For her regular job whipping people into shape, personal trainer Sara Moser has special gear. Same goes for her part-time gig and its unique peril as a professional dog walker in downtown Kansas City.
“I keep four sets of shoes in rotation,” Moser said one recent afternoon as traffic revved at the corner of 12th and Walnut streets. “Because of the people who don’t pick up the poop.”
Moser’s companion in Oppenstein Brothers Memorial Park was a beagle mix named Lola. While the pup sniffed with zest at every blade of grass, rock and bush, Moser stepped gingerly in sneakers with purple laces, careful to avoid smelly landmines left behind by previous visitors.
“They all bring their dogs here,” Moser said, referring to tenants of her own high rise a block away and another next to the park. Judging by what she tracks home on the soles of her shoes, she figures only half clean up after their pets.
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“It’s just unkind,” Moser said, plastic bag in hand. “If the people who don’t (pick up) stepped in it, they would know how unkind it is.”
This is what is snidely referred to as a first-world problem. Admittedly, there are far worse hardships being visited upon the human condition than dog waste.
And even among first-world concerns, it is by no means among the great banes of modern urban life. Theft, violence and poverty come to mind.
But for folks who live, work and visit downtown Kansas City, it is a festering irritant as more and more people, and their mutts, set up housekeeping in a paved-over part of town where dogs were once rarer than what was until recently a non-existent nightlife.
“When we began the revitalization of downtown back in 2003,” said Sean O’Byrne of the Downtown Council, “we said we’d judge success by seeing a nice young couple walking their dog.
“Now,” he said, pausing to choose his words carefully, “maybe we are too successful.”
This proliferation of downtown dogs was nothing city planners anticipated. The words dog, cat or pets appear nowhere in the 119-page document, the Downtown Area Plan, that lays out the vision for the residential revival we’re now experiencing.
But far be it from O’Byrne to suggest that too many dogs reside downtown. More dogs, after all, means more people. And more people make for a vibrant place to live, work and play, even if sometimes it has an ick factor from a misplaced step.
“It’s a great problem to have,” O’Byrne said.
But it’s a problem not without some costs, as evidenced by the orange snow fence now surrounding freshly laid strips of grass outside the parking garage for the Kansas City Public Library at 10th Street and Baltimore Avenue.
Because so many dogs make pitstops there, “they have to resod it every year,” said Jared Campbell, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, himself a dog owner who lives nearby.
So irritated are some private property owners by the excrement and burned-out grass from dog urine that they now post signs saying “No Dogs Allowed.” At least one has threatened trespassers with a lawsuit.
Still, Campbell and others say, in spite of the hassles, dogs are a great addition to downtown’s ever hipper streetscape.
“I definitely think the good outweighs the bad,” he said. “My strong belief is that dogs help build a sense of community. In my building, I know the dogs’ names before I know the names of the owners.”
Downtown developers and retailers alike increasingly see dogs and dog owners less as a nuisance than as a potential profit center for future residential and commercial development.
Several downtown luxury apartments are now advertised as “pet friendly” and offer amenities such as grooming, dog walking, play areas and even dog washing stations at a premium price.
While the City Market and other businesses serving food are required by law to close their doors to pets, some coffee shops and bars try to accommodate pet owners at outside patios.
“The dog is increasingly becoming a family member, and because of that you want to bring your family member with you when you go out,” David Hensley said.
With that in mind, Hensley and a partner plan to open a private club for dogs and their owners by the riverfront in the fall. The concept for Bar K, as it will be known, has the humans sitting down for dinner and drinks inside, while their dogs frolic and take care of business outside in a fenced area in the shadow of the Heart of America Bridge.
“We’re trying to fill what we think is a huge gap in the market,” he said.
Where dogs have long been part of the downtown scene in New York and many other big cities, they are relative newcomers, in large numbers anyway, to Kansas City’s urban center.
A little more than a decade ago, there were only a few thousand households within the River Market, Crossroads and downtown loop areas. Now, an estimated 26,000 young people, empty-nesters and others in between call the greater downtown area home. And an awful lot of them, accustomed to suburban life, have dogs.
Nobody knows how many dogs. But if statewide averages are any indication, more than a third of downtown-area households have at least one dog and often another one or two.
