Responsible dog ownership and the problem of poo-lution

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

Like so many residents working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have had the opportunity to work on a number of outdoor projects that have been ‘on hold’ for a long time. Although there are still more invasive species (weeds) in my yard than I’d like, there are far fewer dandelions. In fact, I’m sure if they could talk there would be a chorus of hisses and boos from the few remaining whenever I walk across the lawn.

One of the disturbing things I’ve noticed has been the presence of smelly piles of dog doo-doo generally on the grass in the tree lawn (the area between the curb and the sidewalk.) It’s not an everyday occurrence, but often enough that I know I need to check before I begin the task of mowing the yard.

Even more disturbing is the less frequent doggie ‘deposit’ on my lawn, an indication that the culprit canine was either off-leash or the owner has a leash long enough that the dog is well out of the owner’s control. It’s annoying to see a big pile of poo left in the grass where people may step in it. It’s even worse to think that children playing may get in it. It also has to be annoying to other dog owners walking their pets.

I fully realize that picking up dog waste is unpleasant. However, it’s the obligation of responsible pet owners to do so. It’s also the law in most communities. Sidney’s Ordinance A-2961 addresses the situation locally: (“It shall be the duty of each person who owns, possesses or controls a dog in a park or public area, to immediately remove and dispose of any feces left by his/her dog.)

Picking up dog waste is much more than just keeping your yard and other peoples’ yards clean. It’s important to the environment.

Some dog owners may not realize it, but dog waste is an environmental pollutant. As it lays in the grass and decays, toxic bacteria seeps into the soil and contaminates the soil. When we have heavy rainfall, those contaminates leach into our waterways.

Dog poop consumes oxygen and releases ammonia, both of which are detrimental to the health of fish and other aquatic life. Pet waste contains nasty pathogens and bacteria (E. coli, salmonella, giardia, etc.), things that can cause a health hazard to humans. That same pet waste can also spread things like roundworm, tapeworm, and hookworm to man’s best friend.

It is estimated that more than 40% of the owners of this country’s more than 78M dogs do not clean up after their animals. If we were to give them the benefit of the doubt, we might think that they believe that doggie poop is an organic substance and leaving it outside to decompose is just natural.

There are other possibilities I suppose. Perhaps they don’t want to spend their money on the equipment necessary to clean up after their pet(s). Perhaps they don’t care about others. Perhaps they don’t care about the environment.

As I was writing this piece, I happened to cross paths with a maintenance worker with the City of Sidney Parks and Recreation Department. The individual suggested that I should write about the problem of dog waste, as it was beyond disgusting when park workers ‘found’ doggie-doo while mowing the grass in the parks. I expressed my appreciation for the suggestion and mentioned that I was already working on such a piece, for which I received an expression of gratitude.

I cannot imagine how many piles of doggie-poo they ‘find’ when mowing Tawawa Park. When I’m in the park, I nearly always see people walking their dogs. Most obey the leash laws and I suppose most are equally responsible about cleaning up after their pet(s).

I also know there are those who believe that their ‘pet’ is ‘special’ and despite the law, does not have to wear a leash. I suppose they believe strongly that their dog’s right to roam free far exceeds my right not to have to worry about my grandchild being bitten.

I happened to mention that I was working on this article and a member of council passed along the seven reasons to clean up after your dog. After reviewing them, I thought they were worth passing along.

1. Common courtesy, the awful smell and the no so pleasant treat of ruined shoes should be enough to compel dog owners to carry dog waste bags whenever they walk their dogs.

2. One of the most contagious and aggressive illnesses that can infect a dog is parvovirus. Exposure to a sick pet’s stool can pose risks to young dogs and dogs that have not been vaccinated.

3. As mentioned previously, zoonotic diseases, those that can be spread between animals and people (think COVID-19), include parasites like hookworms and whipworms, are spread through dog stool. There are other nasty organisms (E. coli, giardia and salmonella) that can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration in both animals and humans.

4. In many municipalities as well as in regional parks (parks such as Tawawa Park), cleaning up after your furry friend(s) is likely the law and can result in hefty fines when pet-owners do not comply with the statute.

5. Flies, gnats and mosquitoes as well as a number of other flying and crawling pests love your pet’s poo. As the reader is aware, these flying and crawling pests can also spread diseases (including heartworm).

6. Domestic pets can help spread diseases that can negatively impact wildlife including birds and mammals. Dog waste can also impact water quality, air and other resources needed by plants and animals to thrive, so even while you are on a trail seemingly far away from others, don’t fail to clean up after your pet.

7. One of the best ways to change the minds of those who have a NO DOGS ALLOWED policy is through pet owner etiquette. An increasing number of parks, hotels and other venues now welcome well-behaved pets because of the courtesy demonstrated by well-behaved pet owners.

In an on-going effort to make Sidney a great place to live, work, play, worship and raise a family, I would encourage all dog owners to always clean-up after your pet(s). Whether your dog is on your property, on someone else’s property, or in a public space, your actions can be just one more reason a visitor to Sidney ultimately decides to make Sidney their home.

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.