The dogshit dilemma


No more dogshitWe have a problem with dogshit. Well, all municipalities do, of course, but ours is increasingly evident: it’s everywhere. And with the growing popularity of pets and our growing population, it’s becoming worse.* How do we deal with it?

We pick it up, of course, as we dispose of it in our own garbage bins or in those provide by the municipality downtown or in our parks. That’s not merely what the bylaw says we have to do: it’s what responsible, mature pet owners do. Sadly, we seem to be in the minority.

Way too many folk leave it for others to pick up, or step in. And get sick from it. Dog owners know all this. You really have to be a sociopath not to pick up after your own pet and let it shit wherever, with no regard for the rest of us.

Worse, it’s a deliberate affront to the community, even more so than the smokers who stub their butts out on the street and sidewalk. Leaving your dog’s shit behind is like spitting in the face of everyone else here.

But there’s another type of dog owner we find here: those who pick up, then throw the bag of dogshit on the boulevard, onto lawns, over fences into yards or into streams, parks or gardens for others to have to pick up. Sometimes they just drop it in the middle of the sidewalk. That takes a real anti-social asshole with a special form of arrogance. They know that the baggies are far more visible than the shit itself, that it won’t decay or get washed away in the rain. They know some of their bags will get caught in our stormwater system and become a problem for our water workers to contend with. They know the bylaw says that dogshit has to be picked up and properly disposed of in a suitable container. But they do it anyway.

Thiers is an even nastier assault on common decency and community than those who simply refuse to pick up because this involves intent to harm, to vandalize and to insult. It’s deliberate and malicious.

Dogshit is a problem for many reasons. First there’s a lot of it and the amount is growing. Second, it spreads diseases and parasites to other dogs, cats, wildlife and humans. It makes people ill, sometimes seriously. Third, it pollutes lawns and waterways and contributes to problems like toxic algae in our waterways and blocked stormwater pipes. And it stinks.

As noted by Ellen Moorhouse in the Toronto Star:

Dog poop embodies key waste challenges. It contaminates water runoff and with pathogens and parasites is a health issue.

And people know this. No dog owner can truthfully argue they don’t know the cosmetic issues, the health issues, the problems of children stepping in it, of it fouling the environment or how it threatens our drinking water. Leaving dogshit where it lands or tossing a bag of it onto someone’s lawn is a blatant statement by the dog owner that they despise the community; a callous flip of the bird to all other residents. It is never accidental: it is deliberate.

Walk through Harbourview Park in winter and you’ll see it: dark patches of shit against the white snow, left by callous dog owners who want to tell other residents how little others mean to them, how little the communal space means, what disdain they have for public property and how little they care that others have to clean up after them.

Walk into the off-leash parks the town provides and see it. Even when pick-up bags and wastebins are provided, and the owner need not walk more than a few meters to clean up and dispose of it, some dog owners still vandalize the parks by letting their dogs shit in them and then walking away. People will make the effort to drive their pets to these places, then spoil the sites for everyone else. They give responsible pet owners a bad reputation at the same time.

As noted on Doodycalls, a pet waste management company’s website,

Dog waste is an environmental pollutant. In 1991, it was labeled a non-point source pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), placing it in the same category as herbicides and insecticides; oil, grease and toxic chemicals; and acid drainage from abandoned mines.

The site lists some of the diseases and parasites common in dog feces:

Beyond your grass, it has been estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans. EPA even estimates that two or three days’ worth of droppings from a population of about 100 dogs would contribute enough bacteria to temporarily close a bay, and all watershed areas within 20 miles of it, to swimming and shell fishing.
Dog feces are one of the most common carriers of the following diseases:

  • Whipworms
  • Hookworms
  • Roundworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Parvo
  • Corona
  • Giardiasis
  • Salmonellosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Campylobacteriosis

So not picking up after your dog isn’t merely littering: it’s actively contributing to sickness and infection, it’s threatening your neighbours and coworkers with often serious disease. It is a deliberate, calculated threat to the community.

I personally watched a man walking two Rottweiler-cross dogs along Third Street this summer. When one crapped on the boulevard, he picked up, then threw the bag over a fence into a neighbour’s yard. It landed on a shed roof, visible from the street, where it stayed until she managed to get it off and into the garbage. Along the route we walk with our dog, there are places where unhygienic people like him constantly drop their bags, and a dozen or more have accumulated this summer alone.

