I came across an ad for this product this morning and it made me stop and wonder about the impact many dog owners have made and are still making on wilderness areas.
In my area at least, dog poop – both bagged and unbagged – is becoming one of the most common disposed items I’m seeing. I’m also seeing many more dogs out there year after year. And more multi-dog owners. And fewer and fewer leashes (even though it’s all clearly signed).
I suspect that dog poop is a lot like other human litter in that all it takes is a few violators to change the responsibility threshold into an ‘if others do it, why not me’ decision. And I also can see that the problem is growing more as a reflection of how huge the dog population has grown of late (pandemic driven, I understand).
Most wilderness areas haven’t limited budget for enforcement. Has anyone heard of a successful awareness campaign that has turned around the canine pile problem?
What does it take to get those owners to become more responsible?
Some people shouldn’t have pets, some people shouldn’t have kids and some people boggle the mind with how unaware, entitled and/or careless they can be. I know that’s a really negative reaction but that’s typically what crosses my mind when I see these things. I feel like some people will not stop certain behaviors unless they’re literally physically restrained from doing it because logic evades them.
That’s not to say there’s no method that would stop some people from making errors and I’m sure there are some things that will help educate people, but I feel like usually you see signage posted and people either don’t see it or they ignore it.
I think I would try posting a sign:
“This area irregularly patrolled by high altitude drones. Any dog poop left behind will be delivered to the address you gave for your car license.”
OK, maybe not, but it’s a lovely fantasy.
I agree it’s a widely underestimated and growing problem, and much more deeply rooted than you might imagine. The fact is that if you talk about this with 98% of “normal” people, their reaction is often something along the lines of… but dogs are animals, so it is natural for them to poop in nature, what harm could it possibly do! And if you try and explain that dogs (and other pets) need to be seen on the anthropic side of the equation, then the discussion is very likely to get emotionally charged and not particularly pleasant .
Apart from all other anthropocentric arguments (smell, health, etc.), the vast majority of people just don’t realise that there are some environments where it takes just a tiny input of “foreign” organic matter to change the whole ecology of the site… I’m thinking beaches and dunes, or high altitude habitats, for example.
Thinking about it (if I really have to ), I’d actually extend the issue from dog poop to also include human poop, a serious problem near some popular “attractor” sites, or along well-frequented paths, often accompanied by large quantities of paper tissues or, even worse, those heavily-scented synthetic wipes which last for eternity.
I agree that dog poo trailside can be an issue, but it isn’t just dogs - While traveling in Germany this summer, I saw a member of a rock climbing group leave a de-poo-sit literally 4 ft off of a trail. Wonderful.
The behavior I find most galling locally is dog poo that is bagged up in plastic and then left trail side. This essentially means that the waste won’t decompose and adds plastic waste to the environment, making the problem worse. I have not seen this in other countries traveling at least.
I share others’ doubts that there is any magic bullet to change this issue.
One trail system near me has a pile of “poo-flingers” at the entrance that you can take and flick dog poo far off the trail into the woods. There’s a sign encouraging kids to grab one and do this for fun which is…interesting. This does solve the problem of interacting with the poo trailside and spreads out any nutrient pollution which might be good.
I think some large scale cultural/mentality shift is the only way to fix this, and I’m not sure how that would happen. Maybe other dog walkers handing out a free decomposable composting bag to another dog owner that they see leaving dog poo on the trail and sort of shaming them with kindness?
I have read stories of living communities (presumably very wealthy ones) using DNA testing to ID rogue poopers and fining them:
but this wouldn’t work on trails.
Of course, everyone and every thing has to go sometimes:
Humor like this might work, where the sign leads with “There is no poop fairy” followed by a message explaining why leaving dog poop is discouraged. I don’t know if it’ll help with poop throwers who try to set shot-put records with their waste bags off trail. Hopefully, some of them are misinformed about how biodegradable their poop-sarchophogi are and can be reached through such campaigns, but there are definitely folks who choose to do the wrong thing when nobody’s watching. For them, I think the only solution is to make trail access more difficult, maybe by prohibiting trail access with dogs?
Could not possibly have stated it better
Oh yes, it happens in Italy too. Infuriating!
I think the people who bag up the dog poo and leave the bags bother me more than when dogs just poop by the trail. I mean, these people knew about the problem, thought about it, but didn’t follow through. (Of course, if I step in it, I’ll mind the unbagged dog poop more.)
Human poop by trailheads, etc., seem only partly the responsibility of the productive humans. I mean, we all know people need to poop. We could provide for it. Though it’s expensive, the land owner could provide latrines or porta-potties. The problem is especially annoying at sites that charge a fee or require a permit!
Dog poop wrapped up along trails is legitimately one of my biggest pet peeves. There is no reason for it besides sheer laziness and disregard for the people around them - get your dog a harness and just make them carry their poo out, problem solved, ez pz.
