Once you've adopted a furry little friend, it doesn't take long to hit you that pet ownership comes with a smelly job:
Dealing with the poop.
Pinellas County has 185,000 dogs. And if each dog produces the typical 1/3 to 3/4 pound of poo each day, that's up to 69 tons of the stinky stuff per day in Pinellas County alone.
Cat owners aren't off the hook either. Each year more then 8 billion pounds of cat litter are sent to landfills in the United States. And that litter is made from clay that is strip mined. Add in the trucking and shipping involved, and your kitty has a pretty large carbon pawprint.
The business of pets doing their business has created a market for everything from doo-doo pickup services (this is National Pooper Scooper Week, in case you didn't mark your calendar) to potty training your cat.
Surveys have generally found that about 40 percent of dog owners don't pick up after their pets, which means some 28 tons of raw pet sewage washes into Tampa Bay every day.
The Tampa Bay Estuary Program has launched a campaign called Pooches for the Planet to make pet owners realize that dog dung isn't fertilizer — it's an environmental hazard that needs to be tossed.
"A lot of people do think pet poop is good for the environment. They don't see it as different than fish and raccoon waste," said Nanette O'Hara, spokeswoman for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. "But the natural system is pretty much adjusted to balance natural sources of waste. This is a very large source in very concentrated areas."
Indeed, poo is serious business. Here are three ways to combat the stinky menace.
Solution No. 1: Flush it away
It wasn't really the environmental hazard that prompted Tampa entrepreneur Chris Mercer, 32, to came up with flushable doodie bags called Flush Puppies.
He was living in an apartment where the trash bin was so far away, dog cleanup was an especially tough chore.
That's when he heard about bags made of polyvinyl alcohol, which feel like plastic but quickly dissolve in water. Hospitals toss bed sheets in them and then throw the whole bag in the washer.
Mercer figures you might as well use the sewage treatment plants for Fido.
"I was coming at it from a convenience standpoint, but the more I learned about it, the more I'm told how environmentally friendly this is," he says. "But I admit it wasn't my intention."
The bags are available at local pet stores and online for $3.99 for 15 bags at flushpuppies.com
Solution No. 2: Hire a pickup service
O'Hara agrees that the sewer system is the best place for pet waste, but her first hurtle is just convincing people to pick it up.
Since most of the trash in Tampa Bay is incinerated, it's not a landfill issue, she said. But if it's not picked up at all, it poses a threat to the watershed, where fecal coliform bacteria can close beaches, or the nitrogen can create algae blooms that kill sea grasses, the primary food for manatees.
To keep the dog from killing manatees, some people have hired out the job of picking up the bum nuggets.
About a half dozen pet waste cleanup companies in Tampa Bay will come to your home and scoop the poop from your yard for $10 to $15 a week, depending on how many dogs you have and the size of your property. Among them are Yard Guards on Doody (yardguardsondoody.com), which covers Hillsborough, Pinellas and southern Pasco counties; Blue Diamond Pet Waste Clean-Up Service (poopguy.com); and the Pet Butler (petbutler.com), which has several franchises in Tampa Bay.
Cheresee Rehart, owner of the Riverview-based Yard Guards on Dooty, has about 110 clients a week and collects about a ton a month. "People laugh, but it's a good business," she says. "It never stops coming, that's for sure."
Matt "Red" Boswell, founder of the Dallas-based Pet Butler, has 101 franchises across the country and likes to boast that he's "No. 1 in the No. 2 business."
With pet ownership at all-time high, including some 75 million dogs in the United States, Boswell said busy people fuel his business.
"There's also the flat-out disgust factor," Boswell said. "It's like this: Back in the '50s, nobody hired somebody else to mow their own lawn. But now it's common. So people who don't have the time to clean up their yard hire us."
Solution No. 3: Toilet train your cat
Cat owners can choose a greener option with the $29 CitiKitty Cat Toilet Training Kit, available online at itikitty.com. This cat potty trainer uses a shallow plastic pan that fits in the toilet seat. Fill it with litter, and each week, remove one of the inner rings, gradually reducing the overall coverage and amount of litter. The company claims you can train a cat in five to six weeks and be done with a litter box.
No word on teaching them to flush, however.