Every dog owner has felt the creeping dread of realizing, 10 minutes away from home, that they forgot to restock their pet waste baggies before heading out on their evening walk with Fido.
And as unpleasant as it is to come across another pooch’s mess (or find one on your front lawn), it’s also an ecological issue; pet waste deposits harmful bacteria into Santa Monica’s soil, much of which will eventually wash into the ocean.
Sunset Park residents and dog walkers who traverse Pearl Street have likely noticed a new addition to their neighborhood that’s designed to make it easier to clean up after their dogs: plastic two-liter bottles zip tied to City signposts that work almost like a little free library, but for pet waste bags.
They’re there thanks to Sunset Park resident Emma Brownrigg. The Samohi junior has just completed her Girl Scouts Gold Award, a prestigious honor offered by the 121-year-old institution.
Brownrigg, who has been a Girl Scout with Troop 15165 for 10 years — since second grade — had it in mind she wanted to earn the achievement, the highest honor awarded by Girl Scouts of the USA.
She didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
“We started fostering dogs during the pandemic, through Wags and Walks Adoption Center,” Brownrigg described. Her family had just experienced the death of one of their dogs and opened up their home to foster while everyone was at home full time. “I was responsible for taking care of the dogs. I was the dog walker; that was my job.”
From there, Brownrigg said she realized she wanted her Gold Award project to focus on animals’ wellbeing. The idea was a natural fit for Brownrigg, who since middle school has dreamed of studying pre med in college en route to becoming a psychiatrist or dietician.
“I’ve had that picture of me in my mind for a while — I want to focus on public health,” Brownrigg said. “My project kind of has to do with public health. So that was also something that I wanted to tie in some way.”
Walking the foster dogs up and down Pearl, Brownrigg said she would see lots of other neighborhood pooches out for a stroll and got to thinking about how many pets live in her neighborhood.
“There’s been times where I’ve forgotten bags, and I’ve been like, ‘Oh, crap. I need to go home, I feel terrible,’” Brownrigg described. “I can’t just leave this here, in front of somebody’s house. So, let me do something with this, you know, to help people out when they leave them behind or they need an extra one. So yeah, that’s kind of when my inspiration struck.”
Brownrigg began by building a prototype bag dispenser and presenting it to the local Girl Scouts Council, which signed off on the concept and offered guidance and advice. Then, she reached out to the City of Santa Monica for approval, which she received through the Office of Sustainability. She also discussed the project with her neighborhood association, Friends of Sunset Park, which also approved the plan.
Earning a Gold Award takes about 80 hours of service, and part of that process involves creating a team and getting the community involved. To that end, Brownrigg worked with Troop 4235, a group of middle school aged Cadette Girl Scouts, to collect bottles and construct dispensers. In all, Brownrigg said she collected 30 two-liter soda bottles, out of the 50 she ended up needing to complete the project. The Cadettes helped her turn them into bag dispensers.
Brownrigg said she hoped her project might inspire the younger Scouts, much in the same way she was inspired at their age.
“When I was at their level, we had a couple older Girl Scouts present their projects to us, and I remember being like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. I can’t wait to do that.’ I just remember being super excited to be at that level and make an impact on my community,” Brownrigg said. “So, I hope I had that same effect in inspiring these girls to do the same and, you know, to stick with it and continue.”
On Feb. 19, Brownrigg (with her mom’s help) set up the bottles, which can be found on every street corner from 34th Street to Lincoln Boulevard along Pearl Street. Each one was placed with 10 biodegradable bags already inside, plus a laminated label describing the project and including a QR code to a website Brownrigg built with more info (erbrownrigg.wixsite.com). Two weeks later, she went back and did an inventory of the bottles to see if they were holding up and being used by the community, which they were.
In earning her Award, Brownrigg joins a prestigious group of Scouts. Fewer than six percent of Girl Scouts earn the Gold Award, which takes an average of one to two years to achieve. Those awardees are often offered college scholarships reserved for Gold Award recipients and may even enter the U.S. military with a higher rank. According to the Girl Scouts, approximately 1 million Scouts have earned the award or its equivalent since 1916.