Dog Poop Volunteers clean up a bountiful 'crop' left by uncaring dog owners
Dog waste has become a serious issue in some public parks and privately-owned conservation areas that allow pets. When snow disappears, the issue re-emerges. It's become a seasonal phenomenon.
It's also the subject of abject disgust on social media with righteous indignation in the dog-walking community. If Facebook comments are any indication, responsible dog-poop scoopers are livid with thoughtless owners who risk getting all dogs banned from popular walking areas.
It's a subject I didn't want to touch.
But here at the Forest Society, we recently organized and hosted a Friday morning public event designed to highlight the problem of dog waste while cleaning up the popular trails of our oh-so-dog-friendly Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area in Concord.
Armed with coveralls, rubber gloves, shovels and 5-gallon plastic buckets, we made the best of the chore. We actually had some fun while removing more than 300 individual doggie-deposits. Volunteer land steward Hillary Thompson won the first-ever "Golden Shovel Award" for harvesting more than 75 piles in less than two hours. Personally, I lost count after 35 piles. My own "harvest" attentions shifted to creating an entirely new adaptation of Neil Young's classic line,"I've been a miner for a heart of gold!"
While we worked - and in the days afterward - we talked about the surprising array of ecological, social, economic and even political issues associated with dog doo.
Thompson has been a volunteer land steward for the Forest Society's Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area for several years. She's become a veteran poop-scooper. She offers that some dog owners say: "We'll pick that up on our back way out to the car." Perhaps there are just too many unfortunate lapses of memory? Winter snow creates concealment cover. When dog waste is covered by snow, it does not magically disappear before April. Just because nobody sees it happening does not mean nobody will see it ever.
Frankly, some dog-walkers just don't care; another "tragedy of the commons."
The Forest Society provides free dog waste bags at a trailhead "Mutt Mitt" dispenser. Fees collected at the trailhead donation station help to partially underwrite the cost the plastic bags. Some people collect dog waste and then toss the bags into the brush away from the trail. That's even worse, as non-biodegradable plastic bags last a long time and the dog waste does not decompose.
Is it ever OK to not scoop? What about in your own backyard? The answer is generally "no." There are commercial dog pooper scooper service that homeowners may hire for a weekly fee. If poop-scooping is just too abhorrent, you can pay to have it done for you.
In New Hampshire state parks, dog waste removal is specifically mandated by the administrative rules under statutory authority: RSA 12-A:2-c, I, II, III and IV and specifically in chapter 7301.08, section l; to wit:(l) Animal owners, including owners of service animals, shall clean up and remove offsite any waste eliminated by their animal or animals from public traffic areas, including all trails, multi-use trails, walkways, sidewalks, play areas, play fields, lawns, campgrounds, beaches, and parking lots. In Florida, some communities also legislate dog poop. Legend has it that one militant condominium community instituted mandatory DNA tests for resident dogs. First offense includes a hefty fine. Multiple-repeat offenders risked being evicted by a collective vote of the homeowners association. If that degree of regulation sounds reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode and seems an affront to personal liberty here in the "Live Free or Die" state, we need to do a much better job of education designed to cultivate an ethic where cleaning up after your pet is never optional.
Owning a dog is both a right and a privilege that comes with responsibility for the health of people, other dogs and the environment. It isn't about personal liberty or freedom - it's about responsible pet-ownership.
The bad news: We will need to address this issue again. Dog waste is unsightly, gross and potentially dangerous to human health. It becomes a major pollutant when concentrated near water like the banks of the Merrimack.
The good news: The solution - while not elegant - is simple: scoop your dog's poop, bag it and dispose of it responsibly in the trash or flush it at home. Responsible pet owners scoop, bag it and remove it every time.
After our collective effort to clean up the trails of our Concord Conservation Center and Merrimack River Floodplain Reservation, Forest Society Property Manager Jason Teaster took our combined haul of approximately 120 pounds of dog waste mixed with snow to the Concord waste transfer station. He related his dialogue with the attendant