My boyfriend had argued for a rottweiler. I lobbied for something that weighed a more manageable 30 pounds and didn’t look like it snacked on children. (Rotties can be very sweet, I know, but I also wasn’t into the uncontrollable drooling.) We compromised and found an adorable, 45-pound mutt at a local shelter. Honey has a yellow lab body with a pit bull head that looks like it was screwed on by a mad scientist. Actually, she is totally adorable and not at all mutant-like. Though nowhere near the scale of a rottweiler’s, Honey’s "business" is still considerable and, needless to say, unavoidable.
I started getting the newspaper delivered around the same time we got Honey, and because our paperboy insisted on double bagging on even the driest of days, our porch was overrun with yellow plastic sleeves. After a few weeks of grabbing one from the growing pile and using it as a pooper-scooper, I returned home, sunk the knotted-up bag of dog waste in the trash can and felt overwhelmingly guilty.
I was taking a natural product that would eventually degrade on its own and encasing it in plastic. In an airless landfill, my dog’s waste will outlive her. (Hell, it’s gonna outlive me.)
I wish I could get all renegade and tell people to leave the poop where it lies, but a) this isn’t Paris, b) that will make people hate you and hate all dog owners by extension, and c) dog poop is actually really dangerous. Dogs carry E. coli, salmonella, and giardia, among other nasties, so when you just leave the poop there to rot, the rain can wash it into rivers, streams, and oceans (beaches have been closed across the country due to contaminated water caused, in part, by dog doo). So, my moral quandary became: Do I doom it to a landfill or directly contribute to unsafe swimming conditions? My choice was neither, and that’s how I ended up as the crazy lady who composts dog poop.
Turns out there are a few commercial composters out there, like the Doggie Dooley, but since I feel my $89.95 could be better spent on squeaky toys and liver treats, I decided to make one myself for less than ten bucks. All of the credit goes to Sharon Slack, head gardener of City Farmer at Vancouver’s Compost Demonstration Garden. She’s been doing this for more than twenty years on her own, so I called her up and shamelessly mined her for wisdom after poring over the slide-show instructions on the City Farmer website.
Sharon tells me to pick an area with porous soil that doesn’t have a high water table and is at least fifteen feet from my garden, due to the aforementioned contamination issues. Since my basement threatens to flood every time there’s a chance of thunderstorms, I assume I’m okay on the water table front. (And I realize I’m lucky enough to actually have a backyard, unlike some of my apartment-dwelling friends, who refer to their fire escapes as the “lanai,” à la The Golden Girls, to make themselves feel better about their lack of outdoor space.)
1. I choose a flat patch behind the garage, then grab an old, plastic garbage can, cut out the bottom, and drill drainage holes in the sides. While I do that, I try to convince my boyfriend to dig a can-sized hole, but he refuses, saying, “this is your project.”
2. After I’m done digging the hole, I sink the can into it, the top just above ground-level, and add rocks to the bottom for drainage.
3. At last, it’s time to throw in the doodie I’ve stored in 100 percent biodegradable BioBags (get ’em on the company's website; there are other bags out there that are sold as biodegradable but aren’t).
4. I add in a can of septic starter I bought at a hardware store, then enough water to soak the whole mess. I stick a lid on the thing and ignore it unless I’m depositing a BioBag, an armful of grass clippings, or more septic starter to keep breaking down the mess.
In time, Sharon tells me, I should have a nice, rich soil to spread on my non-edibles (go figure—bacteria-laced compost should be limited to decorative plants since it’s not so great for your veggie patch). The whole thing took me less than an hour, which I suspect will make it among the fastest and easiest eco-friendly changes I’ll ever test-drive. What’s the hard part? Teaching Honey to poop directly into the composter.
Story by Annemarie Conte. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in December 2007.