A Horse's Gift

City rules draw a fine line between manure and crap.

The officers of San Francisco's mounted police detail promenade through Golden Gate Park every day in the stateliest style as they watch for drug activity and lawless miscreants, but perhaps justice is never served more sweetly than when one of these mounted cops busts a dog owner with a $300 fine for leaving a pile of poop on the ground.

But is anyone cleaning up after the cops' horses?

Usually not, it seems. In fact, fine print in the municipal police code specifically allows mounted officers to walk on after their animals have unburdened their bowels, says police spokeswoman Sergeant Lyn Tomioka. She says that city law sees horse manure as fundamentally different from dog waste. Whereas the latter often lurks unseen by walkers and picnickers and is so volatile that it kills grass, horse manure is a relatively benign material, easily seen before stepped in, and favored by gardeners as fertilizer. And horse manure — if abandoned — doesn't last long on the ground. "It dries up quickly and blows away," she says.

That's a good thing, considering the potential amount of horseshit being generated. According to Woodie Landry, owner of Mar Vista Stables in Daly City, a single adult horse eats 25 to 30 pounds of feed daily, and a comparable amount comes out the other end. There are 11 horses at the police stables by the Polo Fields. You do the math.

The city's gardeners regularly collect manure from the stables to use as compost, and according to Tomioka, the gardeners are welcome to scrape up the dung heaps that get left on the street. However, Ralph Montana, the Recreation and Parks Department's acting integrative pest management coordinator, says he has never heard of a city gardener cleaning up after a police horse in public. "There's certainly no street sweeper service coming up behind the cops," he says. "Frankly, I think it just stays there. You might say it's just the cost of doing business."

Several rangers with the Recreation and Parks Department also patrol Golden Gate Park on horseback, but unlike the mounted police officers, they diligently pick up after their animals, according to Lisa Seitz, the department's communications director. She says the rangers carry bags and shovels designed for the job. Designed for the job? Really? No shit.

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