Party Pooper – A Call to Prevent Dog Feces From Reaching Our Water
An OB Rag article on May 27th reports that “Ocean Beach beaches all get “A’s” in water quality tests – not so all Mission Bay.” This is great news and, while I am proud of our beaches for receiving this grade, I’ve got to be a party-pooper (pun intended). As a dog owning activist for picking up dog poop, I looked at the Heal the Bay site to find ammunition arguing for even greater effort in pollution prevention, specifically dog poop.
I noted that the Ocean Beach San Diego River Outlet received an “F” overall during wet weather in 2010. This grade came from receiving three “F”s and two “D”s in the fall of 2010 and two “F”s in late winter of 2010. Not good for our swimmers, surfers or children. One surfer told me the river outlet jetty is her favorite place because of the nice long ride it offers. Time-poor parents use Dog Beach frequently as a way to exercise both child and dog at the same time. Since there is no daily posting of water quality at Dog Beach, any grade of “F” during a year has to be a cause for concern to people who want to use the water.
Do We have a Right to Bring our Dogs to the Beach?
While I loathe scare tactics and really do believe the fun offered by our Dog Beach is worth any risk it might pose, it drives me mad to see abandoned dog piles left on our beach. What will happen to them? Who will pick them up? I pick up a few but I can’t do it all. I’ve seen other people do this as well, much more diligently than I. Leaving dog shit on the beach is an insult to our surfers, hurts sea creatures, criminally endangers children, and dangerously risks our right to have dogs on the beach at all. If dog owners can’t prevent dog feces from being left on the beach and contaminating the water, then I simply can’t argue that we should have the right to bring our dogs to the beach at all.
It’s Not Fido’s Fault!
Some people protest that dogs (and their irresponsible owners) can’t be blamed for the water pollution and blame other sources like sewage leaks, up-river livestock , pelicans and seals. Of the streams and waterways that have undergone expensive DNA testing in the United States, scientists found that 20% to 30% of the pollution came from dog excrement. Furthermore, the often quoted Dr. Van Der Wel in Australia found that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria which suggests that leaving a single dog pile on the beach is unacceptable. Finally, there is the convincing, albeit circumstantial, evidence that before San Diego’s $10,000 dog scooping initiative in 2001, Dog Beach was closed 125 times to swimmers.
Common Lies and Delusions
Admittedly, picking up excrement isn’t the most pleasant task. I find it hard to feel cool with my ass in the air scooping pooch piles. Sometimes I imagine my dog’s bafflement as I pick up what he is so eager to leave behind. So I totally understand why we’re eager to pretend that our dog’s feces won’t make much of an impact. One popular and convenient lie dog owners tell themselves goes like this: “Wild animals poop in forests, rivers and seas, so dogs can too.”
“Not true” argues LakeSuperiorDuluthStreams.org:
According to the U.S. Humane Society, 40% of United States households have at least 1 dog. Assuming Duluth is average, there are at least 125 dogs per square mile in the city (based on 21,000 households). This is a much higher population density of large mammals than you would find in a natural forest. You would expect to find an average of 4 fox, 0.8 coyotes, 0.1 wolves, 2.6 raccoons, 0.1 lynx, 0.6 bobcats, 8.5 skunks and 0.2 bear per square mile in undisturbed areas.
I am guilty of believing the convenient delusion that: “Dog shit is safe once it dries out.” I’ve tried to reason with myself that since it doesn’t rain here often, an abandoned pile once in awhile can’t hurt. I asked “Ask a Scientist” to confirm this but they responded simply with this : “As soon as the feces is rehydrated, bacteria will grow.”
Bacteria and Parasites, oh my!
While I couldn’t find any studies that tested dried feces compared to fresh feces, it seems that sun-drying excrement may eliminate some bacteria in feces but it also might preserve other kinds of bacteria. And along with bacteria, some parasites also survive sun-drying. According to Ethne Barnes in his Diseases and Human Evolution, hookwork larvae moves “around in the soil to avoid drying rays of the sun and to gain a vantage point for contact with the skin of a warm-blooded host” using “it’s sharp pointed tail.” Roundworm eggs “can remain viable for many months (even for several years if in a protected location), and it is virtually impossible to kill the eggs with chemical disinfectants” writes Ray M. Kaplan, DVM, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Infectious Diseases; Director, Parasitology Diagnostic Laboratory, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens.
