Proper dog poop removal is a moral issue
Most of us have experienced it. Whether you notice it immediately, or you realize a faint stench has been creeping under your nose for the past few minutes – you’ve stepped in dog poop. It can be an quite the emotional experience. You feel horror and disgust at first. It soon turns to rage and you find yourself imagining an inconsiderate person seeing his dog assume a squatting position – and turning away as if he did not know what was about to come out of his butt.
We need to have a discussion about Richmond’s minefield of dog poop along sidewalks, in public parks, and even within dedicated dog parks. I apologize for digitally shoving poop in your face in the image above, but it must be seen. It shows a pile of dog poop directly next to a waste basket with readily available poop bags. I have a hard time wrapping my head around how this happened, but it seems to be part of an on-going issue in the Richmond area of people not picking up their dog’s poop.
Richmond is not alone in this. An analysis of multiple studies from 15 years ago showed that 40% of dog owners do not clean up their dog’s poop during walks. If you are in the 40% who seem to be unaware of the consequences of leaving dog poop out-and-about, or simply do not care about them, I am going to explain these consequences and why you should care.
To the other 60% – the already-diligent pooper scoopers out there – I need your help in cultivating a culture of expected poop disposal.
Proper dog poop removal is a moral issue
As you can see from the video above, by leaving dog poop on the ground, you activate the potential to ruin someone’s day or possibly even traumatize a child. I have been late getting back to work after taking Dora out on my lunch break, because I have had to clean off dog poop from the bottom of my only pair of dress shoes. Is it my fault for wearing dress shoes in a park where people walk their dogs? No, it’s not. That’s blaming the victim. Is it the worst thing that can happen to you? Of course not, but cleaning off poop from your shoe with a toothbrush and multiple toothpicks to get into the crevices is a disgusting and time-consuming endeavor.
It can not only ruin someone’s day, but it can diminish the feeling of community trust and connectedness. Now, I get suspicious when I pass someone walking in my neighborhood with their dog. Sure, I wave and give the standard pleasantries, but I am also thinking, “Is that the guy who made me an hour late to work the other day?” It’s not healthy for me to think that. This behavior does not lend itself well to developing a neighborly feeling in the community. We must place a high amount of importance on keeping dog poop off of the shoes of our neighbors.
If you have never stepped in dog poop before, you have lived a blessed life. Wouldn’t you like to bless others with that same ignorance of this horrid experience? You have the power – just clean up your dog’s poop.
Dog waste is a public health hazard
For a metropolitan area, Richmond offers a huge amount of outdoor activities, primarily thanks to its proximity to the James River. These areas are worth keeping clean, healthy, and vibrant – and your dog’s poop is not fertilizer. In fact, it’s a blight on the environment and a health risk to other dogs, humans, and various forms of local wildlife. The EPA places pet waste in the same pollutant category as herbicides and insecticides from agriculture lands, oil and toxic chemicals from energy production, and acid drainage from mines.
It can contain harmful pathogens like e coli, giardia, and salmonella. Stormwater runoff washes leftover dog waste, and the dangerous bacteria it contains, into water supplies. The high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in poop can cause excessive algae growth in waterways, making them unusable for swimming or fishing.
Even a small amount of dog waste can have a significant impact on water supplies. According to the EPA, two to three days of droppings from 100 dogs contribute enough bacteria, nitrogen, and phosphorus to temporarily close a 20-square-mile bay to swimming and shellfishing. Richmond has way more than 100 dogs. On average, 40% of American households have a dog. Assuming Richmond is average in this regard, then there are 34,000 households with a dog. That’s 544 dogs per square mile. That is not a normal amount of animals to live in that small amount of area, and our surrounding environment cannot handle that amount of dog poop on its own.
Believe me, I am happy we have so many dogs here in Richmond. But because we have so many, it is imperative that we make sure that, as a community, we are properly disposing dog waste. That means changing the way we think about the importance of dog waste removal and taking steps towards cultivating a culture of expected poop disposal.
Buying poop bags is as critical to dog ownership as buying dog food
The most convenient way of disposing of dog waste is to pick it up with a plastic bag and toss it in the trash. To best instill a culture of expected poop disposal, we can no longer think of poop bags as a secondary or voluntary expense of owning a dog. It’s an item that must be considered among the very “basics” of dog ownership – up there with dog food, heart-worm medicine, and a Martha Stewart dog bed. Avoiding the public health effects of idle dog poop in the environment is an important enough cause to warrant elevating poop bags to this status.
If you must rely on walks to give your dog potty time, you will also need a poop bag holder that attaches to the leash. It’s very difficult to try to remember to grab a bag before each walk, but you will always remember the leash. These are not particularly expensive and, since we just collectively decided that poop bags are as important as dog food, the idea of buying poop bags for the rest of your dog’s life should not be any less comfortable than buying dog food for the rest of your dog’s life.
Armed with bags and a bag holder, the only thing keeping you from disposing your dog’s poop is laziness – and you aren’t lazy, right?
Bystanders, you are part of the problem – and the solution
This is arguably the most important part of cultivating a culture of expected poop disposal. If you are at the dog park or on a walk, and you see someone choose not to clean up their dog’s poop, it is up to you to ask them about it. Knowingly allowing another dog owner to leave a poop-mine on the ground leads to the same thing as leaving one yourself. You do not want that on your conscious.
Even if you know they actively ignored the poop, politely point it out to them as if they missed it. Chances are, they were walking away because they do not have a bag. If you are also on a walk with your dog, politely offer them one of your bags. If not, no need to be judgmental, mad, or accusatory. Tell them to have a nice day and go about your business.
At the very least, you put the idea in their head that they should have a bag the next time. Of course, if they don’t see proper waste disposal as important, that one interaction won’t change their mind immediately. However, if they are called out on it again soon after, and again another time after that, we will begin to see this culture of expected poop disposal take hold.
One last thing: don’t go around policing others if you have not yet committed to proper poop disposal. It all starts with ensuring that you, yourself, are doing what you can to care for our community and environment by picking up your own dog’s poop. Once we acknowledge how we can do better as individuals, then we can reach out and hold others accountable, in as friendly a way as possible.