Dog waste isn't government's responsibility

We’ve all seen it: The irresponsible pet owner who pretends to look the other way as the family dog leaves a deposit on a neighbor’s property or public right-of-way.

The dog does his or her business. The pet owner jerks on the leash and off they go, leaving behind a smelly pile of feces for someone else to step in or clean up.

It’s enough to make the blood boil.

Contrast that with the pet owner who ties a plastic bag to the leash while walking the family pet. Given the same situation, this responsible pet owner unties the plastic bag, scoops up the mess and deposits it in a garbage can.

Irresponsible pet owners, through their thoughtless actions, are spoiling the environment. Their pet’s waste, which carries high concentrations of fecal coliform, can wash into neighborhood stormwater retention ponds or be carried into stormwater drains.

And that says nothing of the unsanitary mess the dog leaves behind. There’s nothing quite as disappointing as taking a child to a neighborhood park, only to have the youngster step in a pile of dog poo.

Leonard Jorgensen got tired of neighbor dogs leaving their deposits on his property. Jorgensen, who lives near Boston Harbor, asked Thurston County water resource officials to install a pet waste disposal station near his home a year ago.

Before too long, most neighbors got into the habit of stopping by the station to pick up a plastic bag while out walking their dogs so they could clean up their dog’s messes and dispose of them in the trash.

“It’s solved about 80 percent of the problem,” Jorgensen said.

While that’s great news, it’s unfortunate that government had to step in. What happened to personal responsibility and people bringing their own waste disposal bags from home? Why is it up to government to make it more convenient for dog owners to do the right thing?

Officials in Thurston County and the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater all include pet waste disposal stations as part of their water pollution prevention programs. They understand that the waste from the estimated 50,000 dogs that reside in Thurston County poses a serious threat to water quality.

An average dog generates about one-half pound of waste per day, which translates into about 12 tons of untreated waste per day, according to Mary Middleton, a research biologist with the Pacific Shellfish Institutes in Olympia. In addition, one gram of dog waste, which weighs the equivalent of a business card, contains 23 million fecal coliform, almost twice as much as human waste. A heavy rain washes pet waste from streets, sidewalks and lawns into storm drains that empty into lakes, streams and Puget Sound.

“Pet waste is a concern to shellfish growers,” Middleton said. “It’s even more of an issue when you have a lot of concrete and impervious surfaces.”

In 2000-01, the Thurston County Department of Environmental Health studied sources of bacterial pollution in Henderson Inlet. Failing septic tanks and pet waste turned out to be the main culprits.

To help address that problem, Thurston County and Lacey have installed more than 80 pet waste disposal stations in the Henderson Inlet watershed since 2004. Olympia and Tumwater also install pet waste disposal stations in neighborhoods and along public trail systems. Together the officials hope to reverse bacterial contamination problems that have caused shellfish growers to either stop harvesting clams and oysters altogether or when it rains and fecal coliform levels increase.

Lacey water resources officials do follow-up surveys six months after a station is installed.

“We consistently receive very positive feedback and are hearing that following installation of the stations there is, in more cases, significantly less dog waste left on the ground,” said Erin Keith, water resources specialist for Lacey.

So while pet waste disposal stations are working and are a good thing, it’s shameful that government officials using tax dollars must step in to bail out dog owners who fail to take responsibility for their pets.