Ask Eartha: Drowing in doggie poollution (column)
Special to the Daily
I was walking to the dog park with my furry friend and was two blocks away when I smelled the park. Is dog poo bad for the environment? — Pete, Breckenridge
Let me start off by saying, I find fresh poo (and even dry poo) of any animal gross. But is it good or bad for our environment?
First let’s look at what a dog eats, which is pretty much anything — I met a woman whose Bernese Mountain dog ate her husband’s watch. However, they generally prefer high protein diets, which creates a very acidic waste product that burns plants. According to the Mr. Dog Poop website (I’m not kidding, that’s a real website of a fully licensed and insured company in Florida that will pick up poo and even DNA testing to match the poop with who didn’t scoop), a single dog’s digestive system will produce more bacteria in one day than a person, a horse and a cow combined. Some of those bacteria are harmful to humans including E.coli and tapeworms.
When infected dog poo ends up on your lawn, some pathogens can linger in the soil for years (don’t worry, not too many as most poop bacteria and parasites are specific to the animal and don’t survive outdoors). Anyone that comes into contact with that soil, maybe through gardening or walking barefoot, runs the risk of coming into contact with any surviving parasites. Most healthy adults don’t have a problem but anyone with a compromised or underdeveloped immune system, like kids, are at risk of infection.
Dog poo is third on the list of contributors to contaminated water. As it turns out, decaying dog poo consumes oxygen and sometimes releases ammonia, which can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life. It also contains the type of nutrients that promote weed and algae growth. In fact, in 1991 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeled dog waste an environmental pollutant placing it in the same category as herbicides and insecticides, oil, grease, toxic chemicals and acid draining from abandoned mines.
NO WAY! I hear you saying. Dog poo can’t be that bad! Consider this, our natural ecosystem can handle two dogs per square mile. In urban areas there are 125 dogs per square mile.
So if one dog poops twice a day and there are 125 dogs in one square mile, how many piles of poop will there be at the end of one week? The answer is 1,750 piles of poop. YUCK. Now consider how much that weighs. The typical dog eliminates three quarters of a pound a day, so one dog eliminates 275 pounds a year. DOUBLE YUCK. And if you really want to gross yourself out, think about the 70+ million dogs living in the US. TRIPLE YUCK.
But dogs are man’s best friend! What is a responsible pet owner to do? Clean it up! There are several options including simply using a plastic bag to pick up the poo, tie it closed, and dispose in the trash. Other options include flushing unbagged poo down the toilet or burying it at least 5” deep into the ground. If you can’t stand the thought of touching poo you can hire someone to do it. There are several companies in the county that offer this service. There is even a high tech solution called “Doggie Dooley” which is an in-ground digester and works like a mini septic system. An artist at MIT, Matthew Mazzotta, invented a waste digester for a Cambridge dog park. It produces and burns methane to light the park proving that dog poo could be used as a clean-energy resource.
If you are exceptionally careful there is one other option: Composting dog poo for use on decorative plants, never on crops grown for human consumption. In 1991 in Fairbanks officials conducted a study with dog kennel operators to evaluate the possibility of composting dog poo in northern climates. They successfully developed an easy and effective practice that reliably destroyed pathogens found in dog poo. If you want to follow in their footsteps research it first as it is imperative to follow their method and never put un-composted dog poo on plants.
Regardless of how it’s done, it is all our responsibilities to pick up after our pets no matter where we are — including on the trail. After all, no one likes to step in or smell a “doggie land mine” while out having fun. No matter about the environment, it’s simply gross.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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