That first ride on a new bike. It embodies new car smell while making you feel as giddy as a six-year-old on Christmas morning. The sun was shining, the dirt was heroic, and I was out with my favorite riding buddy. And then, less than 30 feet into the trail – and still within view of both a bag dispenser and a garbage bin – I rolled through a steaming pile of dog shit.
The joy of my inaugural ride was temporarily suspended as I balanced my bike with one hand while using available sticks and leaves to remove the offensive material that was quickly fusing with the rubber of my tire. Eventually, when my boyfriend couldn't handle the pathetic scene any longer, he took my bike and gave it what can only be described as an aggressive dirt bath while I dug alcohol wipes out of my first aid kit to disinfect my hands.
Now, this rant must be prefaced with that fact that I am a dog lover. I'm not a dog owner for a variety of reasons that include accommodation restrictions and lifestyle, but I volunteer with rescue organizations and spoil the fur children of family, friends, and neighbours. And I love seeing dogs out and about on our trails. I take no issue with dogs, however, dogs aren’t responsible for their actions, their careless owners are.
I get it, I do. Picking up dog feces is gross, especially when it's warm. It smells bad and mushes tangibly in your hand through the bag. And you have to carry that bag around with you for your whole walk or ride. Yep, pretty icky. But you know what else is gross? Accidentally ingesting someone else's dog shit... or really, ingesting your own dog's shit is equally as gross, but in that case can be karmic. When you have a baby you are automatically signed up for years of changing diapers, so why wouldn't that level of fecal responsibility extend to everyone in your charge? It does. Sometimes, however, people think they are special and common decency and basic science don’t apply to them. From the amount of festering fecal matter out there, it’s safe to say too many people feel this way. So many, in fact, that the sheer volume of un-scooped dog shit available for your viewing should tip you off that you're not the only one breaking the rules.
The thing that really has my goat got is that there I am left dealing with a health risk because of someone else's laziness. They are comfortably back home now, hanging out and enjoying the devotion of man's best friend while I'm left trying to de-feces my tyre tread so that my bike and body don't become the canvas for a Jackson Pollack poop painting. Instead of feeling the wind in my hair, I’m thinking about the fact that an estimated 652 million fecal coliforms are contained in a single ounce of dog waste.
Dog feces is a common carrier for diseases like Whipworm, Hookworms, Roundworms, Tapeworms, Parvo, Corona, Giardiasis, Salmonellosis, Cryptosporidiosis, and Campylobacteriosis. These diseases can easily be transferred to other dogs but are also zoonotic (meaning they can be transferred to humans). Some transfer through the skin, but according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), most transfer through the traditional fecal-oral route. Ah, the old 'fecal-oral route.'
Now, a couple of examples of why I'm horrified that your dog's shit is clinging to my rubber: Cryptosporidiosis is a parasite that is protected by an outer shell which allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time. This outer shell also makes it resistant to chlorine-based disinfectants. While this little guy is just looking for a host body to keep it warm, it will cause stomach cramps and pain, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever, and weight loss in the process. Whipworms are another fun one. After reaching your small intestine the eggs hatch and release larvae. Once mature, the adult worms live in the large intestine where the females continue to shed between 3,000 and 20,000 eggs per day. While they live and breed in your body, you will experience bloody diarrhea, painful and frequent defecation, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and – my personal favorite –fecal incontinence (the inability to control defecation).
While the CDC warns against touching dog poop and then putting your hands or fingers near your mouth, they fail to say anything about feces flying directly into your mouth as your ride through it.
For all of the do-gooders who excuse your poop-abandoning tendencies by believing 'it's really just fertilizer' or 'it'll just get washed away,' sorry, but you're still a dick. The fact is that infected dog poop can contaminate the soil it is left on for years and anyone coming in contact with that soil orally or – even just walking through it barefoot – runs the risk of contracting diseases.
There was a time when no one scooped, but as our population grew and became denser, so did the abundance of dog shit. The EPA estimates that two to three days' worth of un-scooped poop from a population of 100 dogs would contribute enough bacteria to temporarily close a bay, and all watershed areas within 20 miles of it, to swimming and shellfish harvesting. For reference, according to a 2006 federal census, the city of Vancouver had an estimate 145,500 dogs. That's enough dog poop to cause a serious health risk 1,455 times over - and that was twelve years ago.
Now, for those of you who package up your dog's feces in those cute biodegradable dog poop baggies and then abandon them trailside or toss them into the forest – I often see flightless plastic turd birds hanging from low tree branches – you are just as guilty. Sure, your dog's shit isn't going to have the same direct farm-to-table-esque route into my mouth, but you are really just delaying the inevitable. Those baggies take three to six months to break down while the contaminants in the poo remain alive and well, and able to contaminate our water sources and soil for years to come. In fact, the EPA has labelled dog waste as a pollutant, placing it in the same category as oil, grease, herbicides, insecticides, and other toxic chemicals. Now imagine the next time you're changing the oil in your truck, you simply bag it and leave it in the forest as a means of disposal. And if the poop issue wasn’t bad enough, while these baggies break down enough to leak waste into the soil, they don't simply dissolve away. The small pieces of plastic that they leave that are ingested by wildlife. This is littering. You are littering.
My turd-covered tread was the final feces on the camel's back. It would be much easier to blame other user groups – trail runners or hikers – for these problems, but unfortunately, we are just as much at fault. Lately, I've witnessed a rise in irresponsible dog owners on the mountain bike trails. Owners who allow their dogs to wander aimlessly on the trails, hang out under drops, and lay on landings of jumps pose a very serious risk to other riders. You may know that your dog is going to move out of the way at the last minute, but no one else does. If you’re stopped on the trail, keep your dog off the trail. If you are riding with your dog, keep it with you. Another concern is riders who refuse to leash their dogs in known bear territories – even when signage is obvious and free leashes are made available. What do you think will happen to that bear when it becomes comfortable around barking dogs and starts searching for food closer to residential neighbourhoods? Or what do you think will happen to your dog if it gets between a mom and cubs? The ignorance in these cases, which seem to be plentiful, is staggering.
As mountain biking continues to grow we need to step up our personal responsibility when using shared resources. You’re not special. Your dog isn’t special. We are all in this together. Just like other aspects of trail etiquette that allow us to exist happily together out there, you have to take responsibility for your actions – and those of your dog. We all benefit greatly from the growth of our sport and a world full of canine friends, but with these positives will continue to come new challenges, and regrettable new Google searches: Can dog poop cause pink eye?