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Dog owners get a reprieve — for now — on cleaning up after pets

The Chicago City Council is cracking down on people who don't pick up dog droppings, which are a favorite food for the city's rats. | Associated Press file photo

Chicago dog owners won’t face hefty fines for failing to clean up after their pets in their own backyards — at least not yet.

A handful of aldermen concerned about the burden it would place on building owners used a parliamentary maneuver Wednesday to put off a vote on the $50 to $500 fines at the City Council meeting.

Hours before the delay, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) and Cherie Travis, former executive director of the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control, argued that the city is barking up the wrong tree by empowering the city to fine dog owners who don’t pick up after their pets in their own backyards to control the city’s burgeoning rat population.

By holding building owners responsible for the backyard mess, Lopez and Travis are concerned that the city will inadvertently encourage landlords to stop renting to tenants with dogs. And that could lead to a surge in the number of dogs turned over to the already inundated city pound.

“My alderman’s office is saying, ‘Then just pass it off to the tenant.’ But what happens when the tenant says, ‘It wasn’t my dog.’ If the tenant disputes it, I’ve got to do a DNA test to determine whose dog poop it is,” said Travis, who owns several rental buildings in Logan Square.

“The correct ordinance is the one that’s been on the books for 15 years, which puts the responsibility on the dog owner — not the property owner. If I have four tenants in the building and each of them has a dog and there’s dog waste on my property and I get the fine, who do I put that onto?”

Travis said tenants who answer her ads for a “pet-friendly” apartment have told her it is nearly “impossible to find” a Chicago apartment that allows dogs.

“If it’s impossible now, Chicago is going to be very dog-unfriendly when this ordinance passes. I may be the most pet-friendly landlord in Chicago and I’m gonna resist renting to people with dogs if this ordinance passes because I’m not gonna risk a $500 fine,” Travis said.

Lopez agreed that the ordinance championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and rookie Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) “targets the wrong people” and is little more than a “money-grab” on property owners.

“Right now, pet owners face a number of discriminatory practices from landlords who may not want to take certain breeds or want to take animals at all,” Lopez said.

“I understand concerns about piles of backyard poop. But we have laws on the books. And we have the ability through our ward supes to already ticket them. If we address it early, we don’t have 15 pounds of feces in a yard” for rats to feast on.

Lopez then offered a dire prediction for what will happen when the fine-bearing citations start flying.

“Families will have to make a very difficult decision when they try to move while renting whether or not to keep their family pet. That will force more animals into Animal Care and Control, force more animals to be surrendered and be counter-productive to our overall mission to become a more dog-friendly city,” he said.

For 41 years, Chicago dog owners have been required to pick up after their pets or face fines if that business is done on public streets, alleys or sidewalks.

But dog owners who allow their pets to pile up the poop in their own backyards have gotten a pass — even when neighbors complain about the stench and a rat population that feeds on animal waste explodes.

That would change under the ordinance stalled Wednesday.

It states “feces from pets deposited upon any private property must be collected and removed daily by the property owner or agent by bagging and placing them in a city-issued or other rodent-resistant, lidded waste container.”

Property owners and agents who thumb their noses at the new requirement would face fines of between $50 and $500 for each offense.

Pest control giant Orkin declared Chicago the nation’s “rattiest” city in 2013 and 2014 and the problem has only gotten worse.

The city’s 311 non-emergency system is on pace to field 50,000 rodent-related complaints this year, up from 32,855 complaints in 2014 and 36,425 last year.

Ramirez-Rosa has said it’s high time the city get tough. The stench alone requires it, to say nothing of the rat buffet dog feces provide.

“This ordinance started because I had constituents come to me and say, ‘We can’t open up our windows in the summer because our neighbor doesn’t pick up after their pet, and the odor is just horrendous.’ They say, `We actually have to seal up our windows with tape to keep the odor from coming into our home,'” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“Rats love to feast on dog excrement. So it’s a backyard smorgasbord for rodents. One of the ways the city has tackled our rat problem is attacking the source of food. If you have dog excrement in your backyard, you’re feeding the rats. We need to attack this issue.”