Invasion of the poop troopers: Scooping’s the law — but at a cost to the planet

If the curbside plantings had any say in the matter, they might ask Bowser and her master to ignore the warning and fertilize freely.

Jed Horne

If the curbside plantings had any say in the matter, they might ask Bowser and her master to ignore the warning and fertilize freely.

As a young boy in 1970s New Orleans, playing football on the neutral ground or rolling down the original Monkey Hill in Audubon Park, or maybe just walking along the sidewalk, I learned a valuable life lesson:

Shit happens.

And when it happened, here’s what you did. You called a timeout and wiped off the ball, or you took a stick and scraped your sneakers clean of Rover’s sidewalk souvenirs. (Every now and then one of us — Sherman usually — would make a quick game of chase out of it, pick up the dog crap and fake like he’s going to throw it on someone. We’d scatter pretty quickly, but not for long.

To us growing up, it was just dog shit, plain and simple, something to avoid but a part of nature, a part of life.

No more.

A decade or so ago, around the time we bought a little Pekingese puppy, I began noticing the birth of an increasingly powerful movement that I’m still trying to wrap my head around: the pooper troopers.

I’d feel their cold stares as I walked my dog. Somehow, while my head was turned, they had infiltrated the social and cultural consciousness of America. Under their watchful eyes and the movement’s fluttering banner (a plastic grocery bag), it had become politically incorrect, anti-social, downright disgusting, filthy and even criminal not to scoop your mutt’s poop.

I gave the matter deep thought. What is the purpose, I asked myself.

As a kid I could not have imagined walking behind Bowser and scooping up his poop. Talk about some crazy shit! But just take a look around. The troopers are everywhere: in the park, along the city’s sidewalks, trailing their doggies with plastic bags at the ready.

I consider myself to be somewhat environmentally conscious.  I recycle as much as possible; I don’t litter; I conserve water; I compost bio-degradable garbage and waste.  I even raise my own chickens for eggs and the occasional roaster.  I try to limit leisure driving out of concern for carbon pollution’s role in global warming. But I still haven’t heard a good answer to a question that has haunted me for years:

What sense does it make to scoop up dog shit that will biodegrade into dust in a few days, place it into a non-biodegradable plastic bag destined to last for hundreds of  years and send it off to a landfill?

I was sitting in the park one day a while back when a young man, mid-twenties or so, was led by his dog near to the bench where I had settled. The dog puttered around, nose to the ground, obviously trying to find a proper place to do his duty. He found it, on a cluster of dead oak leaves three or four yards to my left.

The dog had barely dropped his load when, in a flash, barely the blink of an eye, the young man had swooped in like a hawk. If I had not seen the shit touch the ground with my own eyes, I might have thought he had caught it in mid-air, like a catcher scooping a low pitch into his mitt before it hits home plate.

Here was my chance to ask a dedicated expert for an answer to the question that had bothered me for so long, the one about putting dog shit in plastic bags and sending them off to a landfill.

The young man didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he gave me a look like … what kind of dumb question is that?  After a few seconds passed, he politely answered. “Well … I don’t know … um … it’s for the health and safety of my dog and other dogs and bad for the environment.”

“Really?”  I asked.

“Yeah, and so no one will step in it,” he replied.

I ended on a philosophical note: “Sometimes in life you will step in some shit and when you do, wipe it off and keep going.  You know that’s life; shit happens!”

To which he replied: “Yeah, makes sense.”

As he walked away, he stooped to scoop a second pile his dog had deposited as we were talking.

One day last winter, I was parking my car at the curb in front of my home just as two young ladies walked by with their dog, a good-sized German shepherd.  As I exited the car and walked toward my gate, the dog began to answer nature’s call on the grass next to my gate.

The young lady holding the leash went into a full panic. Yanking on the leash, she yelled the dog’s name, commanding him to stop. Then, with more yanks on the dog’s leash, she shouted apologies to me: “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” The big dog remained unpersuaded that he should — or could — do much about his present predicament. He remained in his crouch looking up at us balefully, as though to say: “Is there a problem?”

