Our stories are all different, but everyone can relate. Maybe you were trying to catch the bus and too rushed to notice. Perhaps you were admiring the treetops and not watching the path. You felt it immediately through the sole of your shoe, your step a little softer than it should have been, a slight slip as the realization hit . . . you got poo-shoed.
It’s a mess, an inconvenience, a black mark on humanity in general, and a problem Lori Kothe — founder of Poogooder — is working to solve.
Kothe isn’t just looking for help picking up after her own pup; she doesn’t even have a dog. She isn’t interested in why pet owners sometimes don’t pick up after their animals — or why some, weirdly, bag up and then leave it in someone else’s driveway. She simply recognized an environmental issue and is focused on a solution — one that involves and relies on a growing network of like-minded people, adults and kids alike.
It Began with a Book
Kothe published “Oh, Poo! A Cautionary Tale“ in 2020. An illustrated children’s book, Kothe wrote it after talks with neighbors and friends about their frustrations dealing with left-behind poop.
Kothe, a parent of two, wanted to create something with a call to action.
“As parents, a lot of our lessons to our kids come down to, ‘we are all in this together, and we can all have an impact, even if it is a small action,'” she says. In contrast, “Oh Poo!” is about learning why cleaning up after your pet is essential.
Then another idea started to form. Perhaps picking up poo could be a community effort. That thinking led Kothe to the logical next step: providing poop bags and bag collection bins to neighborhoods committed to properly disposing of dog waste and stewarding their bins.
She created a beta bin with poop bags and placed it in the public space in front of her own yard.
The positive feedback was substantial and immediate. Her neighbors appreciated fewer stinky surprises on the lawns and sidewalks in her area. When she discovered a dollar left on the bin lid in support of her effort, she realized people might be willing to support the program on a larger scale.
Far beyond a single poo
As she began developing the Poogooder program, Kothe was also gaining a better understanding of the far-reaching impact of pet waste on the environment. The fecal matter left on lawns and sidewalks eventually makes its way into the watershed, local lakes, and Puget Sound, worsening the water quality. Occasionally, beaches and swim areas are forced to close to the public due to elevated levels of poop pollution, especially during summer.
Last year, the King County Department of Public Health contacted Kothe, offering to partner with and support Poogooder’s efforts. Kothe and a few volunteers staffed booths at farmers’ markets, the Morgan Junction Community Festival, and the aquarium on Poverty Bay to inform and educate families on the importance of pitching in.
“It is everyone’s problem,” Kothe says, “and it only perpetuates if we don’t do something about it. The goal is that together, we can all keep our neighborhoods cleaner and our shorelines open to enjoy.”
Become a steward
Since that first bin went up in her yard, more than 100 bins have been installed throughout the greater West Seattle area. As Kothe expected, the Poogooder community is thriving.
For West Seattleites, becoming a steward for a bin is easy. The containers are provided free of charge – delivered by Kothe and her now teenage son. They are clearly labeled, including a QR code to access more project information and donate. Stewards place the bin in their yard or parking strip, monitor them, and empty the bin when needed.
Those who want to help but can’t host a bin can become “big buddies” and care for one of the bins in public parks around West Seattle or assist a steward with their bin. As Kothe puts it, “You don’t have to be a steward to be part of the solution; you just have to be willing to step up so no one has to step in it.”
If your family lives outside of West Seattle, stay tuned. Kothe is working on securing funding to allow Poogooder to spread beyond West Seattle.
For now, however, her advice is to start where you are, how you can: always bring an extra bag on your walks.
“Before you get mad when you see dog poo on the ground, consider what the solution can be and what you can do,” she says. “We are all in this together to make a difference.”
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