Did you know the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that just 3 days’ worth of dog waste from 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria to temporarily close a bay and all watershed area to swimming or shell fishing within 20 miles? You may think “I’m not planning to drink or eat shellfish out of Oyster Creek”, but Oyster Creek flows into the Brazos River which then empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Many communities now draw water for drinking out of the Brazos River and millions of people along the Gulf Coast and the nation eat fish and shellfish caught in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to LiveScience, approximately 40% of dog owners claim they don’t pick up their pets poop for a variety of reasons (lazy, don’t feel like it, small dog=small waste, etc.), but the main reason is they think the poop will eventually go away. Although the poop will eventually break down on its own, it can take a long time. Once the poop has broken down, it doesn’t mean the bacteria and parasites disappear. Other animals and humans can be exposed to these pathogens directly or it eventually gets washed into storm sewers or Oyster Creek and enters the surface water system.
When pet waste is left behind, it gets washed into storm drains and creeks by the rain. From there, unlike the separate sanitary sewer system that collects wastewater in your home from your sink, toilet and other appliances, water and other substances deposited in storm drains head straight to local rivers, lakes and bays with no filtering or cleaning. As pet waste goes through the chemical process of decomposition, it uses up large amounts of oxygen in the water. This oxygen reduction is harmful and sometimes fatal to many aquatic species. In addition, the process by which the pet waste is broken down produces by-products that encourage weed and algae growth, which also can be detrimental to aquatic and marine life. Stories of fish kills from algae blooms come to mind.
One pound of dog waste can contain 10.5 billion fecal coliform bacteria. The average dog excretes .75 lbs. of waste per day—or 274 lbs. of waste per year. As you can see, dog waste is a very significant host of bacteria, and those bacteria can be harmful to human health if the waste is not disposed of appropriately. Some of the more common diseases caused by pet waste are Campylobacteriosis, Cryptosporidium, Toxocariasis, Toxoplasmosis and Salmonellosis. And it is not just bacteria—dog waste sometimes contains parasites, too, which can include hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, tapeworms and giardiasis. Oh, by the way, dog waste is a major food source for rats, which brings the health concern to a whole other level. It should be no surprise now that pet waste can create serious health concerns!
What to do with Pet Waste
We can pretty much gather by now that simply leaving pet waste where it lies is not an acceptable solution. The best way to deal with pet waste is to collect it and flush it down your toilet so that it undergoes the same treatment as human waste from your home. The next best option is to collect the waste and dispose of it in biodegradable bags along with your other garbage. If no biodegradable bags are available, collect it in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the same manner.
What not to do with Pet Waste
Under no circumstances should pet waste be dumped into storm sewers, as that only hastens its trip to the waterways and oceans. Because of all the bacteria that can be contained in pet waste, it should never be used in compost piles or for fertilizer in gardens. It takes chemicals or extreme heat to kill the bacteria and parasites found in dog waste and composting generally does not generate enough heat.
One of the leading sources of water pollution in communities across America is entirely preventable and can be completely eliminated overnight. Dog owners simply need to take responsibility and pick up after their pets.
So, let’s not only be healthy and environmentally conscious neighbors, let’s be considerate, respectful neighbors and pick up after our pets. After all, it’s the right thing to do.