There’s some dog owners that are a unique breed of self-entitled though. From running into unleashed dogs on trails that just BARREL towards me (I don’t CARE if you yell that they’re friendly I don’t know your dog) to people just hanging out with their non-service animals in dog-restricted parts of the smokies - it all drives me nuts.
At least for the well-intentioned but uninformed, Leave No Trace has some good communications materials on this. They used to have pet-specific info cards that a local “friends” group would hand out in a park near me. (Back then LNT would send a template you could have printed on cardstock or paper.) I just checked and I don’t see those available now, but I remember they tackled the “but dogs are animals too” fallacy head-on. I used to say to people in a friendly tone “unless your dog gets his meals from these woods, his poop and pee are hazardous waste here!” Kind of trying to assure them that yes, of course, their dog is part of their family but that’s the problem …
This did not always go well. But at least most folks took the info cards and I can only hope some read them later when they didn’t feel defensive. One example of a semi-succinct summary–which emphasizes that the higher-quality the dog food, the worse the problem–is here:
Dogs, of course, aren’t the only animals that poop in the woods. But they are they only wood poopers that consume dog food. Where a wild animal is eating resources and nutrients from its ecosystem, then returning those same resources and nutrients to the same ecosystem, a dog is being fed extremely nutrient-rich foods from a bag, then depositing those alien nutrients into nature.
All the healthy nutrients in dog food result in poop that’s very rich in substances like nitrogen and phosphorous—the same ingredients you’ll find in fertilizer. The addition of that nutrient-rich poop to an ecosystem leads to an imbalance that, when it’s washed into water sources, can lead to algae blooms and promote the growth of invasive plant species on land.
People seemed to respond better to this than to telling them that their dog’s poop has parasites and bacteria in it.
Of course this kind of thing isn’t scalable – nor will it reach the truly entitled/heedless.
I disagree. As humans, we should take responsibility for ourselves and our actions (including those of our pets when we have them). No one knows anyone’s body’s specific needs better than the person themselves, and we’re responsible for managing these needs in such a way as to not endanger or cause problems for others (except in emergencies). Portapotties or latrines are costly and, in areas with many trails, there is no feasible way to place these on all of them. Building and servicing them would use up already scarce funds for trail maintenance and the like.
If someone is going into the woods or hiking in a situation where they might need to poop, they should be responsible enough take supplies with them to make this possible in a reasonable manner - trowel, plastic bag (dog ones work!). If there’s an emergency situation, which of course can happen, even just lifting a rock, pooping under it, and replacing it will be reasonable along with moving far enough from the trail that others are unlikely to come into contact with one’s poop. Pooping right next to a trail is inconsiderate of others and actually creates a health risk for all other trail users.
In this particular instance, for example, the person had just gotten out of a vehicle at the parking lot 25 m away. They could easily have stopped at a public restroom (maybe 10 min away?) on the way to the trail, but chose not to. There was also (of course) lots of area not immediately off the trail that would have been much more suitable.
To connect this to the original topic, should it be an excuse for dog owners to not pick up their dogs’ poop that bags and a trash can were not provided at each trailhead? Certainly someone could pay to install a doggie bag dispenser, keep it supplied with bags, and regularly service a trash can for those bags. Some places do provide these, but the lack of these is not a free pass for dog owners to leave their dog’s poo whereever they wish.
I have spoken to people who do this: they universally tell the same lie, “I was gonna come back for it.” Take it with you. You CHOSE to bring a medium-sized carnivoran on a leash to this place. It’s on you to minimise the impacts of that choice.
WHEN they even choose to have them on a leash…
I see this all the time at the big National Wildlife Refuge near me (literally up the street, so I’ve spent a bunch of time there). There are multiple ‘dogs not allowed’ signs, and the trail map notations are equally visible. There are signs warning about the possibility of coyote encounters. And yet, every time I go up there, there’s a 90% chance that I’m going to see someone with a dog. Three out of five of those encounters involve the dog being off-leash. (I don’t get quite as aggravated about dogs on the Wildlife Drive; nobody’s allowed out of the car in that section. It’s still an annoyance, though.)
It’s a good bet that the folks bringing their dogs into a restricted area aren’t going to be exactly fastidious about picking up after them, or finding a trash can if they do. Don’t get me wrong; despite the fact that our lives have been dominated by cats for the past few years (including the fluffy brat currently lying across my arms), I love dogs. I dearly miss our Maggie of beloved memory. We took her up in the mountains as often as we could, because she loved it. But were always responsible about it, and that included bringing along the poop bags.
When you see the sign at the bag dispenser that says only take one, you obey the sign, and then it turns out to be one of those rare days when your dog surprises you by making two. Sometimes, the proliferation of rules and regulations puts you in a catch-22.
happens in Adelaide, South Australia too.
… they sell bags in shops, and you have pockets.
It’s really hard not to think that the owners who do this are saying, “There. I’ve bagged it. That’s my responsibility. Somebody else can take it out of the park.”