Cleaning up after your dog

From: BBC NEWS March 15th 2017

As a journalist I was taught never to apologise for what you write – after all if you have to start with an apology, why would anyone want to read your words? However after putting fingers to keys to discuss the art of making Bolognese sauce I feel I ought to offer an extremely strong reason for wanting to discuss the less than delicate matter of clearing up after your dog.

My justification is the call by an MP for dog owners to abandon the plastic bag when clearing up after their pet and instead use “stick and flick”.   Tory MP Conservative Anne Main was speaking during a debate about the number of plastic bags littering the countryside.

Before I go on, I should, as an aside, reveal that when I worked in broadcasting, one of the trickier jobs when producing a phone-in show, was to generate calls from listeners.   Some days there would be a plethora of topics people wanted to chat about, but on quiet days, we could guarantee a jammed switch board if we introduced either religion or dog-dirt as the subject of the morning.

I can also confirm that one of the biggest bones of contention among boat owners on the UK waterways network, is the number of dog owners who think they don’t need to clear up when their animal fouls the towpath, ensuring that unsuspecting boaters step in the stuff when they moor their boats.   I’ve even seen people mark the stuff with brightly coloured mini-flags to help other boaters avoid the the mess.

More dog pictures here
Benji, the current Peel beast

I’ve owned or shared ownership of a dog of one sort or another since I was eight or nine. Rikki was a fox terrier and, in theory, belonged to my elder sister but as he and I spent many, many hours walking the cliffs, beaches, ravines and countryside around my Yorkshire home town, he sort of adopted me, sleeping at the foot of my bed.

In those days you didn’t carry a pocket full of nappy bags to clear up after your pet but you were thoughtful of others and made sure that,  if he was caught short in the street, he was positioned in the gutter; or if in the countryside, definitely not on the path or places where unsuspecting pedestrians, particularly children, might step in the mess.   Nature took care of the rest.

I remember smiling when the poop-a-scoop was introduced (apparently invented by a Californian man in the early 70s) and considered it something to be used by city living poodle owners.

Over time of course the dog mess situation has worsened.  There are around eight-and-a-half million dogs in the UK and the amount of their daily deposits doesn’t bear thinking about – except they are one of the leading sources of E. coli (fecal coliforms) bacterial pollution, Toxocara canis and Neospora caninum helminth parasite pollution. (Wikipaedia)

And while an individual animal’s deposit may not measurably affect the environment, the cumulative effect of thousands of dogs in an urban area can create serious problems due to contamination of soil and water supplies.

Despite all of this, I share the politicians obvious frustration when walking in the countryside, to see plastic bags full of dog dirt hanging on the hedges, left there by thoughtless owners, presumably because the local authority didn’t provide a suitably marked bin.    Again some quick searching on the web led to the discovery that these bags can take between 10 and 500 years to decompose – which sounds to me to be far more polluting than allowing nature to dispose of the poo.

This is why I’m delighted to learn from the honourable member for St Albans, that the Forestry Commission is now urging dog owners to use the “stick and flick” method of disposal.  That is, you find a stick and flick the mess into the undergrowth where it won’t be trodden on by exploring youngsters but will decay naturally.

I should stress that this policy applies only to what the Commission calls “wider forest areas.” Around main visitor centre areas, owners are still being asked to use a bag and the bins provided near by,  lest instead of having to take care not to tread in the stuff, we have to constantly duck and dive to avoid flying canine ordure.