Dog waste – called poo, or mess, or any number of other more or less colourful euphemisms – is a divisive subject.
Clearing up dog mess is the thing most often cited by our non-dog owning friends as a reason not to have a dog. And certainly, clearing up after a large Spinone with an upset stomach is not the most pleasant occupation. However, anyone with children will have faced far worse.
The issue was brought to mind recently by an acquaintance who lives alongside the beginning of a popular dog-walking path. He grew so tired of having to pick his way through dog muck just to get in and out of his own car that he put up this heartfelt sign.
Of course, dogs are not the only pets that produce waste that is a nuisance. At the turn of the twentieth century, in cities like London, the amount of horse muck was a major health and safety issue that exercised politicians and civic authorities. These days, no-one seems to care. There are plenty of horses around here, but we have yet to see any rider stop to clear up the piles of mess they produce, often on public footpaths, pavements or roads. And cats can be a real problem. Our neighbourhood cats seemingly took delight in using our garden as a toilet, which was a worry when our children were younger and playing unawares amongst it.
But dog poo is of course a menace. Apart from the problem of spreading disease, who hasn’t cursed when they have trodden in some? Or spent time trying to get it out of the soles of their own or their children’s shoes, or the foot-well of their car? Although it appears to come in many different shapes, sizes and colours, it all shares similar physical characteristics: it stinks, a little bit goes a very long way, and it sticks tenaciously to whatever you wish it wasn’t sticking to. Dog owners may sometimes grumble about picking it up, but in our heart-of-hearts we surely all know it is the right thing to do. But if that is the case, why is there so much about? We have heard this blamed on ‘strays’ but in all the time we have been walking Ozzie we can not remember meeting a single ‘stray’ dog, but we have come across plenty of ‘stray’ poo. We are lucky that Ozzies’ usual preference is to discretely go in bushes and thickets, bravely backing in to the prickliest or most nettle-infested spots, often making us wince with his choice. But some dogs seem to take pride in doing their work slap-bang in the middle of any path or busy pavement.
Not surprisingly and quite rightly, local councils have strict rules regarding clearing up dog waste, and many provide plenty of dog waste bins and keep them regularly emptied. They can also levy large fines on owners who don’t clear up. From the ecological point of view, it does seem ridiculous that we must put dog waste, which is 100% biodegradable in just a few days, into plastic bags, which, even if they are the expensive biodegradable sort, hang around for much longer. But from the practical point of view, in suburban areas and busy places everywhere, in fact anywhere where people might come across it, it is obviously right that we owners should clear up. So why is there still so much muck around?
Most mystifying of all, is what we call ‘left-bag syndrome’. It seems that some owners are quite happy to stop and bag up their dog waste, but can’t bring themselves to carry it until they reach a waste bin. So they just leave it there, or dangle it on a nearby fence or branch, presumably waiting for the poo fairies to tidy it up. Some leave it with the intention of picking it up ‘on the way back’ and perhaps many do, but many more still just conveniently forget it. Sometimes, on a Monday morning when we visit one of our regular walks at a country park on the outskirts of the city, we take a carrier bag and pick up the abandoned bags that have accumulated over the weekend. It grieves us to do this, because it is obviously what the lazy sods who left the bags are counting on, but otherwise a popular walk becomes festooned with stinking, decaying bags of muck. It is no wonder dog walkers can sometimes get a bad name when they either don’t pick up their pet’s mess at all, or, mysteriously, bag it up but leave it for posterity. Come on, fellow dog owners, get a grip, and ‘bag it AND bin it’.