Considering some recent….experiences…we’ve had while hiking, maybe it’s time to re-fresh and re-post a story about something that you, really, don’t want to see when it’s fresh. Yet…
We’ve all been there. Walking along, enjoying a pleasant day, when on the ground right in front of us is a big pile of dog poop. Or you discover a cat has decided your freshly-planted flowerbed is the perfect place to use as his private toilet. So we step over it, or pick it up, or reason that in the long run it’s fertilizer that might even be beneficial to our garden. After all, what harm could come from a few pets pooping in the environment.
Well, a lot of harm. Because the diet of our cats and dogs has changed over the generations they’ve lived with us, they’re not the same animals as the wild wolf or bobcat. As species, dogs and cats have been domesticated – lived with men – for tens of thousands of years, and in all that time their behavior and possibly even physiology – basic physical processes – have changed to they can better live with humans and enjoy the food and shelter we provide. (Some pet cats like to think they’re still wild, but they’re just fooling themselves). So the wild diets these species historically ate have been replaced with canned animal-and-grain-by-products, and crunchy-beef-flavored-kibble-bits. While most many of the ingredients in pet food is good quality (‘rendered-meat-meal-slurry’??), there are lots of other things in there, including chemicals and preservatives and artificial colors and assorted additives and even parasites and diseases carried over from some of the food sources – that cats and dogs have over time become tolerant of, but like all contaminants eventually pass through the body and end up somewhere.
And that somewhere, if it’s on a hiking trail – or edge of the sidewalk (to be washed away! Into our water systems) – or dumped from a litter box onto the ground – can cause a lot of problems for the environment:
> Modern pet food is so extra-rich in nutrients, it can cause algae blooms if it enters a stream, lake, or other water system. Algae plants (generally green or blue-green algae named cyanobacteria), always present in a healthy aquatic ecosystem, thrive on the excess nutrients and grow out of control until they block sun and oxygen from reaching deep into the water. If the thick concentrations of algae continue, all life in the lake could die.
> Dog and cat poop can carry multiple parasites and diseases that might not harm the pet but could be passed on to other animals. Infectious organisms usually need host animals to survive until they are transmitted to their next unsuspecting victim. And most of these diseases and parasites can affect humans, causing anything from flu-like symptoms to temporary changes in the brain to death.
> The Environmental Protection Agency – the US Government Department responsible for tracking and controlling many hazardous materials – has classified dog and cat waste as an dangerous pollutant, joining the list of oil spills, chemical toxins, and other things that require wearing a HAZMAT suit to clean up.
So whenever your dog does ‘his duty’ remember to pick up the poop, and at home bury the waste in approved containers that dissolve the material or seal in bags and place in the trash. It doesn’t help to leave poop to ‘naturally’ decompose on the ground – eventually the organic waste will break down, but leave behind any pathogens and chemical contaminants. Plus it will probably kill your lawn. If you have a cat, train him to go in the litter box; then it’s up to you to remove the poop and place in the trash. Despite how smart your cat might be because he learned to use the toilet all by himself (!), approximately 50% of all Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) – an Endangered Species – have been found infected with Toxoplasma gondi, a parasite which needs to pass through the intestines of cats to survive. (In humans, this is the same parasite that can cause brain defects). And those cats are not pooping into the ocean by themselves. The only way eggs of this infectious protozoan could have reached the sea is by flushed water flowing through our city sewers and into the rivers that eventually go to the ocean. Taxoplasma eggs can live up to a year, and typical water treatment used in our cities won’t kill these microorganisms.
Dog and cat poop on the sidewalk; trail; lawn; or even flushed down the toilet isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s an ecological hazard that could pollute the water, leave toxins on the ground, and pass on parasites and disease. While picking up poop might not be the most satisfying time you spend with your pet, it’s part of being a responsible pet owner, and is a small way to care for the environment and wildlife. It’s only natural.
Michonne Says: Who would have thought there was so much to say about poop. I’d rather think about the flowers and berries and good things that go in, and not think of anything that comes out.