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Dog owners don’t let this be you

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Dog ownership comes with certain responsibilities, and of those the one that most directly affects your neighbors is the picking up of poop.

If you’re a conscientious dog owner you’ve done it more times than you can count. If you aren’t, you haven’t. And if you’ve never owned a dog, watching someone stand there awkwardly while their dog does its business, then bend over and pick it up, can be amusing.

But after you’ve finished laughing, tell them thanks, because they’re doing the right thing. Left uncollected, dog feces is a serious health hazard. Leaving it might have been OK a century ago, when there were fewer people and pets around. But today there are so many of our canine friends — tens of millions in the U.S. alone — that we are well past critical mass. Even the cutest little dogs’ cutest little turds should be bagged and discarded.

When I take my dog Buster out for walks, we often go up to La Cresta Ridge — the undeveloped hilltop area by the “water tower” — and I make sure to bring plastic bags. (A typical package of 120 bags goes for under $6, which is 5 cents per bag.) Lots of other people are up there too, usually with dogs, just strolling around the gorgeous open space and enjoying the views of Petaluma and the rolling hills.

And everywhere I look, the land is covered in meadow muffins. (I searched for dog poop synonyms and found “meadow muffins,” “butt truffles,” “keester cakes,” “dog logs,” “pooch poo” and “woof waste.”) Like the dogs themselves, they vary in size and age but are always plentiful.

One poop on a hillside is not a problem. But dozens, hundreds or thousands on a hillside is a real problem. And it isn’t just one hillside, of course. The best estimates put U.S. dogs’ poop production at more than 10 million tons every year. No one knows for sure how much of that is properly disposed of, but according to some surveys only around 60 percent of dog owners scoop their poop. If true, that means at least 4 million tons of feces is dropped annually on the American landscape.

Left on the ground, the feces is washed by rain into nearby streams, polluting waterways such as our own Petaluma River. And some of the pathogens they carry — roundworm eggs, for example — can linger in the soil for years, waiting for a canine or human host to come along.

This is why the EPA considers dog waste a toxic pollutant on par with oil, pesticides, acid and other toxic chemicals. And why the CDC warns us to “keep children away from areas that might contain dog or cat poop to prevent them from getting roundworms and hookworms.”

Even after knowing all this, some people just don’t want to be seen looking uncool with a bag of poop swinging from their hand. To them I say this: Think of that bag of poop as a badge of honor. In carrying it, you are signaling to everyone around you that you’re a nice person, a responsible person, someone worth knowing. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a date this way, as your dog frolics with another dog walker’s dog up on La Cresta Ridge.

I have only one last comment on this fetid subject, a question actually, directed at those who bother to bag their dog’s poop but then leave it sitting on the ground: Why do you do this? Perhaps you’re hoping someone else will come along and say, “Here, let me get your poop for you...”

(Don Frances is a Petaluma writer. His dog Buster is a good boy. He can be reached at donfrances@gmail.com.)