A proper pooper trooper, the apologetic young woman whipped out the plastic baggie she carried in her coat pocket and swooped in to pick up her dog’s droppings.

I intervened: ”Leave it be, let it stay there,” I said.

She shot me a look that mixed confusion and disbelief. “What?!”

“Leave it there, don’t worry about it, don’t trouble yourself.” I said. Then I asked the question that had gnawed at me for years: What sense does it make to pick up naturally biodegradable dog shit that will turn to dust in a few days, put it in a non-biodegradable plastic bag and send it to a landfill?

She had a good answer: “I don’t want you to step in it or get mad at me.  Sometimes people get real mean if he poops on the grass in front of their house.”

“Well, I appreciate that but I’m not one of them,” I said. “If I happen to step in it, I know how to wipe it off. No worries, no stress, my friend!”

With a word of thanks, she yielded to my suggestion. Three days later, the dog’s contribution to the nourishment of my yard had disappeared from view. My grass was only more vividly green.

My interest in the topic remained keen. My question still needed an answer.  This was a job for the Internet.

I used various search terms: “Pros and cons of picking up dog poop;” “environmental hazards of dog poop;” “benefits of picking up dog poop.”

To my surprise I got hundreds of hits: articles, web sites, businesses, blogs and services dedicated to dog shit.  “What to Do with Poo:  The Art and Science of Dog Poop,” proved informative. Several web articles listed “Top 10 Reasons To Scoop Your Dog Poop,” of which three reasons were cited almost universally:  1. It’s the law!  2. Dog poop is unsightly; and  3. No one likes to step in pet waste and spread it into homes, cars and businesses.

The other reasons varied widely. One list included this dire warning: “Roundworms and hookworms deposited by infected animals can live in the soil for long periods of time and be transmitted to other animals and humans.” Another cautioned that “leaving dog poop encourages other dogs to mark that spot by urinating over the previous dog’s scent.” I also learned that “dog poop pollutes the water.” But, not to worry. As one Top 10 list saw fit to remind us all:  “It’s easy to clean up by carrying plastic baggies and paper towels in your pocket. The baggies can be secured and thrown away in the garbage.”

For those deeply committed to the fine points of dog shit-less world, there were articles and websites offering insights on “picking up dog poop while pregnant” and “how to pick up dog poop in the snow.” Cesar Millan the Dog Whisperer, provided “Three ways to solve the dog poop problem.” Auggiedog flogged an Automatic Pooper Scooper, “a new powered stool tool for picking up dog waste. We took the stoop out of the scoop — just pull the trigger and Auggiedog will deliver!”

And if Auggiedog fails to deliver, leaving behind unmentionable evidence, there’s the DNA profiling of dog feces, a CSI-style tactic used to catch “criminal dogs” and their owners who don’t scoop. A company called PooPrints sells a test kit that’s used to gather errant fecal matter, which PooPrints then checks against its registry using parent company BioPet Vet Lab, a biotech outfit in Knoxville, Tenn. (PooPrints also provides owners with an oral swab for submission to a global pet registry.)

For those who won’t or can’t clean up after their dogs, it’s good to know there are a lot of people who will do it for you: “Louisiana Pooper Scooper, The Poop Butler,” for one.  And for the entrepreneur, there is a “Small Business Idea – Poop Waste Removal” website to help you get started squeezing dollars out of doo-doo.

Along with quirky ideas, I also found fellow travelers, folks who shared my sense of alienation from the pooper troopers and all they stand for. In a 2002 screed entitled “I DON’T PICK UP MY DOG’S POOP,” an anonymous author claimed to be a responsible, tax-paying citizen who found it absurd to get all worked up over a few turds in the grass.

