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A war is about to start in my neighborhood — the same war that is being fought in neighborhoods around the country. There is a public footpath near where I live that is used by walkers, runners, families with toddlers, children on bicycles and people walking their dogs.
I walk my dogs on this path every day, but the path has now become a health hazard, and if I don’t keep my eyes fixed firmly on the ground there is a distinct possibility that my dogs and I will step in dog poop.
Most municipalities have laws that impose fines for people who leave their dog’s mess for everyone to step in, but this law is seldom enforced. The problem has become so bad in my neighborhood that people are now practicing avoidance by walking along the road. What makes me even angrier is that my county has made picking up pet waste easy by providing bins and poop bag dispensers along the route. I’ve now taken to watching the path from my window and when I see someone leave their dog’s mess for everyone else to enjoy, I walk over and give them a poop bag to clean up. I’m becoming like my mother, but I have no choice because I have made it my personal mission to clean up the neighborhood.
Allowing your dog to foul a public area without picking it up imposes a serious health risk to people and other dogs. Diseases can pass through a dog’s intestinal tract and into feces which, once deposited on the ground, can pass onto others if not removed. The following diseases can spread through feces and cause debilitating illnesses. Dogs are most at risk of infection, but some of these diseases are zoonotic, meaning that they can transfer from animals to people through fecal contamination. If this list does not scare you, nothing will.
Adenovirus is a viral disease in dogs that can damage the liver and kidneys. This virus can cause convulsions, jaundice, bleeding and even death.
Parvovirus is a viral disease that causes vomiting, diarrhea and immunosuppression. This disease is particularly dangerous in puppies and can be fatal if treatment is not started early.
Giardia and Coccidia are parasites that infect the gastrointestinal tracts of dogs and humans that cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Tapeworms, whipworms and hookworms live off a dog’s intestinal tract causing vomiting, diarrhea and anemia.
Toxocariasis is a devastating parasitic disease that causes blindness and is especially dangerous to children who might come into contact with infected stool while playing in infected areas.
E-coli can cause urinary tract infections in humans as well as meningitis, peritonitis, mastitis, septicemia, pneumonia, severe vomiting and diarrhea.
Fortunately, modern-day vaccinations can protect your dog from most of these diseases, and medications can stop disease progression if a dog becomes infected.
However, eggs of parasites in fecal matter can remain in the soil for years, posing a risk to anything that comes in contact with it. And if that’s not bad enough, pet waste can wash into local bodies of water, causing a major pollution problem. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has declared pet waste as a “nonpoint source of pollution.” Other items in this category are dangerous toxic chemicals and oil.
Spread the word
So what can be done to encourage pet parents to pick up their pet’s waste? Educating people online or distributing leaflets in veterinary surgeries, daycare and training centers, and pet stores can help. Putting up signs and supplying pet waste bins and biodegradable bags on well-traveled routes can also help to change habits. PET N PET sells biodegradable bags in bulk ($21.99, Chewy).
An inconsiderate pet parent’s failure to pick up their dog’s poop reflects badly on those of us who do, and the only really effective deterrent is the threat of a fine if caught. So the battle continues, and it is up to community pressure and public education to stem the tide. For all of you who do pick up your dog’s poop — thank you! For those of you who don’t — be warned — we all have phones and we will be watching.