Three years ago, Diane Petersen was hiking up the well-worn trail of Mission Peak Regional Preserve in Fremont. Accompanying her was her dog Bigges, a two-year-old Australian shepherd.
Bigges was a relative newcomer to the idea of trekking up peaks, and was, by Petersen’s recounting, “kind of bored by hiking.” To make matters worse, his elder companion, the border collie Josie, was not present. Nevertheless, Bigges walked on, all the while wishing that the hike were over. Then Petersen threw a rock at the slope to her right, and Bigges’ life changed forever.
Today, Bigges is a celebrity in the East Bay Regional Park District. He was the subject of one of EBRPD’s most popular Facebook posts. In May, Bigges and Petersen were honored by the Park District Board for their service to our open spaces. The beloved pooch followed that up with a cover appearance and story in the 2016 summer issue of “Compass,” the official magazine for EBRPD’s members. And almost every day, hikers in Mission Peak, the Alameda Creek Trail, Coyote Hills, and many other East Bay parks get to witness his inspirational feats, and invariably burst into applause.
What does Bigges do to garner such recognition? Simple. He leaves no trace, cleans up our parks, and has a blast while doing it.
Bigges, quite by accident, has been trained to pick up plastic water bottles discarded in creeks, crevices, hills, and valleys in our regional parks.
When he was teething, Petersen gave him plastic bottles to chew onto distract him from chewing on her shoes and furniture. Tugging on them soon became his favorite pastime, and today, picking up discarded plastic bottles is still second nature to him.
So when Petersen throws a rock at a plastic bottle, he runs over and grabs it. “It’s hard to stop him,” said Petersen. “Whenever he sees a water bottle he’ll go out and grab it.” Further training that channeled Bigges’ love of food now motivates him to give Petersen the plastic bottle in exchange for a yummy treat.
“He loves it,” said Petersen. “He thinks it’s great fun. He has a blast.”
Instead of ignoring this ability, or maybe even making Bigges unlearn it, Petersen decided to utilize it in an all-out effort to clean up our open spaces. Even before she had dogs, Petersen did her part to pick up litter and leave no trace. Now, she and Bigges visit Mission Peak, Garin Regional Park, and many of the other trash-filled parks and preserves in the East Bay, seven days a week. The duo always finds something to clean up. They also unvaryingly find tons of appreciation from fellow hikers.
“A lot of times when people see him they clap and seem amazed and go ‘What a good dog!’” said Petersen. “And I say, ‘yeah, he’s trying to keep the trails clean.’”
In March, EBRPD noticed Bigges when Petersen made some suggestions to the District for a possible bottle exchange program, and included some pictures of the dog in her message. The District, inspired by the photos, asked Petersen if they could feature Bigges in a Facebook post. She assented, and the overwhelming response to the post led to the District promoting Bigges’ story even further. In May, Board President Doug Siden gave Petersen and Bigges a certificate of appreciation; Bigges was also recognized as a Leave No Trace superhero and given a dog-sized cape. He’s also an unofficial celebrity amongst frequent hikers in the East Bay.
But Petersen isn’t letting Bigges’ sudden fame distract from the true prize: a trash-free Bay.
“It just feels like the Bay Area is pretty darn trashy,” she sighs. “And I know it’s hard on all kinds of species that live out there, the fishermen that go out there, all kinds of different things out in the Bay.”
She pauses. “There’s just so much trash.”
And although committed individuals like Petersen and Bigges are doing all they can, the Bay won’t get cleaned until we all help out.
That’s why Petersen hopes that Bigges’ story will inspire us to go out and clean up after ourselves.
“I feel there are a lot of humans out there who believe we’re the mightiest creatures of all, and my thinking is that if a dog can help keep this place as beautiful as it once was – I feel that if a dog can pick up trash, we humans can do the same thing,” said Petersen.
“I walk along the Alameda Creek, Hayward Shoreline, Coyote Hills, and when it’s low tide, I can just see the trash and I know it’s bad for the animals that live there, for the shorebirds, for the fish, and for our animals – our dogs that swim out in the Bay.
“I know that’s not a good thing, so Bigges and I are doing our part, and I just hope that we can lead by example, and that if everyone pitches in, our parks in the Bay Area will remain beautiful. We get to use these places for free, and what they give us for our physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing is priceless. And the least we can do is try to give back, do our part, and keep it as beautiful as we found it.”
Petersen and Bigges are working hard, but they can’t rid the Bay of trash alone. Help them today.
Pledge your support for a trash-free SF Bay.