The late Harvey Milk’s dog poop campaign wasn’t just good politics. Yes, we all hate happening on a pile of it on our neighborhood walks, but it’s more than unsightly, it’s bad for people and the planet. I went to Jessica Belsky, Heal the Bay’s Communications Manager, for the full scoop.
I think we all know what not to do with dog waste–leave it on the street or in grassy areas. So, why not? What’s the problem with that and how does it specifically affect our waterways?
Well, aside from the obvious — someone might step in it, there are water quality problems associated with not picking up the doo. Pet waste contains a lot of bacteria. During a rainstorm, all of that un-picked-up poo and its associated bacteria, heads with the rain water directly down a storm drain, you know, those drains on the street curbs. These drains don’t end in any kind of treatment plant, they lead to the ocean or to another body of water (which in turn leads to the ocean). So, unless you want to swim with the poo, pick it up! It doesn’t necessarily take a rainstorm either. Think about your neighbor hosing off his driveway or someone watering her lawn. If the doggy pile gets left on the ground, it’s eventually swimming. It’s not just gross, it can also make you sick. Skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, flu like symptoms and GI problems-all possible side effects from swimming in bacteria-laden water. That’s not a nice way to end your weekend at the beach.
What’s the difference between animals leaving their excrement, say on the forest floor, and dogs leaving theirs in the city?
The number of dogs in our concentrated area is huge. For example, Los Angeles County has over 12 million people. Think, if only a quarter of those people have a dog as a pet, that’s over 3 million dogs. There are not that many natural large mammals living in Los Angeles County collectively (deer, mountain lions, bears, etc). Additionally, think of all of the pavement in the city. Cement leaves nowhere for the waste to go but eventually down the storm drain.
What’s the scoop on what dog owners and dog walkers should do with dog poop in Los Angeles? What’s the best thing to do? Is there a runner up best thing to do?
This is a tough question. Picking up the poo is most important. From there, you have a few options. You can use a plastic bag and throw it in the trash can. Many people reuse small bags, such as from a newspaper or even a produce bag. It’s really easy to bring a bag these days, a bag container can link right on to your dog’s leash. There are actually a few alternatives to plastic bags as well. I have seen dog waste “boxes” made of cardboard that will break down once in a landfill. I have some friends with small dogs that actually flush the poo down the toilet in some TP or in specially made septic safe doggie flush bags. However, this comes with its own problems in an area like L.A. where water is in shorter supply. Burying the poo, say in your garden for example (but away from food crops), is another option. Google “dog poop composting.” People really do it. Basically, the closer you can get the doo disposal to its origins, the more environmental it will be.
Any other tips for pet owners doing our part to help clean up the ocean in our own backyards?
Having a dog as a pet is very rewarding but also comes with a lot of responsibility.
In addition to knowing the scoop on all things dog, Heal the Bay is doing important work for the ocean. If you’re heading to the beach this weekend, check out its Beach Report Card before you dive in. And find out other ways to get your feet wet volunteering.
Jessica Belsky grew up surfing in and around Daytona Beach, FL. After earning her degree in English from the University of Miami, her life-long interest in ocean conservation and eco-issues led her to Los Angeles where she quickly became an avid volunteer with Heal the Bay’s Speaker’s Bureau program. Jessica is now Heal the Bay’s Communications Manager. She still enjoys volunteering in her free time at a bevy of both environmental and animal rescue events. A “pound puppy” advocate since a teenager, in addition to volunteering, Jessica frequently fosters shelter dogs in her apartment and owns a rescued stray hound mix, Bosco, who now lives (very well) with her family in Florida.
LA Law – http://animalcare.lacounty.gov/wps/portal/acc/laws/?1dmy&page=dept.lac.acc.home.laws-and-enforcement.detail.hidden&urile=wcm%3Apath%3A/animal+care+content/animal+care+site/home/laws+and+enforcement/le+detail+authoring/laws+and+ordinances AND http://animalcare.lacounty.gov/wps/portal/acc/laws/nuisance/