Why It’s So Important to Pick Up Your Dog’s (and Cat’s) Poop – and Dispose of it Correctly!!
Remember when we reached the age where we thought, “Wow! I know a lot!! I think I just may know everything!!” What was that, like, 16 or 17? How humbling when one is 51 and we realize that perhaps we don’t know everything after all!
One day last fall, a friend and I took our dogs out for a stroll in a preserve along a river near Traverse City. Bode needed to stop to poop and, always ready with my Earth Rated Poop Bag, I easily scooped it up, tied it in a know and, not seeing a garbage can nearby and feeling lazy and not wanting to backtrack all the way to the start of the trail, I tossed it a good ways into the woods. It’s a biodegradable bag. It wasn’t near the trail, so I thought “no harm”!
Then came “the look”. From my friend. Followed by information that I had not known up until that point. Some very important information. I was dumbfounded and, seriously, felt pretty stupid for not having figured it out myself.
We’ve all been there – at a dog park, on a hiking trail, on a new public park riverwalk (we won’t name names – ahem, Bear River) or walking through the forest with our pet – and two things happen: 1. You leave the house without your poop bags and, if there are no poop-bag stations available, leave your pet’s waste to “biodegrade” and/or 2. You’re constantly dodging landmines left by other irresponsible dog owners. Because wild animals poop outdoors, so what harm is there in leaving it behind, right?
Here are the dangerous facts:
1. Dog poop is NOT good fertilizer. It's toxic to your lawn! The high nutrient concentration in dog poop will burn and discolor the grass, creating "hot spots".
2. Nearly two decades ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified pet waste as a dangerous pollutant in the same category as toxic chemicals and oil.
3. You may not live near water, but unscooped poop from your yard is carried by overland water flow or is washed into storm drains, ending up in far away streams, rivers and ground water.
4. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms pet waste can spread parasites including hookworms, ringworms, tapeworms and Salmonella. When infected dog poop comes into contact with your lawn, the poop will eventually "disappear", but the parasite eggs can linger for years! When a human or animal comes into contact with that soil through everyday activities like walking barefoot, gardening or playing, they risk infection from those eggs ... even years after the poop is gone.
5. Pet waste is teaming with E. Coli and other harmful bacteria including fecal coliform bacteria, which causes serious kidney disorders, intestinal illness, cramps and diarrhea in humans. (There are 23 million fecal coliform bacteria in a single gram of pet waste!)
6. Dog poop often contains roundworm larvae, which cause blindness. If a human ingests a roundworm larva, it can migrate through the body causing disease to the brain, lungs, kidneys, liver, heart or eyes. So when people (especially children) touch soil, dog toys or anything that has been in contact with dog feces and then touch their mouths, they can become infected.
Dog poop doesn't just "wash away" or disappear. So if you're not disposing of your dog's waste, you're putting yourself, your family, your dog and your water supply at risk.
So here is a list of Do’s and Don’t’s along with some useful facts of which you may not be ware:
1. Don’t use plastic bags. You may think you’re doing the environment a favor by “recycling” your grocery bags, zip locks, baggies, etc., but you’re not. Do use biodegradable bags specifically designed for dog waste. You can pick these up at your favorite pet supply store. And read the labels to be certain they are biodegradable. They are not that costly and the benefits outweigh the consequences.
2. Don’t leave poop near the curb or on your lawn. Pet waste will get washed, via the storm sewer, into local waterways, spreading pathogens that can make the water unfit for drinking and swimming. When it decomposes, it will use up oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic life. Also, the nutrients it releases, combined with fertilizer run-off, may cause algae blooms that could make the water uninhabitable. Even if your town has a "combined sewer system" that sanitizes storm water before dumping it, heavy rains and snows can overwhelm the system, causing untreated discharges.
As mentioned above, the pathogens in the poop are dangerous to kids playing in the yard — and anyone else who comes in contact with the ground. They can also contaminate edibles growing in your vegetable garden.
