AUGUSTA — Kato, a 6-month-old husky, whined with anticipation when Coach, a German shorthaired pointer and potential playmate, showed up on a recent afternoon at Mill Park, where the owners of both pooches planned to let them frolic off leash in the fenced-in Augusta Dog Park.

But the gates were locked. The fresh snow inside the dog park was untouched by paw or foot.

Signs posted at the entrance explained why:

“Due to the fact some folks refuse to pick up after their dogs and leave an unsanitary health risk mess for responsible folks to pick up, the Dog Park is closed,” the signs state. “Committee members are sick and tired of picking up dog messes (that are now showing up with worms in it). The Dog Park Committee has recommended the city to close the park for a period of time. We apologize to all responsible dog owners and your dog(s) for this inconvenience.”

Kato and Coach, and their owners, were not impressed.

“It’s frustrating because there is really no excuse to not pick up after your dog, especially here,” said Lawson, a Winthrop resident who owns a downtown Augusta business, Kennebec Chiropractic. “There are bags (for picking up pet excrement) right here. There’s a barrel to throw them in right here. It’s not that difficult to do.”

The park, which opened in 2010, has two separate fenced-in areas, one for dogs of all sizes and one for small dogs. In both there are dispensers filled with new bags for picking up pet waste. The trash barrel for bagged waste is just outside the gate.

Walsh, also of Winthrop, said she came to Augusta specifically to let the young Kato run off leash and socialize with other dogs inside the park.

“Our yard isn’t fenced at home, so it has been great to be able to bring him here,” said Walsh. “It’s definitely disappointing.”

Bill Dunn, chairman of the volunteer Augusta Dog Park Committee, said when the park first opened there would occasionally be some people who wouldn’t pick up after their pets. But he said for some reason it has gotten much worse recently, with so much waste being left in the park he half-filled a 30-gallon heavy duty trash bag with what he picked up there about a month ago and then, when he came back three days later, it looked like he hadn’t picked anything up.

Dunn used to take his chocolate Labrador and chow mix, Bedouin, to the park regularly until it closed last week. “The the last seven months,” he said, “it’s like people decided, all of a sudden, they don’t need to pick up poop..”

The breaking point at the city-owned dog park came, according to Leif Dahlin, community services director, when worms started showing up in feces left at the park.

“That’s a health hazard, when worms start showing up,” said Dahlin, a dog owner himself.

Dahlin said the park will open back up, likely in the spring, after it warms up and the park can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected following Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, since the site is near the Kennebec River.

If and when the park does reopen, Dahlin and Dunn encourage anyone who sees someone not picking up after their dog to tell the owner they need to do so. And if they don’t, call Dahlin at 626-2305, or police.

“If I can find out who is doing it, I’ll have them cited and no-trespassed, because that’s not right,” said Dahlin, referring to an official order banning people from returning to the park. “The few are wrecking it for responsible pet owners.”

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]