A few weeks ago, I went cross country skiing on Boreas Pass Road and was turned off by the amount of dog poop that I had to avoid. Not only is it unsightly, but it stinks and, more importantly, it is a health hazard. Why does poop or feces stink? It is the bacteria in it that produce smelly organic compounds. What is in dog poop that is so bad? Besides water, one-third is composed of dead bacteria; these assist us in the digestion of our food. Another one-third of the poop mass is the indigestible material called “fiber.” The remaining portion of the poop is a mixture of fats, inorganic salts, live bacteria, parasites, viruses, dead cells and mucus from the lining of the intestine, and protein. This portion is what can cause problems.
As we come into spring and the snow melts from many of the hiking trails, more dog poop will emerge. Many dog owners assume that it will eventually “go away” or provide fertilizer, and they are mistaken. Your pet’s waste actually creates excess nutrients for weeds and algae that grow in the waterways. Dog poop on the lawn is actually toxic to the lawn because, unlike cow manure, it contains a high concentration of proteins. You may also assume that your dog is pooping somewhere far from waterways so it won’t do any harm, but the snow melt and rain will cause it to eventually ends up in the rivers and then the reservoir. You and others may fish and boat in that reservoir.
It has been estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli. This species of bacteria are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans and when entering an open wound can cause an infection. The Environmental Protection Agency even estimates that two or three days’ worth of droppings from a population of about 100 dogs would contribute enough bacteria to temporarily close a bay, and all watershed areas within 20 miles of it, to swimming and shell fishing. Dog poop is a also common carrier of other disease agents such as a variety of parasites such as heart worms, tape worms, round worms, Giardiasis, and Cryptosporidiosis; bacteria which cause Salmonellosis, Campylobacteriosis; and viruses such as parvovirus (deadly to dogs). Poop attracts insects and rodents, which are vectors for many diseases. These disease agents and spores can remain for years in the soil, and perpetuate a harmful cycle that can pollute the environment, and affect the health of people and their pets.
So dog owners, many of whom consider yourselves environmentalists and lovers of nature, please be more conscientious about your pet waste. Not only is it the law, but if you have a dog, it is your responsibility to clean up after it.
Dr. Joanne Stolen recently retired from Rutgers University where she taught microbiology. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution. She is now full-time resident of Breckenridge and enjoys skiing, playing tennis and rowing on Dillon Reservoir
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