Pet populations are growing and with them the volume of feces, which means the health and environmental threats are growing, too. Livescience tells us that in America,

America’s 83 million pet dogs produce some 10.6 million tons of poop every year. That’s enough to fill a line of tractor-trailers from Seattle to Boston, one waste removal service has calculated. Add in litter from our more than 90 million cats, and you’ve got enough pet waste to fill more than 5,000 football fields ten feet deep, according to another poop-scooping company. Indeed cleaning up after our pets has spawned an entire industry with its own professional organization, the Association of Pet Animal Waste Specialists, complete with pun-filled newsletter (“What we doo”).

The article adds that,

“…only about 60 percent of dog owners pick up after their pets, according to surveys. Among the excuses offered by the 40 percent who don’t pick up: “Because eventually it goes away;” “too much work;” “small dog, small waste;” “it’s in the woods;” or, in a reverse NIMBY: “It’s in my yard.”

And from

If all that (dog waste) were thrown in the trash, it would rival the total trash production of Massachusetts—from the humans, at least.

There are an estimated 7.6 million dogs in Canada: 41% of Canadian households have at least one dog. Dog ownership in Canada is increasing at a rate of 10% a year.

There are approx. 9,000 households in Collingwood. Based on the above ratio, 3,690 of them have one or more dogs. If the ratio is the same as in the USA, roughly 2,200 of those households pick up after their pets, but 1,500 don’t. That’s between 1,500 and 4,500 dogs (perhaps more; although the bylaw limits households to three dogs, there are homes with more**) that are allowed to shit without cleanup. Every day, at least once but usually two-three times a day. A piece in The HuffPost warns:

Beyond smell, dog poop can be an environmental problem. Just three days worth of poop from 100 dogs has enough bacteria to temporarily shut down 20 miles of a bay or watershed for swimming and shellfishing.

The average dog shits 340 grams (.75 pounds) of poop a day. That means between 510 and 1,530 kilograms of dog shit are dumped in our community without being picked up every day. And, studies show, “One gram of dog waste (the weight of a business card) contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria (van der Wel, 1995), almost twice as much as human waste.” That means between 11.7 and 35.2 trillion bacteria are dumped on our community streets and lawns – bacteria that can easily get into our drinking water EVERY DAY through runoff. And they don’t just break down overnight: the average pile of shit can take more than a year to decompose fully.

Children are particularly at risk. I’ve seen dogshit left in places where children play (in local schoolyards and parks) or along boulevards where kids walk to school. As the Clear Choices Clean Water site notes:

Pet wastes can transmit bacteria and viruses including tapeworm, roundworm, E. Coli, Parvo, and more. Humans who come into contact with dog waste could contract campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, and toxocarisis, which may cause abdominal cramps, fever, coughing or wheezing, hives, and possibly permanent vision damage. Animal waste can also attract mice and parasites that can get into your house or harm your pets and other animals. Pick up animal waste to keep your family healthy.

And no dog owner can claim not to know about their pet’s feces because the dogs deliver them every day. To claim they didn’t know about the health threats and the bacteria and parasites is like a smoker claiming never to have heard smoking causes cancer. It’s a deliberate act not to pick up.

What’s to be done? Having our federal and/or provincial environmental ministries and agencies declare dog feces as a pollutant (like in the USA) would give local bylaws some real teeth. Requiring all shelters, breeders and pet stores that sell or adopt dogs to give potential owners literature and a talk about responsible pet ownership and the dangers of feces would help. More bylaw enforcement, more signage, more pick-up bag dispensers would help. So would more stringent bylaws.***

But as citizens and responsible dog owners, since these legislative changes – local or otherwise – are unlikely to happen any time soon, we have a responsibility to help our communities, to keep our residents safe. So here’s what you can do…

If you see someone letting their dog crap and not picking up, or picking up and leaving the bag behind, speak to them. If they aren’t responsive and don’t clean up, then chastise them and let them know the neighbourhood is watching and you will report them. Take pictures of them if you can, and post them on Facebook. Social media shaming may embarrass them enough to stop this offensive habit. Call the bylaw department and identify them and their dogs so the officers can watch for them. If you know where they live, give the address to the officers.

I would like to see the town significantly increase the fines for such behaviour – it is reckless endangerment of the community. Double or triple the fines and after a third charge have their pets removed from the offenders and have them banned from pet ownership in this community. Something drastic has to be done otherwise these people will just continue vandalizing and destroying our beautiful town.

* And this doesn’t even begin to address the issue of catshit or why cat owners should keep their cats indoors! And yes, I am a dog owner who religiously picks up after his pet.
** There’s one a mere two doors away from me with four dogs, but at least the owners pick up after them.
*** Local changes are unlikely in Collingwood because The Block don’t raise anything at the council table unless it directly benefits them or their buddies. Collingwood deserves better, but we have to wait until the 2018 election to boot them all out of office.

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