Monday, September 18, 2006

The Poop on Poop -- What do you think?

NOW Insight, March 11 - March 17, 2004

Photo By Jo-Anne McArthur

The raw numbers
Number of dogs in Toronto

• City officials say about 60,000, but they admit the actual number is closer to 180,000.

Amount of dog feces that makes its way into our waste water stream every year

• Difficult to say, but samples taken from storm water by the city are heavily contaminated with E. coli bacteria, and it's not just human poop.

• Do the math: most dogs do their business twice a day, for a total of 360,000 piles of poop a day, and a whopping 131,400,000 turds in a year. Bow wow!

What the city's animal control bylaw says

• "Every owner of a dog shall immediately remove excrement left by the dog on property anywhere in the city."

The ugly reality

• The bylaw is rarely, if ever, enforced.

• The city doesn't clean up turds left on sidewalks or streets.

Clear indications that the problem of dog excrement is getting out of control

• Many neighbourhoods must hold dog poop cleaning "parties" in spring.

• Been to any of the leash-free parks after a good snow melt?

Steps the city is taking to control the poop problem

• Allowing dumping of animal feces in compost bins, currently up and running in Etobicoke and Scarborough and slated to go citywide by fall 2005.

The one saving grace – sort of – in this messy scenario

• Most dog owners pick up after their pets, but the stuff ends up in plastic bags in landfill, which isn't the best alternative, since pet waste is wet and creates a greater risk of landfill leakage and toxic releases.

A better alternative for poop-conscious dog owners

• Flushing the doo down the toilet so it gets treated.

• How about flashlights and glow-in-the-dark leashes so poop Fido does in the dark doesn't get lost and left there?

What other cities are doing

• In Paris, motorcycles equipped with vacuum cleaners collect canine droppings.

• Closer to home, in Mississauga, local residents committees manage and maintain four off-leash areas through an annual $20 fee per dog as a way of encouraging stoop-and-scoop.

What's saving Toronto from an even bigger pooch poop problem

• The fact that we have more green space for animals to romp in than other cities our size – 1,000 parks, 29 off-leash parks among them.

What's threatening to make the problem worse

• Intensification in the downtown core will mean more people, more dogs and more poop.

What animal rights activists say the city should be doing

• Encourage licensing of all animals (right now, only about 50 to 60 per cent of canines are registered with the city) and use the money from licensing fees to fund stoop-and-scoop programs like the one in pre-amalgamation Toronto that employed students to hang out in parks and hand out poop bags and dog leashes.

If environmentalists had their druthers

• All pet waste would be taken away for composting, but few facilities currently possess the technology to kill harmful pathogens in the waste.

What the experts say

"Municipal stoop-and-scoop laws are a top-10 consideration when it comes to protecting water quality."

Toronto Environmental Alliance executive director Shelley Petrie

"We always hope that the good nature of pet owners is going to look after the issue." Works department spokesperson Stephen Johnson

"Maybe we need to better impress upon people that aside from the fact that there's an aesthetic issue, there's a human health issue and water quality component. What flows into those roadside grates flows directly to the lake or the river. I think the average person on the street thinks it gets treated at a sewage plant. When it's all said and done, our drinking water comes from the lake that all this stuff flows into."

Michael D'Andrea, manager, Toronto waste and emergency services

"I can't believe dog poop is a real environmental issue when you consider all the chemicals we dump in our lakes and rivers. The real eco problem is the plastic bags used to pick the waste up."

Liz White, executive director, Animal Alliance of Canada