When you get a dog, you are signing your life away to be a slave to your dog’s bowels. It’s just how it is. Your dog has to poop, so you must come home from work early or hire someone to go to your house, and you let your dog out to do his business. When he’s done, you have an obligation to fulfill; you must remove it from the premises, the doggy equivalent of flushing the toilet. And yet, thousands, if not millions, of dog owners shirk this duty every day. It’s this sort of crappy behavior that results in dogs being banned from parks, beaches, and other public places. As dog owners, you can’t just dump your responsibility to scoop the poop entirely. Ignoring your obligations has consequences that extend beyond you and your dog.
Really, poop should be scooped all the time, every time, whether it is in a private yard, on the sidewalk, in the sand, or out in the woods. In addition to its unsightly appearance, poop releases bacteria and harmful nutrients into the environment that work their way into the surrounding waters, adding contamination to already impaired waterways. (In fact, this is precisely why non-composted poop of any origin does not make a good fertilizer, and causes more harm than good.) The pollution from neglected poop affects you and the population more than you realize! For a very personal example, if you have a well, the well may become contaminated by fecal bacteria. Nearby streams can easily become inhospitable to aquatic life and may escalate to being dangerous for wildlife—or your dog—to drink. Even if you don’t live near water, the nutrients and bacteria will still find a way to a water body, even if it takes days or months. On a greater scale, a significant amount of effort goes into keeping waterways clean, and you can reduce the amount of money and time spent by your local, state, and federal government by simply removing poop to a proper disposal—whether it’s to the trash or the compost heap.
“But,” you say, “wild animals have pooped every day without someone picking it up!” This is true. However, the density of dogs in a single location is so great that the argument simply cannot be used. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs, each with the potential to have their poop go unscooped, in any suburban or urban area. In a 1993 study, the EPA concluded that two or three days of untreated waste from a population of one hundred dogs can close a bay! That’s a very small number of dogs eliciting a very big water quality response. Do your part to help your local waterways and pick up the poop.
Discarded poop has more immediate dangers, as well. Poop harbors parasites and pathogens just waiting to infect a new host. Parvovirus and distemper, the main viruses that every dog should be vaccinated against, are both spread through feces. If enough feces collects in an area, the amounts of fecal bacteria may become overwhelming, and dogs will become ill. Not to mention that many dogs exhibit poop-eating behaviors, exponentially increasing the risk for infection. Humans can get sick from feces-borne disease, too, especially small children or those with poor hygiene. You don’t have to come in direct contact with the poop to contract a disease! The easiest way to reduce all of these risks to yourself and others is by scooping the poop. A proper plastic bag will keep your hands clean while you pick up after your dog. If that’s too hands-on, a pooper scooper is a fine alternative. Of course, washing your hands thoroughly afterwards is always a good idea, which you should always do after coming in from outdoors—but that’s another article for another blog.
Finally, many believe the poop will just go away. This may have been true at one time, but if you have seen a section of neglected lawn recently, it’s very clear that the poop does not just disappear. It persists for weeks or even months, with the rain only making it lose shape and the heat causing it to stink—or the cold causing it to freeze, further slowing the decomposition process. This is due largely to the food that dogs now traditionally eat. The starches that make up a typical serving of dog food go undigested and do not break down in the environment very readily, acting as a paste that holds the stool together. A dog fed an evolutionary diet of raw meat, bones, and organs will have a stool that crumbles within a week, quickly leached of its nutrients. But, the health and water quality effects are not noticeably lessened by crumbling stools—in fact, dogs fed this way have much more bacteria per unit of stool—so the poop should still be cleaned up.
Leaving poop to rot has negative social consequences, also, which every dog owner feels the effects of. The high potential for poop to be left behind is the number one reason why dogs are banned from certain parks and only allowed at certain beaches, and part of the reason why it’s so difficult to find housing that allows dogs. If you are the type that enjoys bringing your dog along on outdoor excursions, and even if you’re not, do yourself a favor and pick up after your dog!
Seriously, do it! My next post will concern dogs off leash.