Warnings about epidemic parasites and mass contamination of the water supply are not supported by science, the author contended. Commentary following the article ranged from vicious to disdainful, and acts of vengeance by those who sided with the pooper troopers verged on lunacy: throwing shit on neighbors or their cars, leaving it on their porches, poisoning their dogs. Indeed, people have been injured and even killed by partisans outraged over a failure to scoop poop.

In September 2011, The Gazette, a Montreal daily, reported that a 27-year-old woman was stabbed to death while walking her dog.  Charged in her murder was the 50-year-old companion of the janitor at the building where the incident took place.  Seems the janitor and the victim had had a bit of a feud going over her lax attitude toward poop scooping.

O, Canada!

As a kid growing up I would take Butch, our shepherd mutt, for walks through the neighborhood and on the neutral ground.  I did not pay much mind to where he dropped his load, unless it was on the grass immediately in front of someone’s house.  And we kept him from soiling the part of the neutral ground where we played football. That common-sense approach was reinforced by a big sign at the entrance to our neighborhood park, banning dogs altogether. Parks were for kids to play in, not for dogs to shit in.

Now, all over New Orleans, the powers that be are closing neighborhood parks to children and turning them into dog parks. What’s more important, a safe place for children to play or a spot for dogs to relieve themselves? (Just asking.)

Common courtesy meant that we took Shep to a place where very few people walked and none of us played, or he just shat in our yard. No one ever went out to pick it up, and as far as I know, no one in my family — or anywhere else in the neighborhood, for that matter — ever got sick from dog shit. Not saying that it can’t happen, but the folly of larding landfills with non-degradable plastic bags full of dog shit is certifiably unhealthy for the planet.

Here’s the alternative, the lesson I’ve extracted from my many years pondering the pooper troopers: When shit happens, just wipe off your shoes and keep on walking.

Eugene Thomas is a self-employed real estate broker, an attorney, a Sunday night DJ on WWOZ and an ordained Babalawo priest in the Ifa tradition of the Yoruba people.

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  • Vince’s Toupee

    A man after my own heart! I keep a bag on me only in case I get busted (although I do strive for neutral ground and vacant lots, if at all possible). I’m the world’s worst neighbor. But, like you, I could not care less if some other dog poops in my yard.

  • Owen Courrèges

    A few days? It takes much longer than that for dog poop to disappear most of the time, as long as a year. And stepping in dog poop is more than just a matter of shrugging and wiping it off — you’re likely to have tracked it around a bit before you notice. Finally, there are biodegradable poop bags for the environmentally-conscious, or you can just reuse grocery bags.

  • Ahhh, the troubling choice every dog owner faces: Option A) Being a selfish, inconsiderate jerk who regularly lets their dog drop off steaming turds on their neighbors’ property; or, Option B) Embarking on a self-appointed crusade to try save Mother Earth by steadfastly refusing to use plastic bags to pick up their dog’s poop. I feel for you man…

    …Oh wait, those aren’t the only two options. For example:

    1) Buy biodegradable plastic poop bags – there are 147 options on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_3?url=search-alias%3Dpets&field-keywords=biodegradable%20poop%20bags&sprefix=bio%2Cpets%2C261)

    2) Use two paper bags – or hell, a couple sheets of old newspaper instead.

    3) Get one of those hand-held pooper scoopers and haul your dog’s feces back to your compost pile at your house.

    Voila. Conundrum solved.

    P.S.: If you guys at The Lens have any other folks who want to mask their laziness with faux idealism, feel free to send them my way! ;^)

  • nickelndime

    Generally speaking, people are more dangerous than dogs. I don’t have the exact figures in front of me (and somebody will probably find an opposing statistic), but I think it may be safe to say that humans kill more of themselves than any other species does the “likewise” on them (done ’em in). Recently, I saw a headline that says there are some dogs that are “smarter” than humans. That is highly believable – especially in Louisiana. Human child playgrounds (parks) should be closed. Human parks have become havens for crime. If the dogs are there (with their caretakers), most robbers will not go into dog parks. I don’t have dogs anymore. They all lived very long dog lives, and then I got my ASP (that’s my pet snake ASP). My ASP causes other problems. ASP has some relatives who like small dogs and other mammals. LMAspO! 01/29/2015 9:26 PM