“The eggs only can be readily killed by extreme heat (steam or flame) or long-term exposure (weeks to months) to UV radiation (direct sunlight). … there is little that can be done to remove or kill the eggs other than waiting for eggs to die naturally or physically removing the surface soil layer.”
Poop Scoop Law in San Diego
It wasn’t difficult for me to find evidence to justify my adamance that there should be stiff fines for people who don’t pick up after their pet. Yet surprisingly, I could only find one law pertaining to dog excrement:
Nuisance – Dogs are not allowed to defecate or urinate on the property of another. It is the owner’s job to curb the dog and immediately remove any feces to a proper receptacle. San Diego County Code 62.670
I suspect some politician might be wise to promise to give San Diego a better law. In the meantime, I think those of us who love taking our dog to Dog Beach should become even more active in protecting our privilege through citizen involvement. We must find ways to get dog owners to pick up their shit or we all might lose. A few years ago, a few people managed to ban drinking alcohol on our beach. Since dog feces poses a real risk to human safety, unlike drinking alcohol, I worry that if we aren’t able to prevent 99.9% canine defecation on the beach, it will only be a matter of time before Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach legally becomes “No Dog Beach.”
Water Testing at Ocean Beach May have Gone from Weekly to Quarterly
One thing I noticed when visiting the Heal the Bay website might ironically protect our dogs’ ability to romp at Dog Beach in the future. It looks like the organization may have discontinued testing the water weekly as of 11/2/2010 (at least they stopped listing weekly reports in the Historical Data section after that date. If true, the 2011 annual score will tell us nothing about the day-to-day safety of the water and be of little help to those who want to know if it is safe to swim, surf or play at the OB River Outlet. I also wasn’t able to tell from the Heal the Bay website if the water quality improves at the Dog Beach Stub Jetty which is only a couple hundred feet away from the outlet. With no weekly measuring safeguard, it places even greater responsibility on dog owners to remove any risk of pollution by picking up all dog waste.
Prolific Dog Piles
On a Tuesday, after a long week-end, the dog piles on Ocean Beach Dog Beach will be numerous. I’d like to think it is the fault of irresponsible dog-owning tourists and not by locals but I’m not sure. I complained to an Ocean Beach long-timer once who dismissed my concerns by exclaiming: “It’s great now; you should have seen it 15 years ago!” I have no doubt that this is true but we now know how much more harmful dog excrement can be to people, sea life and other dogs than we did. We’ve also experienced a considerable population increase in San Diego which brings even more dogs to the area. So we must not rest on our accomplishments.
Pick Up and Speak Up
A good score on water quality over a year should not lessen our determination to stop dog waste from reaching our water. Most of us pick up our own dog’s waste but what should we do about the those who don’t?
I think we need to get involved and commit to action but what? I have a few techniques that work for me. When I see a dog having a bowel movement and suspect the owners will either ignore it or fail to notice, I cheerily call out to them “Dog pooping!” This usually works because most people are really committed to picking up after their dog. Occasionally I run into a person who I think is purposefully ignoring me (and their dog’s shit) but I tell myself that they just can’t hear me and call to them more and more loudly. I’ll even offer a bag to anyone who is making no move to pick up their dog’s poop. If I can’t get someone’s attention, I’ll pick up the poop myself sometimes, catch up to the people and cheerily give them the bag as if it were a present. I’ve even scooped up dog shit in the water. I know it is gross but sometimes I’m mad enough to make a point to these people who think that if their dog goes poop in the water they don’t have to retrieve it. Sorry, in my opinion, your dog, your responsibility. If your dog likes to go number two in the water, you need to go out there and get it. If that isn’t something you are willing to do or your dog’s feces disintegrates in the water, then put your dog in water diapers or keep your dog out of the ocean. Nothing like handing a dripping bag full of water and dog shit to someone to make a point.
Very occasionally I come across a belligerent person who seems either immune to my “subtle” social encouragement or is actually a bit antagonistic. I’ve come up with an idea, what about all of us trying to take pictures of these offenders and publishing them? If it doesn’t teach them, it might teach others. There’s a few pictures I’d like to get. I’d like a picture of the guy who lets his dog shit on the Funeral Home lawn (and many other places according to his neighbor) . I’d also like a pic of the person who thinks that the little bit of grass at Bacon and Narragansett is his or her dog’s official public toilet. What do you think, is it a good idea? I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on how to get people to pick up their dog’s waste.
Photo by Joshua Ganderson via flickr.com