The heat is on. We’re in the middle of what is normally the warmest weather of the year. Called the dog days, based on an old Roman association between hot weather and the prominence of Sirius, the Dog Star, this period also puts an environmental observer in mind of a pollution problem. It’s related to dogs – and other pets.
When I first heard the claim that improperly managed pet waste could contribute significantly to pollution of lakes and streams, I recoiled in disbelief. It sounded like a joke. Compared to other sources, how could pet waste compete? But apparently it does, especially when it runs off streets and sidewalks into storm sewers. It also contributes to unhealthy conditions at beaches if dogs in particular are allowed to romp and dump in the sand and water. America’s dogs generate an estimated 10 million tons of waste annually. Many owners don’t bother to pick it up.
To quote U.S. EPA:
“Decaying pet waste consumes oxygen and sometimes releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life. Pet waste carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife. Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth (eutrophication). Cloudy and green, eutrophic water makes swimming and recreation unappealing or even unhealthy.”
Don’t worry: EPA does not recommend jailing of polluting pets. Instead, the agency recommends, among other things, that municipalities aggressively promote public awareness and enact ordinances requiring pet owners to clean up after their cats and dogs.
Over the past 25 years, several public behaviors related to the environment have changed for the better. They’re generally actions that are simple and don’t require inordinate time and effort – like recycling and water conservation. Add another one to the list. Pick up pet waste and dispose of it in the trash or a toilet, not on a street or sidewalk.