Why does everyone make such a big deal about picking up dog poop?

According to my alma mater, Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, there are an estimated 72 million dogs in the United States. The country has a population of 327 million people, so there is about one dog per every five people — and probably higher in dog-friendly Santa Barbara.

Washington State found, using a conservative estimate, that there are more than 8 billion pounds of dog poop produced annually.

The average dog produces 274 pounds of waste annually. If your dog lives 16 years, that means you will need to scoop about 4,400 pounds of poop in their lifetime.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that an average car weighs 4,000 pounds, so that is a lot of poop to scoop.

Regrettably, an estimated 40% of dog owners do not clean up after their dogs defecate outside.

Cats were also considered by WSU. There are more cats than dogs in the United States, but most of their waste is handled in litter boxes and the waste is smaller in volume.

So this is an article only about dog poop. Cats are off the hook.

Dog’s waste smells horrible and draws in flies. We can step into a lot of trouble when we carry dog poop on our shoes into our home.

Dog poop contains more fecal bacteria than that of humans, cats, cows, ducks and rats. Freshly deposited dog droppings may contain harmful bacteria and parasites that are immediately infectious to people.

But older, dried-out dog poop is more likely to contain harmful parasite eggs. Some parasites eggs can live in the soil from six months up to four years.

Most human illnesses from dog poop are caused by tiny, often invisible amounts of fecal matter that enters the body through the mouth.

Children are especially at risk because they often play outside on the ground and frequently put their hands in their mouths. Gardeners are also at risk, working in the soil.

So WSU says protect your family by “Scoop the poop, bag it and place it in the trash.”

This is how it is done and it is so easy:

  • Put your hand inside your dog poop bag, like you are putting on a glove.
  • Pick up the dog waste and turn the bag inside out with your free hand.
  • Tie the bag tightly so it does not open when thrown away.
  • Put the bag in a trash can, if one is available, or take it home and dispose of it in the trash.
  • Never leave poop bags by the side of hiking trails or toss them into bushes. This just creates two kinds of pollution, pet waste and plastic waste.
  • Clean up your yard after your dog every day or every other day.
  • On your dog walks bring an extra poop bag. You never know if you pal will need to go again. Offer a bag to someone who forgot theirs and consider picking up waste left behind by others.
  • Double bagging the poop shows our consideration and respect for our sanitation engineers.

Prevent your dog from pooping near water, by storm drains, in ditches, on the beach, in ocean water, in the UC Santa Barbara lagoon, at the terminus Arroyo Burro Creek by Hendry’s Beach, or in any creeks or streams.

Rain washes bacteria from pet waste into ditches, creeks, storm drains and eventually into the ocean, threatening marine life, water quality and public health.

Dog waste will dissolve in water. It will mix into the sand or be washed away by the tide, but the hazardous bacteria and excess nutrients are not gone.

In addition to polluting water, dog waste can pollute marine organisms. Shellfish take in and filter the water around them. That means if the water near where you are harvesting shellfish is polluted by dog waste (or other pollutants), you could well be harvesting unsafe shellfish.

Landfills are designated to handle dog waste. Yards, storm drains, ditches and septic systems are not. Burying or composting dog poop allows harmful organisms to leach into the ground water.

Do not use your dog’s poop as compost; it is not safe. If you decide to home compost dog poop, never use the resulting compost on food crops. It must be kept separate from your food compost. Even gardening tools must be kept apart.

So the best advice is from WSU: “Scoop the poop, bag it and place it in the trash.”

WSU also advises, “Clean yards, clean streams and clean paws” by picking up your pal’s poop.

I also add, especially here in Santa Barbara, where we often go barefoot or wear flip-flops, “Clean feet and shoes.”

Dr. Bonnie Franklin is a relief veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine from a joint program of Washington State and Oregon State universities, a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and does consulting work with the U.S. Forest Service. The opinions expressed are her own.