In spring, dogs take to the trails. Keep ’em clean

April 1, 2019

Spring is here. If you couldn’t tell by all the people sneezing — allergies are terrible this season — just look outside and see people taking to the trails, dogs following (on a leash, we trust). Yes, the love affair between Santa Fe folks and their dogs is in full bloom come spring, with the accompanying increase in doggy deposits along trails, sidewalks and public parks.

Everyone knows it is rude to leave a dog’s poop behind. But, as a 2018 Outside magazine columnist pointed out, dog waste can be a serious environmental problem as well. The column by Wes Siler found its way onto a recent Facebook discussion by Pojoaque Valley residents. Dog poop in the natural world, it turns out, can be a significant problem.

That’s because U.S. dogs produce 21.2 billion pounds of poop each year, waste that owners often do not pick up and dispose of properly. Leaving droppings behind allows bacteria-laden feces to leach into rural and urban sources of water. That’s right, Fido is a polluter.

Dog poop is bacteria-laden, including fecal coliform bacteria. There’s potential for parasites, too. Common are such things as whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, parvo, giardia and other pests that can make people sick. Interestingly, dog poop is extra-rich, too, courtesy of nutrient-laden food. Its presence in left-behind poop has a ripple effect, which can create algae blooms in water and promote the growth of invasive plant species on land.

Too much dog waste in the natural world is problematic, in other words.

Like any challenge, there are ways to persuade dog owners to do the right thing. The Park Spark project, which began in Massachusetts, transformed dog waste into methane. Dog owners leave behind their biodegradable bagged waste, and it is turned into fuel — methane — and powers a lamp. In Spain, volunteers chatted with people whose dogs had left behind deposits, gaining enough information to then mail the waste back to the original owner. Apartment complexes are using DNA from the poop to track waste scofflaws. In England, a local council planned to name and shame dog owners who did not pick up, publishing photos of people leaving deposits behind. Mexico tried the carrot approach, offering free WiFi to people who left behind doggy waste deposits in park bins, where they were then weighed — the heavier the deposit, the longer the WiFi session.

So this spring, when walking Oso or Chico through the woods, city parks or along urban trails, be sure to take waste bags to pick up the poop. There’s no free WiFi, but along city trails and in parks, the bags are provided at no cost. It’s easy to stop at a station and grab a couple of bags. The bags newspapers are delivered in on bad-weather days work fine, too. Attach them to the leash; that way you’re never short. And don’t leave them behind, neatly tied along the trail as some hikers do. Just tie the bag back on the leash and keep walking until you find a trash can.

Other walkers and hikers — and nearby water sources — will be grateful.