By Christie Lagally
Oct. 9, 2012
Originally published in City Living Seattle
People, pavement and streams. This is a toxic combination, according to Dave Ward, regional stewardship program manager for the Puget Sound Partnership.
“We work on programs that address the impact of our day-to-day actions on the environment,” Ward said. And one action that benefits the environment is picking up your dog’s waste.
Most cities require you to “stoop and scoop,” but many cities do not tell you what to do with it. Does it go in the trash, the toilet, a composter?
In Seattle, the directions are clear: Pick it up, bag it, tie it off and throw it in the trash. Any questions? Ask Ward.
How to get rid of it?
“The volume of dog waste in Puget Sound is roughly equivalent to 300,000 people using outhouses,” Ward said.
Ward explained that pet waste left on the ground contaminates rainwater with bacteria. The bacteria is concentrated as rainwater runs off onto pavement and finally into Puget Sound, where it can harm orcas, salmon and even children and pets.
Unlike animal waste deposited by a bear or a deer in the forest, where the bacteria in rainwater is filtered by soil in an undisturbed ecosystem, most of Seattle’s pet waste occurs in neighborhoods where pavement prevents rainwater from being filtered.
What about flushing the waste? This is a question Ward has heard before, and Puget Sound Partnership looked into all the waste-disposal options.
“Dog waste is basically no different than human waste,” Ward said.
As long as you live in areas where you are connected to a waste-treatment plant, you can flush dog waste. But Ward found that septic systems, such as those found in rural areas, did not have the capacity to handle both human and dog wastes.
What about composting? Ward’s team looked at this issue, as well. Some folks they interviewed maintained composting units that were either commercially sold or built in their yards. A small number of citizens used a commercial enzyme to break down the bacteria at a cost of $7 per month.
But the risks are high for a compost system like this, and especially for a municipal agency to recommend such a system. Failure by residents to maintain the composter or, worse, if residents simply bury the waste, would be the equivalent of thousands of broken septic systems, according to Ward.
Haven’t I been taught to avoid adding to the landfill? In Ward’s search for the right way to deal with dog waste, his team contacted landfill operators and waste haulers to get their reaction to taking approximately 20 tons of dog waste per day per city.
Ward reported that both the operators and the haulers said, “We won’t even notice.” It turns out that the major source of volume in landfills is actually paper and construction waste; pet waste plays a minor role at most. Furthermore, landfills manage their liquid runoff, thereby, containing the bacteria.
A little extra help
So now I’m convinced that we must bag it and trash it, but what if you don’t have time or can’t do it yourself? In Seattle, you can get help.
Nicki and Bill Walters own The Pooper Trooper, a company that offers waste removal for dog owners, as well as commercial pet-waste services. Their staff visits your home regularly, pick up the waste in your yard and dispose of it properly. The company also installs and maintains dog-waste stations for public areas and special events, such as hotels hosting a dog show.
Being where the dog poo is also gives the Pooper Troopers a chance to keep an eye out for dogs in need. According to Walters, while their clients are responsible dog owners, her staff may see lost dogs in the neighborhood or neglected dogs in adjacent yards. Troopers work in conjunction with several local animal groups to help animals in tough situations and also donate their time and funds to help dogs in need.
Alongside Pooper Trooper, there are several other such businesses in our region. The Happy Pooper Scooper, run by Tom Arena in Seattle, provides both cat litter-box cleaning and dog-waste collection. Arena, a former truck driver-turned-entrepreneur, donates 10 percent of his profits to King County Animal Care and Control to help care for animals in our regional animal shelter.
So what’s the lesson to learn for today about animal waste? Bag it, trash it and do it right away, before it rains. If you can’t do it yourself, find someone who can.
According to Ward, with 40 percent of the nearly 4.5 million people in the Puget Sound region owning dogs, disposing of your dog’s waste properly is an easy, day-to-day action that benefits everyone in and out of Puget Sound.
For more information about the Puget Sound Partnership, visit www.psp.wa.gov.
To learn about King County Animal Care and Control, visit www.kingcounty.gov/safety/AnimalServices/about.aspx.