Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2005

Problems with Pet Waste:  The Scoop on the Poop

By Carole Barth

What do you think of when you think of summertime?  Picnics?  Swimming?  Kids playing outside?  Dog and cat poop?

Pet waste may seem like nothing more than a nuisance, but if it is not managed correctly it has the potential to ruin a lot more than your shoes.  It can pose a health risk to pets and people, especially children.  Disease can be spread through direct contact, flies, or through swimming in, drinking, or eating shellfish from contaminated waters.

Diseases or parasites that can be transmitted from pet waste to humans include:

Pet waste can affect water quality because most stormwater runs off streets and lawns through the storm drains and into local streams without any treatment.  In natural areas such as the Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park, pet waste may be deposited right at the water’s edge.  In addition to bacteria and parasites, pet waste also contributes to nutrient pollution, the number one problem in Chesapeake Bay.

Too many nutrients create algae blooms.  The algae dies, sinks to the bottom, and begins to rot.  As it decomposes, oxygen is pulled out of the water.  This creates “dead zones,” areas where crabs, fish, and oysters can’t survive.  Sometimes you can see a mass of blue crabs frantically clambering over each other trying to get onto land to escape a dead zone.  (This behavior has been called a “crab war” or a “crab jubilee.”)  In severe cases, oxygen depletion, high temperatures, and ammonia from human and/or animal waste can cause a fish kill.  The oysters, of course, are unable to flee.

It may seem a stretch to think your cute little kitty or pooch is part of such a serous environmental problem, but, like so many of our problems, it is the cumulative impact of the millions of households in the Bay watershed.  Urban environments contain large concentrations of people.  We learned many years ago that too much human waste overwhelms natural decomposition systems and so sewage treatment systems were built.  However, we forgot that large numbers of people also means large numbers of pets.

For example, the waste produced by Seattle, Washington’s dogs and cats is about what a city of 50,000 people would produce.  In Duluth, Minnesota (21,000 households), there are about 125 dogs per square mile in the city.  According to the Duluth Streams research project, 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.

Speaking of wildlife, pet waste is a favorite food source for that most unwanted form of “wildlife,” the rat.  The only way to reliably control rat populations is to control readily available food sources by securing garbage cans, properly disposing of pet waste, and so on.

Finally, picking up after your pet is the law in Montgomery County.  The law applies to both cats and dogs, and there is a $100 fine for noncompliance.  So how do you dispose of pet waste properly after scooping?

There are several options:

   © 2005 NFCCA  [Source:]