We’ve all had that moment when we step in a spot that’s a little softer than the surrounding area or realize a certain stench seems to be following us on our walk, that moment when we look down in disgust to see the ooey gooey brown stuff stuck to the bottom of our shoe. No one (whether you own a dog or not) wants to step in a pile of dog poop, yet studies have found that roughly 40 percent of Americans don’t bother to pick up after their dog’s waste. Many people may not realize that dog poop is classified as a pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s right, your pup’s poo is listed in the same category as oil spills, insecticides, and herbicides, because of the nutrients and pathogens it can leach into the soil and water and its impact on wildlife, plant growth, and human health. The seemingly simple, but often overlooked, act of cleaning up after your pet can have far-reaching impacts on our environment and the public health of our community.
The Environmental Impact:
It is easy to underestimate the environmental repercussions of leaving dog poop behind on your walks, but the reality is far from pleasant. An average-sized dog produces around 0.75 lbs of waste per day and there are estimated to be nearly 90 million dogs in the United States alone. If the poop of 40 percent of those dogs (36 million dogs) is left on the ground, it is easy to see how the sheer volume could pile up and create a cascade of issues for our environment.
- Water Pollution: Rainwater can wash dog poop into storm drains and waterways, eventually contaminating rivers, lakes, and oceans. The harmful bacteria and pathogens in dog waste can pose serious threats to aquatic life and lead to the closure of beaches and shellfish beds.
- Ecosystem Disruption: Dog waste introduces excess nutrients into the soil, altering the composition of local ecosystems. This can lead to the overgrowth of harmful algae and weeds and the decline of native plants and animals.
- Pest Attraction: Unpicked-up dog poop attracts flies and pests, exacerbating sanitation issues in public spaces. The presence of these pests often attracts more threatening wildlife like coyotes and can generally make parks and neighborhoods less enjoyable for everyone.
Legal and Social Consequences:
To encourage responsible pet ownership and curb the environmental impact of dog waste, many communities have enacted laws and regulations regarding the removal of pet waste from public areas and private property not belonging to the pet owner. Ignoring these “pooper-scooper laws” can result in fines and penalties, serving as a strong incentive for dog owners to clean up after their pets.
In addition to the legal implications, there are serious social considerations. Being a responsible pet owner means showing respect for your neighbors and fellow community members. As we said at the onset, nobody enjoys stepping in dog poop, and leaving it behind can lead to strained relationships and conflict in your neighborhood.
Besides the benefits to the environment and community, picking up dog poop also has health advantages for both pets and their people.
- Preventing Disease: Dog waste can contain harmful bacteria and parasites that pose health risks to humans and other animals. Illness-causing bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella, that are commonly found in dog excrement often end up in our drinking swimming, and fishing water, affecting everyone from humans, to pets and wildlife. Intestinal parasites, like roundworms, whip worms, and hookworms can also be transmitted to people and other pets through contact with your dog’s feces. Picking up your dog’s poop reduces the chances of disease transmission.
- Dog Health: Dogs can contract diseases directly from poop left in public areas. In addition to intestinal parasites, diseases such as parvovirus travel through dog waste and are capable of surviving for years in the environment. By disposing of their waste properly, you protect your furry friend from potential health issues.
Cleaner public spaces contribute to the overall well-being of a community. Parks and sidewalks free from dog waste are more inviting for families, children, and all residents. People are more likely to engage in outdoor activities and socialize when they don’t have to worry about stepping in poop.
Overcoming Common Excuses:
Finally, let’s address two of the most common excuses people give for not picking up after their dogs.
- “It’s a natural fertilizer.” Unfortunately, this is a common misconception. While dog waste does contain nutrients, dog poop is not fertilizer like cow manure, primarily because of our dogs’ diets. Cows eat mainly grass and grain, while our dogs tend to eat food high in meat proteins, making their waste unsuitable for most plants due to its high acidity and potential for pathogen contamination. Dog waste also contains high levels of nitrogen, which is why your grass often turns brown or yellow, rather than greener, in spots where your pet regularly defecates.
- “I forgot a bag.” Keep a supply of bags in your car or attached to your dog’s leash to ensure you are always prepared. Many parks and public spaces also provide free dog waste bags. Keep an eye out for these doggy cleanup stations for those times when you find your poop bag dispenser has run dry.
Picking up dog poop may seem like a small act, but it has far-reaching positive consequences for the environment, the community, and even the health of your beloved pet. By taking responsibility and cleaning up after your dog, you are contributing to a cleaner, safer, and happier world for everyone. And, in the process, you might just be saving someone from stepping in it.