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Dog poo: A menace in Austin to more than just your shoe

The back of a person walking in the grass holding a scooper
Michael Minasi
Eric Allison, operations manager for Scoop Soldiers Austin, scoops poop in a client's yard in Austin last month.

Eric Allison has been working with Scoop Soldiers Austin, a dog waste disposal company, for a few years now. As the franchise’s operations manager, overseeing a fleet of 18 “pooper scoopers” across the Austin area, he’s seen some s- - - in his day.

“We have a saying: ‘Dogs poop everywhere,’” Allison said as he took a KUT reporter along for part of his route early one June morning.

In one client’s yard, Allison came across a pile of dog poop inside an elevated fire pit. He was at a loss as to how a dog accomplished that. In another yard, there was poop plopped atop a large boulder.

One thing became apparent from the ride-a-long with Allison: No place is safe from dog doo.

But dog waste is a menace to more than the bottom of your shoe. It can spread the deadly canine parvovirus to other dogs and presents a host of environmental problems when not disposed of properly.

“Animals that eat grains — chicken and stuff like that — they make good fertilizer poop,” Allison said. “Dogs, humans ... we don’t make good fertilizer poop. It’s loaded with bacteria, loaded with nitrogen. ... If you leave it in your backyard long enough, [it] will kill and burn out your grass.”

Dog poop left on the ground will decompose, but it can two months to a year, depending on its distance to water, the weather and other factors, Victoria Cann, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said.

If washed into nearby rivers or streams, dog poop can also increase algae growth by introducing more nutrients.

"It's fertilizer to them," said Brent Larsen, a supervisor with the Environmental Protection Agency's permitting and wetlands division. "It's releasing different nutrients that can feed harmful algae."

Elevated bacteria levels can make recreational waters unsuitable for swimming and make potential drinking water sources unusable.

"The pathogens, the bacteria that goes along with [the waste], that can impact the quality of the water to the point that it no longer meets the water quality requirements," Larsen said.

Other factors, like Austin's location in "Flash Flood Alley," make the area particularly susceptible to water contamination from unscooped poop.

“Where you get more frequent flash storms, you’re probably going to see [waste] move into receiving waters more easily,” Larsen said.

Waste from other animals can also be harmful if not properly disposed of. The difference with dog waste, Larsen said, is that we have greater control over it.

“I walk my great dane. I always carry a bag with the treats, a little water bowl, and the poop pickup bags," he said. "I don’t go out the door without it."

“You pick it up, and you throw it in a trash can,” he said. “It’s like any other litter problem: if you put it in the right place, it’s not a problem.”

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