By Susan Gallagher
The Times News, © 2004

February 14, 2004

They deserve to be called “Man’s Best Friend”. Dogs can empower the handicapped, rescue disaster victims, offer unique therapies, and even take a bite out of crime.

According to the Humane Society, we Americans own well over 50 million of them. There are a lot of mothers out there, reminding kids how they promised to pick up after that cherished family pet.

Yes, dogs do what every other animal does. They eat, drink, and go to the bathroom. And while owning a dog can enrich and possibly even extend your life, patrolling the yard with a pooper scooper is no one’s idea of a good time.

Dog droppings are considered “natural” by some, and in a sense that’s true. Any farmer can tell you the value of good fertilizer. But when dog waste ends up in ground or surface water, human health can be at risk.

You may have heard the term “fecal coliform”, especially if you’ve visited this column before. It describes a kind of water contamination associated with wastes from septic systems, manure or other animal feces. Thanks to an innovative testing procedure developed by an Oregon State University scientist, researchers can pinpoint the source of that contamination, tracing it back to the animal from which it came.

Not surprisingly, dogs are being implicated, particularly in suburban areas, where their feces has contaminated ground and surface water. The biggest danger isn’t in the feces itself, but in the viruses, bacteria and other harmful organisms it may carry.

According to Dr. Frank Bostick of St. Francis Animal Hospital, one of the smartest things you can do is to get your pet on a regular worming program. “If your dog’s not being wormed, that can be a problem,” Bostick states when asked about potential pollution. Roundworms and hookworms can infect both dogs and people.

Bostick also offers that a high quality pet food can help. Fewer cheap fillers in the kibble mean less waste to clean up.

Scooping up after your pet during walks will not only prevent waste from washing into surface water sources or storm drains, it may also be the law. Many communities have enacted ordinances requiring pet owners to either clean up or face fines.

Well owners should be mindful of any wastes deposited or left to decay in the yard, especially near the well casing. And a properly installed, properly maintained casing is much less likely to become contaminated.

So while we enjoy the warmth our pets bring to us this cold winter season, let’s not leave the doggie doodie duty until spring. Picking up after Man’s Best Friend is one of the easiest things we can do to protect our drinking water.

We would like to hear your comments, questions or ideas for future articles. The Carbon County Groundwater Guardians is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, volunteer organization.