And according to projections, many more will be barking at the door.
Officials say that greater downtown — the boundaries for counting purposes is the Missouri River to 31st Street, the state line to Woodland Avenue — is expected to grow to 30,000 residents by 2020 and 40,000 by 2030.
Those numbers impressed Dan Thompson when he saw them a few years back. So much so that the owner of the Leawood-based dog day care, grooming and boarding business Dog Pawz leased a 12,000-square-foot building in the Crossroads at 1821 Central St. for his second location.
“I saw the growth coming, and there wasn’t anything down there for the animals,” Thompson said.
That was 3 1/2 years ago, which he thinks might have been a little early for what was then a nascent market. But the number of downtown dogs is growing with every new housing project, and he’s feeling good about the future.
“We hope the bubble does not burst,” he said.
With regard to combating dog waste, Thompson has been a force for good, donating waste bag dispensers throughout downtown. He also has a strict policy for his dog walkers, who exercise the 65 to 100 dogs that visit the Crossroads store on any given day.
“My employees know that if they don’t pick up the poop,” he said, “they’ll be fired on the spot.”
They even pick up other dogs’ left-behinds, knowing the business it apt to get blamed anyway, on a corner that also features a fairly new pet supply store, Tail Waggin’ PetStop, 1818 Wyandotte St.
The owner of a wide patch of grass within sight of Dog Pawz’s front door, the DST Community Garden at 18th and Broadway, was unimpressed, however, with Thompson’s efforts.
“They threatened to sue us,” Thompson said, and DST put up signs telling dogs to keep out.
Tempers have eased since then. Asked to comment, DST spokeswoman Laura Parsons issued a written statement:
“The DST Community Garden at 18th and Broadway provides over 4,000 pounds of produce to local pantries annually. The safety of our garden volunteers and high sanitary standards of the produce are important and so we ask that pets stay outside of the fence.”
More dog parks
City dogs don’t require grass for exercise and relief. Anyone who’s walked the sometimes-soiled sidewalks knows this.
Many dogs are trained to go inside on special pads or newspapers. The Downtown Council is in the midst of an etiquette campaign, O’Byrne said, encouraging dog walkers in the downtown library district to have their animals go on the street side of the curb while out for a spin around the neighborhood.
Indeed, concrete is sometimes the only option. Because what grass there is downtown at surface level is rapidly being displaced by development, while the growing number of rooftop parks are often restricted to tenants.
“It has its challenges,” River Market resident Debbie Frederiksen said as she and Oscar, her long-haired dachshund, took a stroll Tuesday through smallish City Market Park. “Downtown has even less grass than this.”
Which is why city government, with the help of private partners, has been stepping up so dogless Kansas Citians are less likely to step in it.
More than a decade after Kansas City opened its first off-leash area south of Union Station in Penn Valley Park, downtown dwellers are eagerly awaiting the opening soon of a dog park much closer to where many of them live.
On the northern slope below the Lewis and Clark sculpture, West Terrace Dog Park at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania is 1.5 acres of thick green grass with pleasant places for dog walkers to sit and let their companions roam. The new dog park overlooks the spot below where the Corps of Discovery paddled upriver toward Oregon two centuries ago with a crew of 33, along with a Newfoundland hound named Seaman.
History does not tell us how the dog comported himself in the canoe. But on land, Seaman presumably did his business wherever he pleased en route to the unknown.
Of course, that was before dog waste bag stations began popping up across the downtown area, which dog walkers are very much encouraged to use, even when they are at the new dog park.
The same pickup rules apply at a far more austere off-leash area the city opened recently on an acre of grass alongside the south approach to the Heart of America Bridge at Fifth and Locust.
“They keep trying to drag me over here,” John Harris said the other day as his dogs Dice, a pit-bull/lab mix, and Noel, a rat terrier, panted and drooled as they awaited entry into that dog park across from their River Market apartment.
Harris grew up nearby. Even at 24, he remembers when downtown was dog tired and dead after sundown most days of the week. He’s happy to see that changing as people his age, millennials, move into all those former office buildings and factories by the thousands.
“They say we’re replacing people wearing suits and ties,” he said, “with people like me wearing jeans and Converse, and it’s happening!”
Happening with dogs, that is. Lots and lots of dogs.