Stolen: The dog poop dilemma |

Stolen: The dog poop dilemma

by Dr. Joanne Stolen

Eventually the snow will start melting here, and on the trails those smelly, gross, brown piles left by dogs and their irresponsible owners will appear. It seems every spring it is time to write another one of these column. The first one got responses statewide and even nationwide as frustrated citizens vented their rage against having to step around or accidentally stepping in a pile. Patrick Murphy counted 1,492 piles of dog poop on a single trail in Boulder in one month. A ranger in Pitkin County flagged 200 piles along a trail. It’s a huge problem. I don’t know if a dog census has ever been done, but there might be more dogs than people in Summit County, as many people have multiple dogs.

We have a lot of visitors who come and use the trails with their dogs and, unfortunately, think “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to cleaning up after their pets. These people, I am told, are the worst offenders. There were regular piles on the Breckenridge Nordic Trail recently. It seemed a nearby second-home owner just opened the door and let the dogs out to defecate on the trails. When the person was asked nicely not to, it seemed to stop. I have stopped several people with dogs in Cucumber Gulch even though there are signs everywhere saying dogs are not allowed. We found a bag of dog poop left hooked to a tree on the Siberian Loop not long ago; half an effort, but littering! I’ve often seen bags left by the side of trails. Did they mean to pick them up on the return?

Many cities have levied fines, but the offending people have to actually get caught in the act, and that requires either citizens’ arrest or patrols. Other towns and communities require DNA testing of dogs to identify offenders.

Decaying pet waste consumes oxygen, releases ammonia and can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life by promoting weed and algae growth. Dog poop adds significant nitrogen to the soil, which encourages the growth of non-native plants at the expense of native plants.

Pet waste carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife. Dog feces is one of the most common carriers of the following diseases: heartworms, whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, cryptosporidiosis, pathogenic E. coli salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, and giardiasis, to name a few.

Parasites can linger in soil for years. Anyone who comes into contact with that soil, through gardening, sports or walking runs the risk of coming into contact with those eggs. These can also be passed from dog feces to other dogs. Children are most susceptible, since they often play in the dirt and put things in their mouths or eyes.

Many people enjoy hiking with their dogs in natural areas, and the dogs enjoy sampling all the scents, as well as getting exercise. Some dog owners let their dogs roam free off the leash, since the dogs get even more fun from that and it’s more relaxing not to have to handle a leash. By statute in Colorado, law enforcement officers are authorized to immediately euthanize any dog observed harassing wildlife, and dog owners can receive a hefty fine. Division officials strongly recommend people keep their dogs on a leash. It will keep the dog safe, and prevents injuries or death of wildlife. However, due to the disturbance to wildlife caused by dogs, many parks and preserves have banned them.

Dogs can apparently transmit a number of pathogens to wildlife: Parvovirus affects other canines, and was the source for wolf pup mortality in Glacier National Park area in the early 1990s. Other diseases can affect deer and elk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that each dog poops about 274 pounds per year. This is a huge problem! There are no pleasant ways of dealing with it, and many people have an aversion to picking it up and toting a bag of poop home or across town to a trash bin. There are people who would not otherwise litter, but would walk away from the pile their dog just made.

There are a variety of devices and composting systems on the market. San Francisco has become the first city in the United States to consider converting pet feces into methane that can be used for fuel: “Poop power!” Electricity, natural gas and fuel can be produced from dog poop and other waste material. The city would place biodegradable bags and dog-waste carts in the city’s busiest dog parks, collect the waste, and toss it into a methane digester which uses bacteria to convert animal waste to methane in about two weeks. After that, the methane can be used to power anything that normally runs on natural gas, such as a kitchen stove or a heater. Converting animal waste to fuel may be a new concept for cities in the United States, but the strategy is already well established in several European countries and a number of developing nations.

All that said, the solution is pretty simple: Pick up after your pet, every time, all the time.

Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is retired from teaching microbiology Rutgers University, and has taught classes at CMC. She is now pursuing a career in art, specializing in nature and many of the animals she writes about. Her work can be seen locally.

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