Everyone has a dog poo story, and it never ends well. But what if I told you that dog poo could spark joy rather than war? That accepting dog poo from strangers is the ultimate dopamine hit? You’d probably think I was crazier than a cat lady. You’d be right.
I’m the dog poo lady.
How it started
Becoming a dog poo aficionado was never on my bucket list. I don’t even have a dog. But in 2017, I unwittingly stepped into something big. My daughter had just started kindergarten at Alki Elementary in West Seattle, and many mornings we nearly stepped in dog poo as we jumped out of the car and raced to class:
“Aim for green!” It was like a game of the Floor is Lava, but with real-life consequences: Carefully take one step at a time from the curb to the sidewalk. Green spots of grass are safe. Brown on the ground is danger. Possibly mud, but likely much worse.
So. Much. Dog poo. How could this be? I became obsessed. I started recording each observed data nugget. I collected wayward dog poo stories from friends, family, government employees, strangers in the process of picking up dog poo, and other parents at school. “Have you ever stepped in dog poo?” I’d ask. Of course.
That’s when it hit me: Dog poo is the great uniter and divider of all humankind – around the block and around the world. Nobody is spared. But why do we accept this mighty poo curse? How can we step up, flip the script, and work together toward a happier ending?
What goes on the ground flows into Puget Sound
With an estimated 187,000 dogs living in Seattle, wayward dog poo is more than a meme-worthy nuisance. It impacts the health and happiness of our families, communities, pets, wildlife, sealife, environment, and water quality. The problem becomes even more serious when it rains. I always assumed that storm drains were like trash cans: stormwater flowed to a treatment plant and made everything clean. I had no idea that it actually dumps raw pollution directly into the nearest water body.
Dog poo is extra nefarious when it contaminates water. Not only is it teeming with bacteria and pathogens that can cause illness, it contains nutrients that act as fertilizer, spawning harmful algae blooms and dead zones where aquatic life cannot survive because of low oxygen levels.
Add “save the orcas” to the list of why we should aim for zero poo.
A grassroots movement
Here’s the good part. In 2020, I published a picture book called Oh Poo! A Cautionary Tale and founded Poogooder, a grassroots movement to help end wayward dog poo for a happier, healthier community and planet. Today, nearly 100 volunteers steward Poogooder dog poo bins in their yards. Anyone can be a Poogooder. You don’t even need a dog.
Five ways to inspire kids to be a Poogooder:
1. Start small and early. Most kids are age 7-12 before being expected to pick up after a dog, but it’s important to include them as part of the process much sooner. Even a 2-year-old can play “find the poop” with you in the yard as you pick it up.
2. Lead by example. Let go of the dog poo wars and focus on the good. Always bring a spare bag and aim for zero poo. Host a dog poo bag dispenser or bin.
3. Take your child on a litter walk. Kids LOVE trash grabbers. Carry poop bags to pick up any poop you find. Adopt a storm drain to keep clean (and name!).
4. Spread the facts, not germs. Be informed. Aways bag, tie, and toss dog poo into your garbage (not compost) and wash hands.
5. Involve the whole family. Take puppy training classes and learn the responsibility of pet ownership together. Make scooping part of the daily routine.
Join the movement
At the start, I told you that dog poo could spark joy. That it feels good to accept dog poo from strangers. As counterintuitive as it may sound, it’s true. Every time a neighbor tosses a bag into my Poogooder bin, I get a rush. Not an urge to scowl or finger wave, but a knowing smile that I just made someone’s day a little bit happier – and our shared environment healthier.
Together we can foster greater awareness and joy as a community that cares for each other and our environment: one small step, one piece of dog poo, and one person, big or small, at a time.
Let’s do some good today.