A: Everyone wants the water they drink, swim in or fish in to be clean, but recent studies have found that 95 percent of a disease-causing bacteria called fecal coliform found in urban watersheds comes from animals. Dogs are a key source of this pollution because so many of us have canine companions.
Dog feces left on the ground wash into the nearest pond, lake, stream or bay when it rains. Just one ounce of dog feces contains 23 million microorganisms of bacteria - nearly twice that of human waste.
Dog waste also adds nutrients to our waterways, and most of Tampa Bay - and the rivers and streams that flow into it - already have too much nitrogen. Excess nutrients promote the growth of algae that clouds the water and prevents vital seagrasses from receiving the sunlight they need to grow. Severe algae blooms can consume dissolve oxygen in the water, killing fish and other aquatic creatures.
A: The average-size dog produces about a half-pound of poop per day. According to rabies license records, there are about 500,000 dogs in the Tampa Bay region. Altogether, they generate about 125 tons of poop each day. Bow WOW!
Surveys indicate that nearly 40 percent of people don't pick up after their pets. In our area, that means an average of 50 tons of dog poop is left on the ground each day. That can lead to a pile of problems!
A: Ingesting water contaminated with coliform bacteria can make people ill, causing diseases such as giardiasis and salmonella. The feces also can contain hookworms, roundworms and other parasites that can be spread to adults and children walking barefoot or playing in the grass near dog waste.
A: While cats and other domestic and wild animals certainly contribute to fecal coliform levels, one interesting difference is that a dog produces 23 million fecal coliform bacteria per gram of feces, or 10 times that of a cow. An average-size dog dropping contains 3 billion fecal coliform bacteria, much higher than most other animals. Urban areas like ours have large concentrations of dogs, contributing unnaturally high levels of bacteria to our waterways.
Feral cats and pet cats that live outdoors add to the poop problem, but many pet cats live pampered lives indoors, where they use the litter box, and that waste is either thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet.
A: It's not as simple as out of sight, out of mind. Storm drains in our region carry dog doo and other pollutants directly to the nearest waterway, NOT a sewage treatment plant. The land area that drains into Tampa Bay, its watershed, encompasses all of Hillsborough County, most of Pinellas and Manatee, and parts of Pasco and Polk. Ultimately, anything dumped or left on the ground in this vast area winds up in our bay.
A: Your best bet is to pick up your dog's doo in a bag, and either flush it down the toilet (where it will be treated at your local sewage plant) or place it in a garbage can.
A: In Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, the vast majority of our trash (including bagged dog waste) is sent to waste-to-energy facilities, where it is burned to produce electricity and sold to area power companies.
In Manatee, Pasco and Polk counties, landfills are the primary disposal options. However, modern landfills are designed with special liners and other safeguards required by environmental laws to ensure that chemicals and bacteria in the trash don't leak and contaminate water supplies. So bagging your dog's poop and putting it in a trash can is ALWAYS a better choice than leaving it on the ground.
A: It's certainly not necessary to buy biodegradable bags if you live in an area where trash is burned to produce energy. Biodegradable pet waste bags are a good option for dog owners who live in areas served by landfills, and there are now biodegradable, flushable bags for those who dispose of dog waste in a toilet.
The pet supply industry is jumping on the "green pet ownership" bandwagon in a big way, with a variety of new poop bags and attractive bag dispensers on the market. But all you really need to do is wrap a newspaper bag around your dog's leash, or stuff one in your pocket, before taking Fido for a walk.
A: We have learned a great deal about all sources of pollution in recent decades, and that knowledge is helping us to improve water quality through a variety of solutions. In the case of dog waste, advances in DNA testing and isotope analysis have specifically traced bacterial pollution in several urban waterways back to dog feces. Dog waste certainly isn't the pollutant in our waterways, but it is one of the easiest to prevent.