A chat about scat

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 10-04-2013

Macy – the scat machine

Let’s be honest here. This spring hasn’t really been the greatest so far and I think that many of us Minnesotans are finally starting to see the allure in packing it all up and moving to California. The snow in my yard has melted just enough to expose an ugly mix of wilted brown grass, mud and soggy leaves that have been buried all winter, though not enough yet to get rid of the miniature glaciers that still line our driveway and the edge of our street. The only one who seems immune to the dreary weather is our one-year old, who can entertain himself for several hours picking up sticks and splashing in 32.5° puddles. For this reason, I’ve been spending a lot of time outside in the yard lately.Early last week, I began picking up all of the dog poop that has accumulated in our backyard over the course of the winter. This is a necessary but seriously gross job. I filled three plastic shopping bags to brimming with dog poop and still continue to find more piles that I missed along the way. Yes, it is a glamorous life I lead.

No matter what you choose to call it – excrement, feces, poop, scat or dung – there is nothing fun about picking it up from your yard or the side of the street. Consider the alternative, however, and it’s clear that the dirty deed must be done. Besides looking and smelling gross, dog poop can harbor dangerous pathogens and it’s not just a risk to toddlers and people walking barefoot in their yards.

Rain and melting snow wash all sorts of things into our lakes and streams, and if we aren’t careful, dog poop can be one of them. A study in Seattle found that 20% of water born bacteria in the area could be traced to dog droppings, and it has been estimated that in a watershed of up to 20 square miles, a mere 100 dogs would contribute enough waste to contaminate a small lake within only two to three days.

In developed communities, storm sewers carry snow melt and rain off the street and into nearby waterways. If you don’t pick up after your dog while you are out on a walk, the poop can quickly end up in a neighborhood lake or the St. Croix River. The same is true for poop in your yard if your yard drains to the street. If you live in the country, dog poop is usually less of a concern due to the lower density of people (and dogs), but it is still a good idea to pick up dog poop in areas of your yard that drain to ditches or streams. It might go without saying, but horse and cow manure can easily be washed into lakes and streams as well, and out in the country that is usually a bigger problem than dog poop. (Note that the Washington Conservation District can connect rural landowners with funding and technical assistance for better manure management – 651-275-1136).

Studies have shown that the biggest determining factor in whether or not a person picks up dog poop while out on a walk is whether they have plastic bags on hand and a garbage can easily accessible. In our home, we hang plastic bags from a hook near the dog leash to remind ourselves to bring bags along on every walk. I also have a few dozen bags stashed in the stroller. Some communities post dispensers for dog poop bags near popular parks and trails and I know of neighborhood groups that have installed these dispensers along popular pathways as well. Simple actions like these help to keep our lakes and streams clean for fishing and swimming in the summer.

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