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Houseboater's battle against dog poop

Daniel Wong
Special to Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gary Vaillancourt has lived on his houseboat since 1981. As a typical bay-dweller, he has a dog. As an atypical dog-walker, he not only cleans up the poop from his dog but any and all poop he can find.

Since Christmas, he has collected 155 litres of dog poop from Yellowknife Bay.

Vaillancourt is a man with a plan. With a shovel and a bucket, his mission is simple: guard this bay.

In the winter months when the ice is strong, he walks his dog through the bay using different paths every day so he eventually runs across practically everything.

A scatologist of sorts, Vaillancourt has learned a thing or two about poop.

"You'll find it perched up high in the most ridiculous places," he said. "Some dogs like their poop as high as possible so they'll poop on the edge of a dock or they'll poop on a pile of snow or a log pile. Some dogs are very neat and they do it in one little spot and other dogs spread it around.

"They all have their preferential places."

Astute observations aside, Vaillancourt's mission is primarily practical.

"Aesthetically, it's very nice to not be looking at dog poop," he said. "Especially in the spring if it all melts and hundreds of piles everywhere would form puddles and ooze down into the ice ... my god it's awful."

Aesthetics are just one aspect of the issue.

"We drink water here so it's nice to have clean water in the spring when everything starts melting. There's a big problem with fecal contamination in this bay and houseboaters have been getting blamed for years, but it's actually dog poop - it's all the runoff from the city, it all comes down here," said Vaillancourt.

As a veteran resident of the bay, he believes the relationship between houseboaters and municipal politicians has been a "war from the get-go." He also understands how public perception influences public policy: "It's very important that people don't perceive this place out here as a bunch of vagabonds dumping crap all over the place, there's civic pride here."

Anyone who has spent time on the bay with houseboaters knows Vaillancourt is right. It is a self-regulating community that looks after its own interests by keeping the area clean.

"The value of what's out here is recognized," said Vaillancourt. "I've drank the water for 30 years and there's really nothing wrong with it. There is a reason for that - people are guarding it, they are protecting it, in spite of what some people think.

"Yellowknife has a lot to learn from this community. You've got people that are totally off the grid in terms of energy efficiency and water use and sewage handling and all that - half a century ahead of mainstream Canada - right here. Anybody wants to debate that, come talk to me."

While proud of his community, Vaillancourt remains modest about his own poop collection contributions by clarifying, "The houseboaters are all involved in this. Everybody around here keeps their own area clean and I do a sweep of the general bay ... The little bit that I do is just one small part of it, the caretaking of an area."

  • Daniel Wong is a longtime Yellowknifer and has a graduate degree in political science

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