District judge turned 'dog poop master' saves community trails one shovel load at a time
[July 16, 2021: Phil Drake]
Jeffrey Sherlock presided over some big cases during his 27 years as Lewis and Clark County District Court judge, and upon his retirement in 2015 was hailed by those who knew him for his good work ethic, impressive writing abilities and his intelligence.
You can add one more notable, albeit somewhat hidden, talent to that already robust resume: "Dog poop master."
For the past three years Sherlock has pushed a wheelbarrow a couple of blocks up Power Street every five weeks or so, often accompanied by his dog, Ellie, to a hiking trail that people frequently walk with canine companions. Each trip he hauls away nearly 70 pounds of dog poop, which folks have disposed of in two barrels, to his home where city trash crews pick it up. Over the course of a year, the two barrels produce about 700 pounds of poop.
It’s his way of letting the hike remain an enjoyable experience.
But at 71, Sherlock said he does not know how much longer he can keep doing the long haul and recently wrote to the Helena City Commission about his plight and his futile efforts to make someone else wise to the ways of fetching dog poop.
“I am getting no younger and my efforts to recruit a younger poop master, as you can imagine, have been unsuccessful,” he wrote in an email to the Helena city commission in late May.
“I am happy to continue on for a bit, but 700 lbs of dog poop gets heavier each year,” he wrote. “If the cans are not emptied, this pleasant stretch of dirt road will become a foul smelling miasma.”
He notes in his letter that a man installed two large plastic garbage cans years ago along the easternmost portion of La Grande Cannon Boulevard that is blocked off to vehicles and stretches about one-quarter mile from the top of Holter to Grant streets. He said it's a stretch of road between two popular trails: the Mike Cormier Trail and the Holter Street trail.
“This fellow died a couple of years ago and the unpleasant task of collecting the poop has fallen to me,” Sherlock said.
“Judging from the amount of poop that folks are kindly bagging and putting in the barrels, this is a highly used area,” he wrote.
Sherlock said he knows the commissioners have bigger things on their plate, but he “respectfully” requested the installation of one or two dog stations in this area.
Help is reportedly on the way.
Kristi Ponozzo, city of Helena Parks, Recreation and Open Lands director, said the city will put a barrel and pet station at the east end of the trail and add the possibility of another barrel to its open land work plan for review. She said the trail is not necessarily on open land, but people access open land from that area.
“Each new station requires additional time, money and resources so we try to evaluate and locate (stations) in the most efficient and effective locations,” she wrote.
Sherlock was happy with the news.
"I think it's great," he said in an email. "I feel my poop-hauling days are over."
Ponozzo said people are concerned about pet waste, but said the ultimate responsibility falls to pet owners. She said the city has seen more pet waste this spring than in past years. She said maybe it was due to people wanting to get out during the COVID-19 pandemic, or maybe more people adopted dogs as well.
"Or maybe more people are using public land, which is great," she said.
Ponozzo said Helena does have several good Samaritans like Sherlock, or public service groups, who help take care of public land.
Sherlock, who said he lost his sense of smell several years ago and now considers it a blessing, provided the heavy-gauge plastic bags for the poop bins, said he brings the dog poop to his home on Sundays and puts it in his trash bin for Monday's trash collection. He doesn’t want the dog poop to sit in the trash bin for very long and “ferment.”
Gerry Hanson said her husband, Dave, installed the barrels in 2011 and emptied them up until a few years ago when his health would not let him continue. He died in October.
“Luckily, Jeff stepped up to the plate,” she said of Sherlock, recently at the foot of the trail with her dog Mickey. “It’s a real service that needs to be continued. It encourages people to pick up after their dogs.”
Sherlock said he always thought Dave Hanson had done a great service.
And he knows there are other dog station areas run by the city.
“I will put our poop production up against any place else,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can match it.”
He is asked if the phrase “No (expletive) Sherlock,” a sarcastic retort for when someone states the obvious, ever plays in his mind as he gathers the dog poop.
Sherlock said it does, all the time.
“I have a button that says that.”
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