The straight poop on poisoning Puget Sound

Trying to do the right thing for the environment is not always a bowl of organic cherries.

Sometimes, in our quest to leave the world a better place than we found it, we have to make hard choices and eschew the easy road.

Consider dog poop. Er, maybe I should rephrase that.

Sometimes dog owners are faced with an uneasy dilemma when their dog drops a puppy package while out on a walk. Do I do the right thing and pluck the poop or should I just walk on, hoping none of my neighbors have seen me? Even the best intentioned, eco-friendly dog owner faces the unpleasant reality of that which needs to be scooped.

I am a dog owner myself, the proud “parent” of two lovably neurotic mutts. One of their many neuroses is that they like to save up their, let’s say “business, ” for the occasional walks they get around our neighborhood. Being a responsible dog guy means I have to bring a small arsenal of plastic grocery bags along for disposal duty. After the third or fourth pick-up, this can really start to diminish the enjoyability of a walk.

Carrying one full bag of the business is one thing; when it gets to two or three bags, it’s just unpleasant. Did I mention I have big dogs?

A recent dog walk — the occasion of one of these doggy drops — elicited a debate with my dog-walking partner over what to do with the doggie doo. This certain family member (who will remain anonymous to protect their identity…and my health) was holding the leash of the dog that pooped.

She looked at me, as if shocked that anything untoward might come out of a dog’s south end. There was a pregnant pause as I waited for the unnamed person to volunteer to use one of the bags I’d brought. Instead, she stared pleadingly, then asked, “What if we just leave it?”

It’s a reasonable question to ask. After all, what harm is one turd going to do in the grand scheme of things? Even if you’re the type of dog owner that religiously scoops your pup’s poop, couldn’t you just leave one behind? Take a mini-vacation from responsibility, as it were.

Confronted with the tempting question, I thought of a recent study by the SeaDoc Society that found that 40 percent of Puget Sound seals are infected with a nasty parasite called Giardia; many of the seals had a form that comes from domestic dogs. The only route of transmission is through dog poop. These are not from dogs swimming and pooping in Puget Sound. It’s from stormwater runoff that carries with it remnants of unscooped dog droppings.

That study, and others like it, point to a new environmental reality for Pugetopolis. There’s just too many of us to overlook our individual impact on the air and water around us.

When I was a kid, way back in the era of sideburns and polyester, nobody scooped up dog poop. Maybe if it was improperly deposited on your lawn, you’d take a shovel and toss it to the side of the yard — or, if you didn’t like your neighbors, into their yard — but that was about the extent of it.

In the 1970s, there were a lot fewer of us, and a lot fewer of our dogs. I grew up in a Puget Sound region with just over 2 million people. Today, we’ve got nearly double that population, with our dogs, sewage, lawn fertilizer and other elements of modern life draining to Puget Sound. And we’re still growing.

Puget Sound, like other ecosystems, functions in a nonlinear fashion. That is, up until recently it has absorbed our effluent with few apparent symptoms. Somewhere in the past two decades our inland sea has reached a tipping point. Now, it’s responding with a range of ill symptoms: Declining fish populations, overgrowths of sea lettuce, and yes, seals infected with dog viruses.

I explained all these things to my family member as a way of responding to the dog doo dilemma. “I’m convinced,” she said, smiling brightly. “Go ahead and clean it up.”

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos, a nonprofit conservation organization working to preserve and restore Hylebos Creek and the West Hylebos Wetlands. Contact: chinook@hylebos.org.

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