If a dog sh*ts in the woods... do you pick it up?
Updated: May 15, 2019
No one likes picking up after their dog.
I certainly don’t. The other dog parents in my neighborhood don’t; it’s evidenced by the little logs littering the side of the road and, in some cases, the road itself. But even though we don’t enjoy scooping up fresh hot piles of poo with disturbingly thin plastic bags or worse, plastic grocery bags that may have hidden holes, responsible dog parents do it anyway.
Well for one, to keep the neighborhood beautiful! One of the biggest complaints received by homeowner’s associations across the country is the presence of pet waste on residents’ lawns. As much as we don’t like to pick it up, we also don’t like to see it everywhere. The aesthetic value of a neighborhood contributes to higher property values, too, so there is always that incentive for keeping it clean (if the glaring eyes of your neighbors aren't enough).
Secondly, pet waste is unsanitary. In addition to just being generally disgusting, malodorous, and unsightly, poop carries a number of pathogens. Viruses, bacteria, and parasites can be transmitted from dog to environment to other dogs, wildlife, and even people – through the ground, water, and even the air. That’s right: Dog poop can send bacteria into the “fresh” air we breathe outside.
Sometimes, though, even the most diligent and responsible pet parents fail to pick up the poop. Maybe you forgot to grab a bag before heading out on a walk (guilty), or you grabbed one or two but your dog took one too many potty breaks (also guilty... I don't know how he poops so much sometimes).
Maybe you’ve gone hiking or walking along a trail and your dog found a nice spot off the trail to do his business and you thought it would do no harm to leave it – it’s natural, right?
(And admittedly, I’m guilty here again.)
So why is it not acceptable to leave pet waste in the woods to naturally decompose?
Dogs are not wild animals. (If you missed my blog on dominance theory and the debunking of the alpha wolf, check it out here!)
Let me reiterate for everyone in the back: Dogs are not wild animals! Dogs eat commercially available diets; they don’t forage for food. These diets are designed to be nutritionally complete and so are loaded with plenty of nutrients. Much like humans who take a multivitamin each day, the excess nutrients are excreted by the body.
This is where the problem arises.
Excess nitrogen and phosphorus added to the environment when pet waste is left behind causes ecosystem instability, leading to algae blooms in freshwater habitats. This creates a new habitat perfect for invasive plants to grow and thrive in, and subsequently knock out the native species of plants and animals.
And remember that bacteria we talked about? And parasites? That stuff gets into our water, which can necessitate restrictions on swimming, fishing, and other recreational activities. Not to mention that our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay requires extra stewardship to prevent further pollution of such a vital resource.
According to the Maryland Department of the Environment, there are approximately 1.3 million dogs in Maryland alone. It is estimated that 40% of pet parents do NOT pick up after their dogs. That is a lot of dogs allowed to spread feces all over the neighborhoods, trails, and parks we like to enjoy.
Be responsible pet parents and pick that sh*t up, every time, everywhere! You can even sign a Scoop The Poop Pledge (not kidding, here’s the link) and become a poop scooping activist. (If you do, please let me know, and I'll figure out some kind of prize to give you!)
Whatever you do, just try to remember to grab a bag on your way out the door. Your neighbors will thank you, and so will the planet.