Dogs Are Great, But…

By Amy Miller

My dog is cute, but she poops.

I knew when I decided to get a dog that she would poop. Every day.

So I called my friends with dogs. What do you do with the poop, I asked. And then I started hearing the numbers. The official, how-bad-is-dog-poop-for-the-environment numbers. It turns out: Bad.

My big black dog would create as much as 7.8 billion – that’s right billion – coliform bacteria per day. I don’t really know what that number means, but it’s big and bad.

The dirty statistics continued. As much as 90 percent or more of the fecal coliform in urban stormwater in one study was of non-human origin, and most of this was dogs. Plus pet waste can cause algae and weeds. And it can get on your shoes.

Many people think it is OK to put their dog’s doo in a storm drain, where it can run directly into nearby rivers, lakes or oceans. Worse yet, some people put plastic bags holding the waste into storm drains.

Towns around the country are putting up signs to educate the millions of us who have dogs. They are signing laws to encourage us to pick up the poop and passing out bags to make it easier. Unfortunately, nearly half the dog owners who don’t pick up poop said it was the disgusting nature of the job – not ignorance or laziness – that stopped them. And by the way, men were less likely to scoop than woman.

Although most people knew dog waste can be a water quality problem, most also thought it was the least important local water quality problem Not so.

To deal with our distaste for scooping, some towns are setting aside areas where the waste can decompose while other towns are designing areas with high grass doggy loos.

Update, December 13:

In her original post, Amy quoted her stormwater friends at EPA as saying that “as long as there is no chance that the poop will drain into a waterway, my lawn and the woods are AOK.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and I’m sorry for the confusion.  While scooping the poop can be a real chore, whether in your yard or on a walk, please promptly dispose of your pet’s waste in the trash or down the toilet, where it will be properly treated. When pet waste is left behind, it washes into storm drains and ditches, and there’s nowhere it’s ok to just leave it. From drains, it can move straight to local lakes and rivers, taking harmful bacteria with it.

With a little extra effort, dog owners everywhere can play a big part in helping keep our neighborhoods and waters clean, healthy, and pollution free.

— Editor

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.