In the winter months, most gardeners don’t spend much time in their garden. When there is a nice day, they wrap up warmly and venture out to do a few tasks, but few of them will spend much time outdoors. However, we dog owning gardeners have to be out in our garden come rain come sun, tidying up after our dogs. We are the lucky ones. We walk around the garden, looking carefully around and picking up what we need to, and as we do this, we get to see all the young plants poking their heads through the ground to great another new year. We watch first the leaves coming and then the buds swelling and starting to open. We get to see the green shoots appearing from old wood, no longer do plants look old and tired – the rebirth of the garden is upon us. Not for us the sudden surprise that the daffodils, hellebores, snowdrops or other much loved spring plants have arrived – we get to dream of the future, watching each day as plants mature and finally savour the moment when that bud bursts open and shows us its beautiful face in all its glory. We get more time to enjoy the beauty of those flowers too, as we don’t miss that very first day when they open their heads to the world.
So, we wander around our garden, covering every square inch picking up what the dogs have left for us. Once you have picked it up, what do you do with it? From talking to dog owners, many appear to make use of the sewerage system, however whilst this is not illegal, it does not appear to be what the water companies recommend.
The water companies and local authorities in UK appear to have a very consistent message. A quick search of local council websites shows that they have all got virtually identical wording which is mainly focused on fouling in public places. We all have poop scoops and are used to bagging and binning when we are away from home. This would appear to be the official recommendation at home too, not only from local councils, but also the water companies that I contacted. Whilst it is probably best to check with your own council, it would appear that it is acceptable with them just to place it in your dustbin. The big problem with doing this occurs during those lovely hot summer days that we hope we will get. The last thing any of us want to do is to create a health hazard, so what are the other options?
An alternative the councils also suggest is burying. Being a multiple dog owning gardener though, my gut feeling is that this would not to be a good idea. The volume of material produced would just be too great and you can bet your bottom dollar that I would want to plant something in exactly the same place as I had buried something before it had a chance to rot down sufficiently to not be noticeable. Somehow, I don’t think plants would survive for too long if they had to share their planting hole with unrotted canine waste. This method cannot be safe as the pathogens that live in the waste would not be destroyed.
Another option which is a step on from burying is to use a dog loo. These are green plastic containers comprising a large unit with drainage slots which fits onto the top of a small bucket. They are closed using twist-lock lid to keep the dog waste safe from children and pets. You buy a bioactivator which, when added to the dog loo weekly breaks down dog waste and flushes it, so it is claimed, safely into the surrounding rocks and soil. I have tried these, but have never been totally happy with the results, maybe I just have too many dogs.
So, is there another option? Simply burying the problem doesn’t feel right, be it in one’s own garden or by adding to the already huge mountains of landfill in this country. Well, how about composting? After all, many of us go out and buy composted chicken or cow manure purely to improve the soil condition in our gardens. Conventional wisdom has always been that canine waste is not suitable for composting due to the high protein content caused by the fact that dogs eat meat. Well, maybe the change in diet to complete foods may be our saviour here, or maybe we just haven’t bothered to research the issue properly.
In 1991, the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community started a study into the possibility of composting canine waste. The goal of the study was to develop easy yet effective dog waste composting practices that reliably destroy pathogens found in some dog faeces. The study found that it usually requires 10-20 dogs to get enough volume of waste to compost effectively. For fewer dogs they recommend adding grass clippings to increase the volume of compost and provide enough insulation to achieve temperatures above 145 degrees F. at the center of the pile. This temperature is necessary to ensure that pathogens in the waste are destroyed. The composting methods used in the study are very similar to those that most gardeners will already be used to. Full details of how to compost your canine waste, based on the Alaskan study, may be found at US Dept of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Alaska is not the only part of the world where composting has been tried. Bill Crozier, a Welsh Springer owning medical microbiologist from Australia has around twenty dogs and has successfully been composting his canine waste for some years now. The city of Ottawa, Canada is also considering composting to resolve their canine waste problems.
Taking a very different tack, San Francisco is looking at an alternative solution of turning canine waste into methane which would be trapped and burned to power a turbine to make electricity or to heat homes. This is obviously a much larger project than could be tackled by an individual dog owner, but what starts in California often tends to come our way eventually.
There are therefore a number of alternative methods of dealing with your canine waste, some of which can allow them to actually contribute to the success of your garden. Next time you are wandering around your garden, tidying up after your dogs; thank them for the opportunities that they provide you with to enjoy and embellish the wonders of the plant world.