  • Gaston

    Eugene Thomas’s very poorly written piece is nothing more than glib rationalization for not availing himself to common courtesy and civic pride. Remnants of food, paper cups and wrappers, cigarette packs, orange and banana peels are also oft-encountered biodegradables in our streets and parks to which his logic for justifying littering can apply. Visitors to New Orleans are frequently struck by how dirty many parts of the city are and struck further still by the indifferent attitude about the dirtiness among many of our citizens.

  • nickelndime

    New Orleans may be dirty on the ground, but no one will be able to say that the air is dirty in bars, restaurants, and casinos. At least not after Mitch signs what the New Orleans City Council did under the “direction” (my ASP is gASPing because he is laughing so hard) of L. Cantrell. In addition to the smokers (vapors too), the homeless, in particular, would like to meet this ONE who has so much disdain for them. Which reminds me of the Biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus, but in Cantrell’s case, she actually did something, so you can’t call it an act of omission.

  • nickelndime

    I heard there are plans to remake the old Cagney 1933 movie, THE MAYOR OF HELL. Guess who is playing the lead. 01/30/2015 10:11 AM

  • stacisimms73

    Einstein Charter School have crooks and puppets that really needs to be exposed

  • nickelndime

    You are onto something, “stacisimms73.” WHAT TO DO ! WHAT TO DO ! There are so many crooks and thieves in the charter school scene, particularly in New Orleans, it is difficult to decide which one to focus the efforts (on). I see, however, you are focused on a particular one. I predict that the poop is about to hit the fan (somewhere) and a scooper bag won’t be enough to handle it. . hahaha LMAspO! (that’s my pet snake ASP). 02/01/2015 12:22 PM

  • nickelndime

    Got it, “stacisimms73.” 02/01/2015 12:27 PM

  • maggotbrain

    Please post your address so all dog owners can either let their dog shit on your lawn, or at least bring it there after they courteously pick it up. Why even flush your own shit to the river? Shouldn’t you just shit on your lawn too? Maybe throw a cigarette butt next to the dog shit while you are at it? Why take up all that space with those little butts? Perhaps a PAPER bag would be a better choice than plastic for poop deposits, at least the I could light it on fire and ring your door bell. I’ve stepped in a lot of shit in my life, the world is full of it, now I can say just read a pile of it too. …..now if I can just scrape it off of my mind….

  • nickelndime

    Send a message. Bring your pet dogs to City Hall. Let ’em have a ball. It will bring new meaning to the old phrase, “Going to the dogs.” Wear sunglasses. Put a leash vest on your “service” dogs. 02/12/2015 1:26 PM

  • Sally Smith

    I have some answers, I wonder why the author didn’t bother to simply google. Oh, yes, and about the ‘expert’ he asked, lets just call that “literary embellishment”.


    Dog feces may contain parvovirus, whipworms, hookworms, roundworms,
    threadworms, campylobacteriosis, giardia, and coccidia. If left
    unattended, these parasites will contaminate the water, soil, and
    can even cause infection in both pets and humans (especially
    children). The microscopic Hookworm larvae can be passed to another
    pet or person directly through the skin or by accidental ingestion
    as can other bacteria.

    Humans are capable of contracting hookworms, tapeworms,
    threadworms and campylobacteriosis.

    Children are especially venerable to infection because they tend to
    enjoy playing in the dirt, where parasites such as hookworm larvae
    lay dormant waiting for a new host. Young children may also put
    dirty hands or toys in their mouth, further increasing the chance
    for infectious material consumption.

    Pet feces can be catastrophic to the local water table,
    contaminating nearby ponds, lakes, rivers and drinking water. When
    feces is allowed to remain on the soil for long periods, rainstorms
    will begin to dilute and break apart the feces and slowly spread
    the bacteria on other contaminants into local water sources. If
    your yard happens to hold water for extended periods of time, the
    problem may be amplified.

