Spring is in the air, but what is that other thing I smell?
Animal poo accumulates in the winter
During the winter months, when the ground is frozen and it’s cold outside, people can get a little lazy about cleaning up after their pets. After all, there aren’t any flies around, and the poo doesn’t really smell in the cold. What’s the harm in leaving it on the ground a while longer?
The first, and most obvious, problem with winter poo build-up is that what freezes must thaw. All those piles of poo turn into poo land mines when the weather gets warmer. And the smell comes back, too. It’s unsanitary for everyone.
But there are other problems with letting animal feces sit in the environment, even in the winter.
Animal poo can contain infectious agents
You might thing that leaving poo around in the winter is not a problem because it’s too cold for infectious disease agents in fecal matter to live. Think again. In 2007, a team of researches studied 100 air samples from four midwestern cities. They found that the bacterial community in the air in the winter most closely resembles that found in canine feces. The samples were taken at 12 feet above the ground (Bowers, 2011). Even in the winter, bacteria from fecal matter on the ground aerosolize. While the scientists didn’t examine the health effects of these bacteria in their study, bacteria in the air have been associated with asthma and seasonal allergies in other research.
Dog feces can contain parasites, viruses, and bacteria that are infectious to humans. But the diseases transmitted through dog feces are even more likely to be infectious to other dogs. Last year, there was an outbreak of campylobacteriosis in puppies. This disease is transmitted through feces. When the spring rains start to break down the fecal matter, disease agents are spread to a larger area.
Animal poo ends up in the water
Studies have shown that 20%-30% of the bacteria in urban watersheds can be traced to dog feces. That’s not surprising: pet dogs in the US produce around 11 million pounds of waste each year. When it rains, pet waste that is lying on the ground gets washed into streams and rivers. Pet waste in urban areas isn’t the only problem. Poo that is sitting alongside forest trails and poo that is sitting in a back yard will both end up in a watershed somewhere. When pet waste is left outside in the winter, there are few to no insects around to help it decompose. So more of the poo is likely to enter the watershed.
A 2015 survey of 1000 people in North Caroline showed that only about 60% of dog owners pick up after their pet. Fourty percent of owners aren’t picking up. Don’t be like those people. Now’s the time to get out there and clean up.
Bowers et al, Sources of bacteria in outdoor air across cities in the Midwestern United States, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2011