It’s a dirty topic, but someone has to write about it.

That’s right — I’m going to discuss pet waste and its effect on the environment. Many of you may think pet poo is a natural fertilizer, like compost. If it was that simple, we could leave it at that, but it’s not.

Just last week, I was at a community park helping with a field trip when we came up to a “pet waste removal” station, complete with free disposable bags and an explanation on how to use them. At that moment, a young man walked past it, his dog squatted, did its business and the young man kept walking. The children just stared at me, wondering why he disregarded the park ordinance to pick up pet waste.

It would have been the courteous thing to do, but the need for picking up pet waste goes deeper than courtesy and following rules. “Pet waste contains bacteria that can run off your lawn and contaminate our streams, lakes and bays,” states the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “Managing pet waste keeps our watersheds safer.”

We don’t always think about the extenuating circumstances of pet waste on our local environment, but it has become an area that governmental studies are showing can contribute to the growing concerns over water quality and ways the public can exercise responsibility.

An article by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states, “When pet waste is improperly disposed of, it can be picked up by stormwater runoff and washed into storm drains or nearby waterbodies. Since storm drains do not always connect to treatment facilities, untreated animal feces often end up in lakes and streams, causing significant water pollution.”

The EPA research also explained, “Decaying pet waste consumes oxygen and sometimes releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life. Pet waste carries bacteria, viruses and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife. Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth.”

City ordinances can be posted and fines can even be assessed for not observing them, but the best way to take care of this problem is for pet owners to be personally accountable for their pets’ waste. It’s more than just being good residents and neighbors; it’s the right thing to do.

Darla Menking is a certified Bell County Texas Master Gardener and a Texas Master Naturalist. Email her at

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