Bring up the issue of what to do with dog poop in any group, especially a group about hiking with dogs, and a heated discussion usually breaks out. There are different views on how to “dispose” of it and there are very passionate people on both sides of the issue.
One belief is that dog poop is natural and should be left on the ground to let nature take care of it. People in this camp believe that dogs have been pooping on this earth since they evolved so nothing different needs to be done now. Those people think that dog poop will biodegrade and turn to dirt and some believe that they are helping the environment by “adding more dirt”.
The other belief is that dog poop should be picked up, bagged, and thrown in the trash. The reasoning is that modern dog poo contains bacteria and pathogens that cam make humans sick (it’s proved by science that it does). These people think that there are way more dogs per acre of land pooping than there were 300 years ago and that the earth’s natural processes can’t handle that “load”. They also think that humans have altered the landscape to the point that the vegetation and helpful bacteria isn’t there in the amounts required to biodegrade dog poop in a safe and timely manner.
So who is right? Well, I may be a bit “biased” because I am a former scientist who worked in environmental cleanup and water quality for 10 years but I strongly believe the latter. Dog poop left on the ground in urban areas washes into the water during rains before it degrades. It may look like it “goes away” and it does but think of it as one big pile of dog poop becoming one million tiny piles of dog poop and floating away. I’ve had to close down places people like to swim because there is too much fecal coliform in the water (one of the primary bacteria in poop).
Check out this infographic from Earth Rated Poop Bags for a more in-depth explanation.
Now you might say, “But I don’t live or hike in an urban environment? I know for sure that when I leave poop in my back yard, or my dog goes in the woods, it doesn’t wash into streams. This doesn’t apply to my situation.”
There would have been a time that I passionately disagreed with that argument. Now I just disagree with that argument but am less likely to add my two cents to a conversation because, in my experience, I am not going to change any minds.
You see, the bacteria and pathogens in dog poop take longer to “go away” in the environment than the dog poo itself. In your back yard, it may look like the poo disappeared but the bacteria is still in the soil. Now imagine your kid, or your neighbor’s kid, is playing in your yard. Their toys get dirt on them, then their hands get dirty, and then they stick their fingers in their mouth like kids do. Now they have just eaten bacteria from dog poop. Yuck! Eating contaminated dirt can make kids sick. I will admit that it’s rare but it happens. Taking that risk is up to you.
So what about in the woods? I admit that the “washing into the water” is less of a problem here. The increased vegetation to hold it in place, and the presence of more bacteria, means that one pile of dog poop will break down and probably not cause significant harm to the environment if it’s in small amounts. The issue is that, at least on a lot of the trails in our area, hundreds of dogs can hike the same trail in a week. Imagine if your favorite trail was lined on each side by piles of raw, stinky sewage. That’s what would happen if a lot of the dogs pooped in the woods and it was never picked up. Then lets not forget that some of those dogs would poop IN the trail so you would step in it. Yuck again! I would be mad if that were me and I would be super-duper mad at dog owners if I didn’t even like the critters (I don’t get it but, yes. some people really don’t like dogs).
So, the moral of the story is scoop the poop. Sending masses of poop to the landfill is not the perfect solution but it’s the best there is right now to keep the earth clean and keep everyone safe and happy.