All too often the Humane Society of Utah's Investigation Department receives calls from the public complaining about neighbors' pets and associated animal waste and odors - - either on the animal owner's property and on the caller's property. People are offended by animal owners allowing their pets to run loose to leave their 'calling cards' all over the neighbors' lawns, flower gardens, sand piles, and vegetable gardens. They are get upset when adjoining property pet(s) waste odors enter the caller's property, making use of their yards distasteful. They also don’t like to see dogs living in their own solid and liquid waste, often with no clean area available in which to lay down or exercise.
Few things are so aggravating and disgusting as to step into a pile of dog droppings left by a loose or stray animal! The odor is unbearable and the material is extremely difficult to remove from one's shoes.
Animal feces and urine are a major community animal and human health issue. This is especially true in urban areas of concentrated population. Animal waste products are a threat to children's health and cleanliness, as young children are more likely to contract diseases because they play in areas where feces have been left and then put their fingers in their mouths. Droppings attract and provide a breeding ground for flies, create feed sourced for rats, contaminate soil and water, foul sidewalks, and contaminate public parks, forest areas, and watersheds.
There are several important animal diseases which can be transmitted to humans after contact with animal waste:
- Campylobacteriosis (abdominal pain, cramps, fever, chills, and diarrhea)
- Cryptosporidiosis (watery diarrhea, headache, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever)
- Giardiasis (mild or severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, and occasional weight loss)
- Leptospirosis (fever, headache, vomiting, muscular aches, and conjunctivitis; with infrequent jaundice and meningeal irritation)
- Toxoplasmosis (a common protozoan parasite infection which can cause birth defects from contamination of pregnant women)
- Visceral larvae migrans (causes serious disease in children from one to three years of age and may cause enlargement of the liver, low-grade fever, pulmonary infiltration and chest signs. Invasion of the central nervous system can occur, and in three fatal cases, larvae were especially abundant in the brain)
Another dangerous disease is ocular larva migrans, an eye disease caused by parasitic worms found in dog droppings. Numerous children become blind or partially blind each year because most dog owners don't properly worm their pets or clean up animal feces. Young children were most at risk from the parasite as their immune systems were undeveloped and they were prone to eating dirt. Worm eggs can spread from feces into dirt and survive for months. Once the eggs hatch in a child's bowels, they settle in the brain or behind the eye. Even with treatment, blindness can result. The most common types of worms implicated in this problem are roundworms.
Pet owners are legally responsible for cleaning up after their animals to control this annoying and potentially dangerous form of pollution. In New York City, they enacted a Canine Clean-up Law in 1978. A public outcry went up over the Law's requirement that owners clean up after their pets. The Law was contested in 1979, however, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled the "scoop" law was constitutional. By 1981, at least 35 municipalities across the country were found to have enacted similar laws and ordinances, and most Utah cities and counties have such regulations.
The Salt Lake County Animal Services ordinance states that "Nuisance" means any animal or animals that unreasonably annoy humans, endanger the life or health of other animals or humans, or substantially interfere with humans', other than the owner's, enjoyment of life or property. [8.01.300] It further defines the term "public nuisance animal" as... "F. Causes fouling of the air by odors and thereby creates unreasonable annoyance or discomfort to neighbors, or others" and "H. Defecates on any public sidewalk, park or building, or on any private property without the consent of the owner of such private property, unless the handler of such animal shall have in his or her possession the instruments to clean up after his or her animal and shall remove the animal's feces to a property trash receptacle..." [8.01.300]
Stray dogs, in addition to being in violation of local leash laws and being in danger of becoming victims of auto/animal accidents themselves, cause untold amounts of lawn (nitrogen burn or dead spots) damage to neighbor's property. Some areas of damage can be large enough to require reseeding or sodding. Owners of dogs causing such damage, if identified, could be liable for the costs of such reseeding or sodding under Utah's state law: 18-1-1, "Every person owning or keeping a dog shall be liable in damages for injury committed by such dog, and it shall not be necessary in any action brought therefor to allege or prove that such dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper thereof knew that it was vicious or mischievous..." and 18-1-2, "Where any injury has been committed by two or more dogs acting together and such dogs are owned or kept by different persons, all such persons, may be joined as defendants in the same action to recover damages therefor..."
In addition to reporting straying dogs to local animal control agencies, some owners have installed motion-activated lawn sprinklers to dissuade canines and felines from visiting their lawns. Property owners annoyed by cats that utilize their children's sand boxes have built wooden-framed screen covers for these area for times when the children are not present.
The Salt Lake Valley Health Department recommends that animal owners clean up after their pets AT LEAST once a week. The frequency of such sanitation measures increases with smaller animal housing areas, such as dog runs and side yards, and with additional numbers of animals. Companion animal waste may be double-bagged in plastic and disposed of in your garbage; burial is permitted as long as a nuisance is not created (avoid burial in quantities, or locations which may impact public health.) Avoid burial in children's play areas, around drinking water wells, in septic system drain fields, etc. You may dispose of feces in the sanitary sewer, if you are served by a sewer treatment plant and if approved by the sewer utility. NEVER put pet feces into storm sewer drains or into septic systems, as animal waste pollutes our water, especially in urban areas, and particularly when it rains.
It’s only reasonable to expect pet owners to prevent their pet(s) waste products from becoming a nuisance and a health hazard. This not only improves neighbor relations, but creates a cleaner and healthier environment for animals and their owners.