Stolen: Poop, revisited |

Stolen: Poop, revisited

by Joanne Stolen

It’s spring and as the snow melts, the brown, smelly spots are beginning to show up on the trails, the front yards of homes, condos and sidewalks. It smells, it’s unsightly, and moreover it’s unsanitary.

The topic of dog poop was the start of my writing over 55 articles on various subjects for the Daily – mostly on health, science, and nature. The article drew state-wide attention and an Aspen ranger and a Boulder citizen asked me to if they could use the article or write more. I got calls of congratulations and e-mails. People stopped me in the grocery store, on the streets, in the post office to thank me, but one person wrote in that “it is no big deal” and, after all, wild animals defecate in the woods and trails, right? Well yes but it it’s a matter of quantity. Summit County probably has more dogs than people because many families have multiple dogs. It’s a rare person that doesn’t have a dog. You wouldn’t want to drink from a stream that flows by a pasture full of cows or from a body of water full of Canada geese, either. All feces contain microorganism that can be harmful if gotten into open wounds or ingested. In the spring with the snow melt and rain it gets into the streams and then works its way into the lake, which is our reservoir for drinking water. Yes, our beautiful Dillon Reservoir. Much of the microorganisms in feces are coliform bacteria. The coliform count is what is done to detect pollution in water. A single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria!

Well, you might think, eventually it breaks down. Yes, most of the organic material eventually does, but bacteria and spores of parasites are very resistant. Dog feces may contain parasitic worms like round worms, which can pass from dog to dog and can also affect people. These can live for months and many years in the soil. Spores from some bacteria have been known to survive for over 40 years in the soil.

Let’s address what reviles us the most. It’s probably not the thought of microorganisms, because we cannot actually see them, but it’s probable the smell and the difficulty of getting the yucky brown mess off the bottom of the tread of our hiking boots or the scales of our cross-country skis. Well guess what: It’s the microorganisms – which are producing gases and breaking it down to various compounds while they munch on the feces – that ultimately make it smell. A lot of it is sulfur-containing compounds and the gas hydrogen sulfide. Why is it brown? There is a substance called bilirubin that is present in the intestine, and when combined with iron gives it a brown color. If feces are yellow, it might be because of the parasite Giardia. If the feces are black, it might contain dried blood. A lot of the color depends on what has been eaten and how well it has been digested.

So why can’t we just toss it off the trail into the woods? A recent meeting of the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Committee addressed the issue of dog feces on the trail. The recommendation was not to have people toss feces off the trail because of the environmental impact of increased nitrogen.

The word feces comes from the Latin word “faex,” which means “dregs.” Dregs means the most undesirable part. Don’t be an undesirable citizen! Pick up after your dogs!

Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.

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