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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Water Cooler: The importance of picking up dog poop

UPDATED: Thu., May 6, 2021

Walking your dog on a pleasant afternoon is good exercise for owner and pet, but the best owners are prepared when their canine friends need to answer nature’s call.  (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Walking your dog on a pleasant afternoon is good exercise for owner and pet, but the best owners are prepared when their canine friends need to answer nature’s call. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s a gorgeous day and you’re out on a hike with your dog. Chances are, your dog will eventually pop a squat along the way to go poop. Your dog went off the trail, so there’s no point in picking it up, right? Isn’t that just nature? After all, nobody is picking up bear or deer feces.

Although your dog is an animal just like a bear or a deer, there is one key difference between them. Your dog likely eats something that comes out of a can or a bag, whereas wildlife eat things in their own environment. This difference might be slight, but it raises an important point as to why dog owners should clean up their dog’s excrement that goes beyond common courtesy.

Commercially prepared dog food is packed full of complete nutrients, and although that is beneficial for your dog’s diet, that dense concentration of nutrients is an environmental pollutant. The excess nitrogen and phosphorus in pet waste throws off the balance of an ecosystem. As those nutrients decompose into the ground, they leach into the soil and local water systems giving algae and weeds a lot to feed off. Excessive algae can cause nearby bodies of water to turn green, murky and potentially hazardous for recreation and local wildlife.

Dog stool can also contain harmful a variety of intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms, as well as contagious viruses like parvovirus and bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli. This can create health risks for other humans and local wildlife as it creates an unsanitary environment, especially in urban areas. There are also recent concerns about the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in dog waste.

For these reasons and the fact that dog feces tends to be highly acidic, it cannot be used as fertilizer unless it is composted first. This is easy to see, as dog poop tends to cause yellow patches in lawns. This again comes back to their diet. Manure from plant-eating animals such as cows is entirely different from pet waste as it tends to be full of undigested plant fiber, which can be applied directly to soil.

It’s hard to think that one pile of your dog’s waste would have much of an effect, but getting a better idea of the cumulative effect starts to paint a clearer picture of the total impact. A 2018 study conducted in Boulder, Colorado, found that about 73% of dog owners disposed of their dog waste. With an estimated 5.3 million individual visits to the Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) lands in Boulder, and with 90% of the 150 miles of trails open to dogs, this means an estimated 30 tons of dog waste is left behind in this region alone each year. Of course, the rate at which dog owners pick up and dispose of their pet’s waste may fluctuate in various parts of the country, but this in-depth look at the impact of dog waste illustrates how quickly those small piles add up.

Whether you and your dog are out on a hike in a remote area or going for a stroll down the neighborhood sidewalk, it is always important to pick up your dog’s waste. Don’t be fooled into thinking dog feces is “natural” just because it came from a pet. Do your part to carry plastic bags or other products that can clean up after your pet and leave the beautiful and balanced ecosystem you came out to enjoy as it was before you got there.

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