There is No Dog Poop Fairy

Tucson, AZ: It is estimated that 70-80 million dogs are owned in the United States, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If we consider that, by the end of 2014 there were 317 million people living in the United States (US Census) that equates to nearly 1 dog for every 4 people. Let’s imagine the average dog poops once a day. Now envision that, each dog owner walks their pup in a public park once a week, during which time the dog relieves itself. That would leave our public lands with four billion one hundred and sixty million piles of dog poop annually. That’s a lot of poop!

Specific issues related to improper disposal of dog waste:

Issue 1: Dog poop is a breeder of disease and germs, such as E. coli, Giardia, Salmonella, roundworms, hookworms, and Cryptosporidium. These are zoonotic diseases, which means they can be passed from animals to humans in areas contaminated with infectious feces of dogs, including playgrounds and sand boxes. Several of these become more infectious as the poop ages, as determined in the report, "The Link Between Animal Feces and Zoonotic Disease" by Emily Beeler. For example, roundworm eggs can take up to 3 weeks to ripen and may remain infectious for years in polluted water and soil. According to the Center for Disease Control, “About 14 percent of the US population is infected with Toxocara, or internal roundworms, contracted from dogs and cats.” 

Issue 2: Dog waste can contaminate nearby streams and lakes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the two main pollutants found in dog waste that damage water quality are nutrients and pathogens. When storm water washes dog poop into water sources, it breaks down and releases nutrients that can lead to excessive growth of weeds and algae, which can kill marine life. Additionally, this can make the water unsuitable for swimming, fishing or boating. The second main pollutant, pathogens, like the diseases discussed above, can cause local bodies of water to become too dangerous to swim or fish in, as well as drink. Water pollution is such a concern in the Seattle area, that the local organization Puget Sound Starts Here has teamed up with performer Martin Luther to produce this catchy video about "bagging up dog doogity."

Issue 3: Decomposition. Surely dog waste decomposes…doesn’t it? The short answer is yes, it does. The long answer might surprise you. In most cases our four legged friends are not eating a natural raw diet. Furthermore, dog food can often contain preservatives. What this means is that it can take up to or longer than one year to break down (depending upon the environment). The non-natural diet of most dogs also explains why it is important to pick up after our pups, but not after other wild animals. Simply put, wild animals are eating wild foods that are native to the area, contributing to the health of the ecosystem and decomposing much quick than the waste of dogs.

Issue 4: Dog poop can create high levels of nitrogen in the soil, killing off native plants that often yield to tougher invasive weeds. Yes, this also means it can kill your beautiful grass. Additionally, nitrogen is released slowly from the poop, so the longer it stays put, the more likely it is to damage your lawn. 

Issue 5: Dog waste is gross! Excessive dog poop smells bad and has visual and social impacts for other visitors.

Issue 6: The biodegradable bags used to collect dog poop don’t always make it to the garbage bin. Based on empirical evidence, we have concluded three reasons why this might happen -

Reason 1 – Imagine you set out for a walk with your dog. 30 seconds in they get antsy and deposit a hot steaming pile of poop right on the trail. It’s got your name written all over it. So you bag it up and leave it there with the intention to pick it up on your way out. You get distracted talking with the neighbors, or maybe you start thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner and on your way back you walk right past the camouflage green bag of poop. Oops.

Reason 2 – You love dogs, but not dog poop. Plus, you conveniently forgot to bring something to pick it up with. So you decide to leave it there. 

Reason 3 – You recently watched a special on the morning news talking about the benefits of biodegradable pet waste bags. You glance down at the label on the bags attached to your dog’s leash, in bold it says "biodegradable." You figure it’s probably OK to leave the poop right where you bagged it up, so you do.

These forgetful, malicious or uninformed acts make matters worse. The bags act as protection for the poop from the elements, similar to the protection a rain jackets offers, making the waste take longer to break down.  

Issue 7: Cumulative impact – the more waste that is disposed of improperly, the worse the first 6 issues become. 

The bottom line is that, there are a lot of dogs out there, they all poop, some of which is deposited on public lands. As dog owners it is important to recognize that there is no poop fairy. Our beloved pets need your help in order to practice Leave No Trace. Doing your part is really quite simple - use a plastic bag to pack out your pet's waste to a garbage can. Thanks for joining the movement and being responsible with your dog's poop! 

Helping keep our wilderness wild,

Jenna and Sam -  Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Team West

Leave No Trace’s Jenna Hanger and Sam Ovett are part of the 2015 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Deuter, Hi-Cone, REI, Smartwool, The North Face, and Yakima.