Oh yeah, leaving poop on the pavement is also un-neighborly and, in many towns, illegal.
DO throw it in the trash, provided your municipality allows it. (Some towns have special disposal requirements.) And use the aforementioned corn-based, biodegradable doggie bags. They won't disintegrate anytime soon (18-20months) in the oxygen-less conditions of a landfill (which is a good thing because of possible landfill leaks), but the fact that they're made from a plant instead of oil presumably confers some environmental advantage. The goal is to contain the waste in the event of a trash spill or landfill leak.
DO use a poop collection service to pick it up from your lawn. This is equivalent to throwing it in the trash, but someone else does it for you. How convenient!
DO flush dog (not cat!) poop away. One of the best ways to dispose of dog poop is flushing it down the toilet. (Cat waste is a different story -- see below for why.) If your home is connected to the municipal sewage system, the poop will be sent to the wastewater treatment plant, which will kill the bacteria and rid the water of nutrients and solids before letting it loose on the world. A private septic system will do much the same thing, but make sure yours has the capacity to handle the extra load and confirm with the manufacturer that this is an approved use. The challenge here is getting it to the toilet.
DO bury it in your yard. It's the natural solution. Just check that your water table isn't too high, in which case the feces could get into groundwater. Locate your holes away from any vegetable gardens, lakes, streams, ditches or wells and dig them at least five inches deep. To pick up the poop, try a poop scooper (again, available at your local pet supply store) or the biodegradable corn bags mentioned above, which can be dropped in the ground with the poop inside and covered with dirt. The microorganisms in the soil will take it from there.
DO install an underground pet waste digester. This inexpensive device, also known as a doggy dooley, works like a small septic system for your pets, with minimum hassle for you.
3. DO NOT assume that since it is Winter and there is snow on the ground that it will just “take care of itself” in the Spring! For all of the reasons mentioned in this blog, PICK IT UP! JEESH!
Now, here's the scoop on CAT poop!
EPA brochures and a variety of other publications say you can flush it down the toilet, minus the litter. However, research suggests that the eggs of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite found in cat poop, may survive the wastewater treatment process and contaminate waterways. While Toxoplasma rarely affects healthy people, it can cause defects and brain damage in babies whose mothers were exposed when pregnant. Brain disease can also develop in people with compromised immune systems. In addition, Toxoplasma has been shown to harm sea otters and may affect other wildlife as well. As the eggs can last for up to a year in soil, burying cat poop is also problematic. For this reason, researchers working in the field recommend keeping cats indoors and disposing of waste and litter in the trash in sealed plastic bags.
Pet waste management results in cleaner neighborhoods, with improved aesthetics and better water quality. Reducing pet waste reduces an important source of water-polluting nutrients - that's the message specifically targeted at pet owners.
The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services conducted a study to determine the source of bacteria in water samples in Dover, New Hampshire. It found dog waste to be a significant source of the bacteria. To solve this problem, it decided that pest waste should be picked up with a plastic bag and placed in the trash. Alternatively, un-bagged waste could either be flushed down the toilet or buried about five inches deep into the ground.
So, now that we’ve established how not picking up your pet’s waste affects us all, let’s now discuss how to respect others’ property – both public and private.
As taxpayers and private donors, we are the beneficiaries of some of the nicest outdoor destinations that are pet friendly and, in some cases, pet designated! Whether you realize it or not, WE ALL PAY for these spaces that we enjoy in one way or another. So why wouldn’t you treat them with the same respect and attention you give your own property? If you happen to walk out of the house and forget your poop bag, approach another owner – they will be happy to oblige you with one of theirs if it means not having to do water surgery on their shoes when they get home after stepping in your dogs mess. If you simply can’t get over your embarrassment or lack of social graces, next time you meet, they might not be so elated to see you OR your dog!
We live in one of the most beautiful places in the country because we LOVE it! We can still LOVE it with our fellow pet owners AND ensure the integrity of this place we call home!
Resources: EPA Paper