    I copied the article out here. There are many more well documented reasons why you need to pick up after your dog.

    Here is another article you could have easily googled:

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/science/2002-06-07-dog-usat.htmDogs generate disease-causing bacteria

    that can make people sick. Studies done in the last few years put dogs third or fourth on the list of contributors to bacteria in contaminated waters. “Dogs are one of our usual suspects,” says Valerie Harwood, a microbiologist at the University of South Florida. “At certain sites, we find their effect to be significant.”

    It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out that dog do is nasty. But it took science to determine how nasty it is.

    From mutt to blue-blooded champion, all dogs harbor so-called coliform bacteria, which live in the gut. The group includes E. coli, a bacterium that can cause disease, and fecal coliform bacteria, which spread through feces. Dogs also carry salmonella and giardia. Environmental officials use measurements of some of these bacteria as barometers of how much fecal matter has contaminated a body of water.

    This wouldn’t matter if pet dogs were as rare as pet chinchillas. But four in 10 U.S. households include at least one dog, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. The association’s statistics also show that Americans owned 54.6 million dogs in 1996 and 68 million dogs in 2000. Of that total, 45% were “large” dogs — 40 pounds or more.

    Those numbers add up to a lot of kibble. That wouldn’t matter if all dog owners also owned a pooper-scooper. But several studies have found that roughly 40% of Americans don’t pick up their dogs’ feces (women are more likely to do so than men).

    New analysis provides answers

    The environmental impact of dog waste went unrecognized for decades. Then scientists developed lab techniques to determine the origin of fecal bacteria contaminating water. One method is a variant of DNA fingerprinting. Another method looks at the antibiotic resistance of microbes from different species.

    Scientists caution that the methods are still new. They are able to distinguish between major and minor sources of pollution, but they can’t say with precision whether dogs contribute 20% or 30% of the pollution in a stream. “There’s inherently some error,” says Don Stoeckel, a microbiologist for the Ohio district of the U.S. Geological Survey who’s studying bacteria-tracking methods. “I think the best (they) can do is give you some evidence of the magnitude of each source

    The real biological reason I think is that the population of dogs has outstripped the land’s carrying capacity. Naturally, there should be about 5-6 dog-like animals every 5 miles. That might even be more than is healthy. Large populations carry disease endemically. That is why everyone needs to pay for heart worm medicine every month, and parvo-virus is endemic.

    There are ways to effectively compost dog feces. I’d look into it if you are as concerned as you seem to have indicated about putting the feces in a landfill. You can just google it! The internet is a great tool if you use it.

  • Sally Smith

    Yup. Irresponsible. Read the articles above. Its well documented. I hope your grandchildren don’t get salmonella.

  • nickelndime

    We don’t need bacteria from dog feces to kill marine life. Our government is doing a pretty good job at that. And when Louisiana slides into the Gulf Basin, all that other stuff that we are doing (or not doing) is going to get dispersed into the Gulf. Now, who is ready for another drainage project to begin? Let’s close down some more streets, neighborhoods, and businesses? How about more cement? How about another trolley line? How low can we go?02/25/2015 5:29 PM

  • boathead12

    I stepped on a fresh turd this week as I was headed out to a meeting. As I scraped the cr@p off my shoe I though of you Eugene.

  • nickelndime

    That is called “karma.” I predict that, given the amount of animosity that Eugene’s article stirred up, a lot of other people are going to have a similar experience like “boathead12” had recently, but not Vince. Besides, am I the only one who heard the old wives’ tale about STEPPING IN DOG $hit? It means that MONEY will arrive soon. Good Luck for BOATHEAD12. Now, that means that a bunch of other people are going to be looking around neutral grounds or those little patches of grass to step into that pile of CA$H! 02/26/2015 5:50 PM