an increase to 75% from 58% of dog-owners report they remove pet waste from their yards a few times a week or more often (incrementally 5% per year for 3 years). The Challenge will enable the City to track and report the pounds of pet waste generated by dogs and determine the relative amount of pet waste picked up and properly disposed of, as well as the avoided pollution. The number of pet waste pledges signed will allow the City to track increased awareness of the pet waste program and desired behavior. Additional metrics to evaluate the program may include tracking ‘hits’ on the City website describing the Challenge and online sign-ups for the pet waste pledge.