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Slacktide: Dog turds of Alaska

Posted: May 13, 2012 - 12:01am

I’ve got young children. And young children, like dogs, must be walked regularly.

During these walks, in similarly canine fashion, my son — who’s not exactly toilet-trained but toilet-trained-in-training — really enjoys voiding his bowels. Who can blame him? Juneau offers some stunningly beautiful spots to take a dump.

But here’s where the toddler-dog analogy fails, in the area of poop management. You see, I don’t simply let the boy “off pants” and allow him to do his dirty work wherever he pleases while I toss him a ratty old tennis ball, leave the pile where it lies.

That would be silly and gross, although not illegal, unlike failure to clean up after your dog, a finable offense. City ordinance be damned, however, we seem to be descending into full-on scatological lawlessness.

True, the dog “issue” issue comes up every spring, when thaw uncovers a long season of uncollected droppings. But this year, we’re experiencing a particularly strong run of boneless brown trout, so to speak.

To put it another way, I haven’t noticed many tulips yet, but stink buds are blooming everywhere: out-the-road, in the valley, downtown. There was an especially prodigious one in front of the governor’s mansion the other day — perhaps the proud work of our state dog, the malamute?

This past weekend in the forest on North Douglas, we couldn’t find enough fiddleheads for an omelet, but my daughter had no trouble identifying pile after pile of four-legged excreta, as if she were referencing a field guide, like “Indigenous Dog Turds of Southeast Alaska” or something.

Granted, there are many conscientious dog owners. Let their dedication to poop-scooping serve as a shining, squishy example to all. Personally, if I’m going to devote that much attention to another being’s digestive processes, I’d like that being to be able to return the favor some day.

Still, it’s a fecal minefield out there, and someone’s supplying the IEDs (Improper Excrement Disposal). Only two possible culprits exist: a) roving bands of feral dogs or b) lazy people.

I’m going to go with ‘b.’

Here’s what I don’t understand. Now, I’m lazy, and I mean haven’t-shaved-in-two-years lazy. If I can change a “hot” diaper out on Sandy Beach or along the Airport Dike Trail or — as I’ve done several times — atop a snow-packed picnic table while cross-country skiing at Mendenhall Glacier campground, then why can’t you — and you know who you are — put a little doggie-doo in the trash can? There’s not even any wiping involved. Or butt cream.

Now, I get that certain things come with living in Southeast Alaska. I understand, for instance, that rubber clothing is required and that avalanches — and the occasional eagle dropping a deer carcass into the power lines — can disrupt electricity. Also, my windshield will always be cracked and my front fender dented no matter how many times I replace them.

But I don’t think dog poop should be something we simply accept.

For one, it’s toxic. The EPA classifies it as a pollutant on par with motor oil. A single gram can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. Three days’ of droppings from 100 dogs would supply enough bacteria to temporarily shut down a 20-mile section of bay or watershed to swimming and shell fishing. Good thing there aren’t any bays or watersheds around here.

There’s more: according to the CDC, when left on the ground to “wash away” — either in public spaces or private yards — dog poop transfers a host of parasites that can linger in the soil for years, potentially infecting those who come in contact with it, most likely dogs and children. How terrifyingly ironic — or is it ironically terrifying?

Either way, it may sound funny, but it’s no joke. Dog poop is a growing problem with legitimate public health implications.

And it’s not just Juneau. American dogs squeeze out 10 million tons a year, and rising — well, actually, studies find dog food consumption on the rise, but what goes in…

Now, as much as I love to complain without offering solutions, in this instance, I’d rather light a flaming bag of dog poop than curse the darkness.

Perhaps we can learn from other efforts to take on the brown menace.

Last week, an article broke about a Mexican Internet service provider offering free Wi-Fi to anyone who deposits dog poop into bins located in public parks throughout Mexico City. The more you deposit, the more time you get. For instance, a chihuahua probably wouldn’t pinch off enough “minutes” to power-stream “Breaking Bad.” Unless you’re talking about the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

Also in the recent news cycle, scientists have developed a dung-powered motorized rickshaw currently in use at the Denver Zoo. A farm in Rutland, Mass. uses an anaerobic digester to turn manure into biogas, which generates enough power to feed the electric grid. And a Japanese toilet manufacturer has even invented a hybrid motorcycle-latrine that runs on stool-based biogas, supplied in part by your pet, in part by the bike’s built-in toilet. Seriously. You can go vroom-vroom and boom-boom at the same time.

Not to be outdone in cutting-edge poop technology, an American company just introduced an adjustable toilet seat capable of supporting 1,000 lbs. What does that have to with dog poop? Nothing. It’s just nice to know how far you can let yourself go before having to worry about breaking your toilet seat.

Point is, when life hands you poop, you make lemonade (only after washing your hands). In other words, let’s not let sleeping dogs lie, or shudder violently like when they’re laying one down.

In fact, I’ve just started a blog, myself — more of a re-branding campaign, actually — “Dog Turds of Alaska,” dogturdsofalaska.blogspot.com, celebrating the Great Alaskan Dog Turd in all its natural splendor.

• Geoff Kirsch is a local writer. Check out his work at www.geoffkirsch.com and his latest contribution to Alaska nature writing/photography at dogturdsofalaska.blogspot.com.

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