Steve Ouellette

Steve Ouellette

It’s a rite of spring, and not the kind that we wistfully dream of during the long winter months. Not the first sighting of a robin, the first crack of a baseball bat, the first ceremonial burgers cooked on the grill.

When the snow and ice finally melt, dog owners around the region slip on their waders and biohazard suits and venture forth into their backyards with bags, buckets and shovels.

Ah, the cleaning and disinfection of a property despoiled by months of, “It’s too cold and snowy to walk the dog; just let him out back.”

It’s not pretty work — there are companies sprouting up across the country whose sole business is cleaning up your dog’s backyard poop — but it’s necessary, because we can’t afford to keep buying new shoes.

Few things ruin a day like a sole full of canine excrement. Which brings me to my actual point.

If you’re kind-hearted enough to care for a dog, to feed him, walk him and bring him to the park to frolic, how can you not care enough to keep dog feces away from the hands, shoes and mouths of small children?

Come on people, it’s just common human courtesy. If you don’t want to clean up your own yard, turning your private property into a giant pool of fetid slop, well I suppose that’s your business (and that of anyone downwind).

If your dog wants to leave mementos on my lawn, and on my sidewalk and in the park where my kids play, that’s another issue. That’s one small step, on the evolutionary scale, from monkeys throwing feces at each other.

Would you toss your baby’s dirty diaper in the neighbor’s shrubs? Would you dump your trash on my lawn? Would you use a public toilet without flushing (just got back from the movie theater; apparently you would)?

Many local communities have laws about cleaning up after pets. Admittedly, these laws are largely toothless and rarely enforced, but their existence makes failing to pick up your dog’s poop not just discourteous and disgusting, but illegal.

Currently, there are public parks and baseball fields across the area laced with land mines. I went to one with poop behind second base, three piles in left field, and an example of canine diarrhea in the right field power alley.

Sure, it’s a bit odd to see a more evolved being (us) following behind a simple dog and cleaning up his business, but it’s not really that difficult.

Many won’t do it, however. I can see you, pretending not to notice your dog defecating, while you “check your email” on your phone. Or worse, miming that you’re picking up the poop — in case someone’s watching from a nearby window — but leaving everything behind.

I know of one family that sweeps all their puppy refuse into the gutters and lets it wash into the storm drains, where it floats into — I don’t know. Lake Champlain, where it can contaminate beaches and kill marine life? The city water system?

In addition to being disgusting on your shoes, dog feces is actually harmful. One gram of the stuff contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, along with, potentially, giardia, salmonella, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms and roundworms. The EPA considers it as toxic as oil and chemical spills. Three days worth of poop from 100 dogs has enough bacteria to shut down 20 miles of a bay for swimming and shellfishing.

Don’t rationalize that little Fido is fertilizing your neighbor’s lawn, either. Dog poop doesn’t fertilize, it kills lawns. If you want your pet to fertilize a lawn, get a cow. You also get free dairy and, when your pet is hit while chasing a car, burgers.

A single dog, depending on size and eating habits, can produce more than 250 pounds of waste a year. An estimated 10.6 million tons of dog doo is produced by American canines each year.

Having once had a toddler put a finger full of public park poop in his mouth — and spending the rest of the day at the emergency room — I find the substance’s easy availability disturbing.

I plead with the rest of my fellow dog owners. Clean up after your pet. I don’t care how you do it — use a pooper scooper, train him to use the toilet, put him in doggy diapers. Whatever.

If you can’t handle it, just get yourself a cat instead.

As a dog lover, that’s the most hurtful suggestion I can utter.

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