One of the best cures I have for COVID-19 melancholy is an energetic dog walk on a brilliant blue-skied day.
Getting out of the house to enjoy a bit of fresh air and sun does wonders for my soul. Moby eagerly trots a leash-length ahead of me, his tongue wagging below a stout English Lab kisser. I sip my travel mug of coffee, communing with nature and my trusty canine companion.
Life is good.
However, our mutual bliss is inevitably interrupted by a main goal of our outing – getting Moby to do his business. As he does his best kangaroo impression on someone’s front lawn, I set my travel mug on the curb and reach into my pocket. Every coat I own is stuffed with dog waste bags, so I invert one onto my gloved hand, and close my nasal passages in preparation for the loathsome task.
Even with my fingers fully ensconced in protective plastic, picking up dog poo is a revolting experience. I grab the pile quickly, then tie a knot in the top of the bag without breathing. My job is done. I am proud to be a rule-follower, a model citizen, a conscientious neighbor.
But how can I continue my soul-cleansing journey while carrying this disgusting bag of foulness? Having a bag of dog waste swinging from one’s hand puts a significant damper on communing with nature and enjoying one’s coffee. Do I find the nearest trash receptacle – usually a garbage can on the curb in front of a house or a dumpster at a construction site – and toss in the noxious bundle? Or, do I lug Moby’s steamy business all the way home, ruining my daily sojourn?
With almost 90 million pet dogs (www.statista.com/statistics/198100/dogs-in-the-united-states-since-2000) in the United States, about 30,000 tons of dog poo (www.livescience.com/44732-eliminating-pet-poop-pollution.html#.UwFyq_aA08Y) is deposited on lawns, parks and sidewalks every day.
Dog waste is not a natural fertilizer like cow dung. Due to a carnivorous diet, it is full of acid, toxic bacteria and parasites. Studies indicate about 90 percent of fecal coliform bacteria, which is used as a measure of water health and quality, is mostly from abandoned canine feces. Two or three days’ worth of abandoned waste from 100 dogs can increase bacteria levels in water enough to warrant closing swimming and shell fishing areas.
So, it’s no surprise that many municipalities, homeowner’s associations, landlords and military base housing authorities have issued ordinances and policies requiring pet owners to pick up waste. Many have posted signs and provided bag dispensers and waste receptacles in public spaces. But ironically, as the biodegradable dog waste bag industry booms, scientists warn that dog feces biodegrading in landfills will eventually release methane gas and contribute to global warming.
Who knew the pooper scooper issue was this complex?
Despite it all, only about 59 percent of dog owners pick up their dogs’ feces, according to my research. That’s more than 8 billion pounds of abandoned dog droppings per year. One study attempted to profile dog walkers, finding five typologies: 1. Those “proud to pick up” and carry dog poo; 2. Those who “do the right thing” by picking it up, but seek to dispose of the waste as soon as possible; 3. Those who feel they’ve “done their job” by bagging the poo but leave the package for others to deal with; 4. Those who only pick up in the presence of others; and 5. Those who are so “disengaged” they won’t pick up at all.
My sister-in-law, who carries a dog waste bag filled with two clementines to give the appearance of being a pooper scooper but never actually picks up her boxer’s business, is a four and a half. The last time we lived on a military base, there was an unidentified number five in our neighborhood who caused much drama and finger-pointing. And with a tiny pang of guilt, I admit I’m a number two (insert childish snicker here).
Since my daily dog walks serve the dual purpose of both cleansing Moby’s bowels and my soul, I commit the minor infraction of throwing my dog’s bagged poo into other people’s trash cans. I ask for leniency because, besides my dog Moby, nobody’s perfect.