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Dog waste

Is a pile of dog waste just a nuisance or a pollutant? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s websites frequently list pet waste as a non-point source pollutant!

Non-point source pollution occurs when rainfall or melting snow moves over and through the ground. As it moves, the water picks up and carries with it both natural and human-produced pollutants, eventually depositing them in streams, rivers and lakes, and even the groundwater. The EPA lists other non-point source pollutants from urban areas (epa.gov/nps/nonpoint-source-urban-areas) that include: sediment; oil, grease and toxic chemicals from cars; pesticides and nutrients from lawns and gardens; viruses, bacteria and nutrients from failing septic systems; road salts; and heavy metals from roof shingles, cars and other sources.

According to a University of Wisconsin Extension fact sheet (clean-water.uwex.edu/pubs/pdf/pet.pdf) storm water samples collected in Wisconsin cities almost always have high levels of bacteria that violate water quality standards. Common sources of bacteria include sewer overflows, pet waste and urban wildlife. Pollutants from improperly disposed-of pet waste can be washed into storm sewers by rain and melting snow. Most storm sewers will drain into a water body, carrying any potential pollutants with the water.

When pet waste is washed into a stream or lake, it decays, using up oxygen, and it can release ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia, when combined with warmer water temperatures, can kill fish. In addition, pet waste contains nutrients that will encourage aquatic weed and excessive algae growth. Pet waste also carries diseases.

Pet waste may not be the largest or most toxic pollutant; however, it is one of the several often-overlooked sources of pollution that can add up to a big problem. The city of Charlotte, North Carolina, provides pet waste stations in its public parks. A recent study of the parks found over 600 piles of pet waste on public property. This translated into 450 pounds of pet waste containing an estimated 4.7 trillion fecal bacteria that was left to be washed into creeks and local waterways.

When pet waste is disposed of improperly, or not at all, the environment and our health can be at risk. Pets, children who play outside and adults who are active outside with gardens are at most risk of infection from bacteria and parasites found in pet waste. Also, flies are attracted to the waste and can spread disease.

So, are you or do you want to become an eco-friendly dog (pet) owner? Start by keeping your yard more usable. Many people believe pet waste is a fertilizer; however, it is not. Dogs eat a high-protein meat diet, which creates a different waste than livestock such as cows, which eat a plant-based diet. Ideally, pet waste should be cleaned up in areas near wells, storm drains, ditches, lake shorelines and all waterways.

Always remove pet waste where children play. Children spend time playing close to the ground, then touch their mouth and eyes without considering how clean their hands might be. The best way to protect both children and adults is to wash your hands with soap and water when you come into the house.

For your health and safety and that of your pet, keeping waste picked up will help prevent the transmission of several diseases and parasites that go from dogs to humans and dogs to other animals both domestic and wild. Plus, dogs can get several viruses from another sick dog simply by coming into contact with the sick dog’s waste.

During warmer weather, flies will forage on the waste and lay eggs in it. The same flies can then come into your home and potentially spread any disease they encountered as they land on your counters and food. Has this motivated you to clean up after your dog yet?

The easiest way to dispose of pet waste is to pick it up with either a pooper scooper or plastic bag and place it in the trash. In Wisconsin, pet owners are encouraged to dispose of the waste (out of the plastic bag) in the toilet, as the septic system or municipal sewage treatment plant removes most pollutants before the discharged water reaches a receiving water body.

It may not be the most enjoyable part of pet ownership, but it is very important to clean up after your dog whether you are at home or on public property. Pet waste can be harmful and annoying to people, other animals (both domestic and wild) and the environment.

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Judy Wright is a senior resource educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cayuga County. For more information, visit cce.cornell.edu or call (315) 255-1183.

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