Excremental growth: UK sniffs a pandemic puppy poo problem

It is not a problem to be sniffed at.

A year into the coronavirus crisis, local media, council newsletters, social network users and disgruntled environmental health experts across the UK are warning that the country is in the grip of a dog mess emergency – and that new puppy owners are shirking their responsibilities to clean up after their lockdown pets.

Of course, the poo problem is nothing new, and the subject has long engendered a passionate response from those who have found themselves stepping in it. But even by those standards, Facebook, Next Door and Twitter have been aflame with anecdotal evidence of an escalating issue since the pandemic began – and in the third lockdown, many suggest, matters have got out of control. You might, if you had a tolerance for bad puns, call it a poodemic – and the issue is growing excrementally.
In recent weeks, reports of pockmarked pavements, overflowing bins and a surfeit of poo bags suspended from branches that the Daily Record dubbed “the hanging gardens of jobbylon” have appeared across the country, from Ayrshire to Bolton to Canterbury.“Oh, there’s absolutely been an increase,” said Andy Coleman, who runs the dogfoul.org website (slogan: “We Watch. You Pay”). “There’s so much dog poo this year. It’s gone up and up and up.”Coleman, who has a Google alert set up for “dog poo”, said the number of reports had been consistently high recently. “There were five articles today alone,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many before.”

Coleman and others attribute the problem to a lockdown boom in dog ownership , a large number of people walking their dogs as part of their daily exercise (rather than letting them go in the garden), and overstretched councils forced to ration dog waste collection to maintain even more fundamental services.

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With an estimated 9 million dogs in the UK each producing about 340g of waste a day – or slightly more than 3,000 tonnes between them – the issue is of more than merely scatological interest. “It’s full of viruses and bacteria,” said Coleman, an ecologist. Children playing in parks are more likely to touch the ground and risk infection. “And if it’s going to landfill in these bags, they don’t degrade. There’s no obvious solution at the moment.”

Similar issues have also been reported in Australia, where a park ranger in Melbourne told The Age: “Usually, we do 90 kilos of dog poo every three days or so. Now we’re doing that every two days if not more.”The problem frequently arouses the passions of those who encounter it, as comments from Mike Hyde, a Helensburgh resident who raised the issue after it emerged that Argyll and Bute council would not be emptying dog waste bins during the pandemic, suggested. “When the bin is taped up, and the sign says that the council will no longer be emptying it, what sort of absolute bastard would think it would be OK to just leave a bag of shit on top of it?” he asked in the Helensburgh Advertiser.
In Llanelli this month, walkers complained of a sharp rise in dog fouling on the beach, with one person quoted by Wales Online reporting picking up 26 bags in a short stretch.And in Oxfordshire on Wednesday, 118 “envirocrime” complaints prompted two district councils to start mapping the issue, because “since lockdown people are much more aware of their local environment and are noticing dog mess more”, the Oxford Mail reported.There were similar complaints in Stratford, Helensburgh, north Norfolk, Lichfield and Bangor, where a local golf course published a Facebook post complaining about owners leaving “an incredible amount of dog foul on our fairways”.
Corinna Legassick at work collecting 50 bags of poo.Corinna Legassick at work collecting 50 bags of poo. Photograph: Keith Scrivener
Twitter is awash with similar grumbles. After the actor and author Stephen Mangan tweeted that he had been forced to “do-si-do around a pile of unattended dogshit bigger than my house” earlier this month, a user called @uglybugly5 replied: “I’ve seen so many dog poos since the lockdown. It’s like a shit minefield walking down my road.”

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With no end to the crisis in sight, some of those offended by the problem feel they are being forced to extreme measures. At Dartmoor’s Burrator reservoir, Devon Live reported, local resident Corinna Legassick responded to “a plague of pooch bags” left by the large numbers of walkers visiting for their sanctioned exercise by collecting dozens of the bags and taking them home.“She’s got about 50 of them,” Keith Scrivener, a retired journalist and local parish councillor, said. “They’re in a box. The plan is to take them back on a sunny day for everybody to see, and hopefully shame them.”

Scrivener, too, said the problem had increased by “outstanding proportions” over the last year “and extraordinarily so in the last few weeks and months”. The issue was discussed at a council meeting on Thursday night, he added, “but we didn’t come up with any answers … we’re strapped for cash as it is.”

All in all, and like many of those facing the same concern, he took a dim view of those visitors who failed to take the problem home with them. “I don’t know whether people think the pixies will clean up all this mess after them and their dogs,” he said. “But it’s generally silver that the fairy folk of Dartmoor collect – not dog shit.”