What to Do with Doggy Doo

Americans haven't always been so concerned about cleaning up after their canine companions. Until fairly recently, people let their doggies do their thing, and then left the doo on the streets and sidewalks. A few conscientious souls did take the time to curb their dogs. In doing so, they were following the advice of experts. But what exactly is curbing?

Curbing is the polite term for a canine waste disposal method that really should be called the Shove-It-Into-the-Sewer approach. A curbed dog is one who's been taught to poop in the street, right by the curb, so that the next rainstorm can sweep his deposits into the nearest gutter. Once in the gutter, the poop and lots of other waste wind their way through a city's sewer system and, eventually, into nearby creeks, streams, and rivers. Those final destinations are one reason curbing is a questionable canine waste disposal method.

Scientists have discovered that dog poop is a major cause of water pollution, and that such pollution poses a significant hazard to human health. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says pet waste is a significant cause of water body contamination in areas where there are high concentrations of dogs.

Canine waste contains lots of nasty bacteria with almost unpronounceable names: fecal streptococcus and fecal coliforms are just two examples. In sufficiently high amounts, these bacteria can make people sick — sometimes very sick. For example, E. coli bacteria often causes gastrointestinal infections, as well as infections to the ear, eye, and throat. Another bacteria, campylobacter, can cause diarrhea in humans. Still another form of poop-loving bacteria, salmonella, can cause infections that trigger fever, muscle aches, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Dog waste also contains other not-so-lovely disease-transmitting organisms such as roundworms. These parasites can cause their human victims to lose their vision temporarily, as well as trigger coughs and fevers.

Never thought your dog's doo could do so much damage, did you?

Curbing also jeopardizes a dog's safety. Forcing your dog to do his business in the street puts her dangerously close to fast-moving cars, buses, and trucks. A careless driver or spooked dog can easily trigger a traffic accident that would seriously injure or even kill not only the dog, but also human bystanders, passengers, and drivers.

Bagging it

The quickest, easiest way to get rid of a dog's poop is to put it in a plastic bag and either drop the bag in a trash can or flush the bag's contents down a toilet.

You might think that this method would have a high gross-out factor. And it does — if you use the wrong size bag. There's nothing more disgusting than using a teeny-tiny bag to pick up a great big piece of dog poop and having some of that poop end up on your hand instead of in the bag. But that doesn't have to happen. There are two keys to effective bagging: using the right size bag and developing the proper bagging technique.

For all but the tiniest dogs, a sandwich-sized bag or smaller just isn't big enough to pick up poop. It's far better to choose a larger size, such as an empty bread bag or the plastic bag that your morning newspaper was delivered in. Both these types of bags also carry a second advantage: They're oblong, which greatly eases your ability to get the poop into the bag instead of on yourself.

Before you use your bag, though, check to make sure that it doesn't have any holes. Picking up a bunch of dog doo only to have it hit the ground again is a surefire recipe for frustration.

After you have a large enough bag, it's easy to gather up the poop. Here's how:

1. Pull the plastic bag over one hand like a glove.

If you're cleaning up while walking your dog, loop the leash around your wrist and pull the bag over the leashed hand.

2. Pick up the poop with your bagged hand.

3. With your other hand, grasp the open end of the bag and pull the bag inside out.

The poop will now be inside the bag.

4. Knot the bag and drop it into the nearest trash can.

Alternatively, take the bag inside and flush the contents down the toilet. Throw the plastic bag in the trash.

Of course, if there's no trash can nearby, you'll need to carry the bagged poop until you find a suitable receptacle. But take heart. Soon, not even the thought of having to tote your dog's poop around town will gross you out. It'll just be a fact of life.

Scooping it

If you simply can't bear the idea of handling your dog's poop — even if there's a bag between the poop and your hand — you may want to consider using a pooper-scooper. These devices consist of various long-handled rakes, shovels, and/or spades that enable the owner to scoop up that poop without having to bend down and get close to it.

Pooper scoopers are a good choice for owners whose dogs confine their defecating to their own yards. Even though pooper-scooper laws don't apply to dogs who eliminate on their owners' property, it's still a good idea to pick up your dog's doodoo. That way you'll avoid stepping in it while you're gardening, mowing the lawn, or running to catch an errant toddler (and the toddler won't step in it, either). However, scoopers aren't as good as bags for owners whose dogs potty while walking, because the scoopers are relatively cumbersome to carry.

Pooper scoopers generally cost between $15 and $25. They're available at most pet stores, at pet product Web sites, and in pet supply catalogs.

Digesting it

If you don't want to put your dog's poop in the trash, or if you like the idea of high-tech waste disposal, you may want to acquire a waste digester system. These small, in-ground systems work the same way septic systems do: They liquefy any dog poop deposited there and drain the liquid into the surrounding soil.

The digester system has two parts: the digester unit itself (including the lid), and the digester mix. Here's how to use them:

1. Find a convenient but out-of-the-way spot in your yard to install the digester.

2. Dig a hole that's about 48 inches deep.

3. Install the digester and lid in the hole. The lid should be just a little bit above the ground.

4. When your dog poops, bring the poop to the digester, remove the lid, and place the poop inside.

5. Add some digester mix and some water and replace the lid.

The digester will then do its thing.

Digesters are a good option for the same people who go for pooper scoopers: owners whose dogs do most of their pooping in their own yards. In fact, the two methods can be used together: Use the scooper to transport the poop to the digester and use the digester to process the poop. Look for digesters at pet stores, in pet supply catalogs, and on pet retail Web sites. The cost, including both the digester unit and the digester mix, ranges between $50 and $75.

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