August 26 is National Dog Day. In New York State, it’s the law: WHEREAS, National Dog Day honors dogs by giving them "a day" to show deep appreciation for our long connection to each other; and for their endearing patience, unquestioning loyalty, for their work, their capacity for love and their ability to impact our lives everyday in the most miraculous ways.”
Yes, dogs are wonderful. My wife has one (Jasper, in the foreground) and so does my daughter (Rosie, in the background.) They tolerate me, and the feeling is mutual. But on this National Dog Day, I have to ask: Do dogs belong in the city?
The problem is one of doggy density; as our cities grow vertically to accommodate more people, you can reach a point of peak dog, with three main effects:
There are a lot of dogs in our cities, and they make a lot of poop. According to Susan Freinkel in LiveScience, “America's 83 million pet dogs produce some 10.6 million tons of poop every year. That's enough to fill a line of tractor-trailers from Seattle to Boston”
Studies have traced 20 to 30 percent of the bacteria in water samples from urban watersheds to dog waste. Just two to three days of waste from 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorous to close 20 miles of a bay-watershed to swimming and shellfishing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It also can get into the air we breathe: a recent study of air samples in Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich. found that 10 to 50 percent of the bacteria came from dog poop.
Then there is the mess of it. In Toronto, where there are thousands of condos, many complain that the little parks have become dog toilets. People are supposed to pick up after their dogs and often do, and then leave little plastic bags of poop all over the city. Jim Yardley writes in the New York Times:
The problem is as universal as cockroaches, and seemingly as unsolvable. Urban dog ownership demands a balance of love and duty, and not everyone is dutiful about cleaning up after the morning walk. Cities have tried everything from the postal service (a Spanish mayor mailed the stuff back to dog owners) to shaming (some cities have publicized the names of offending owners) to bribery (some parks in Mexico City offered free Wi-Fi in exchange for bags of waste).
In Naples, Italy, they are so desperate that they are turning to DNA testing.
The idea is that every dog in the city will be given a blood test for DNA profiling in order to create a database of dogs and owners. When an offending pile is discovered, it will be scraped up and subjected to DNA testing. If a match is made in the database, the owner will face a fine of up to 500 euros, or about $685.
In Toronto, schools are plagued with dog droppings. As dramatically described in the Toronto Sun, “the stench of resentment has been building as parents and school staff confront neighbourhood dog owners.” One parent complains:
“The dog owners have to have some consideration for the health of the kids. I mean, (kids) are always putting their hands in their mouths ... Nobody likes to see kids get sick.”
There are laws regulating it, with fines in New York starting at $175 and rising to $525. And not just in the city, according to the more recent New York Times:
Barking dogs can be considered a nuisance. “There are dog barking laws across the state,” says Elinor D. Molbegott, an animal law lawyer in East Williston, N.Y., who served as general counsel for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “There are also noise ordinances and common law nuisance issues.”
As more people move into apartments and leave their dogs alone all day, the problem is only going to get worse.
A lot of people are afraid of dogs. I am afraid of dogs. In Toronto where I live, so many people ignore the rules and let their dogs run off-leash, and it can be frightening. Dog lovers don’t always get this; Chris Selley asks in the National Post:
What sort of joyless crank would object to the sight of a friendly, well-behaved dog off his leash in a wide-open park, or trotting down a residential street?
However good your dog might be off-leash, [dog trainer] Yeu argues, obeying the law is a matter of common courtesy. “It’s a symptom of the fact that maybe there aren’t enough off-leash spaces in the city, but regardless, that doesn’t make it OK,” he argues. “There are a lot of people who don’t like dogs, are fearful of dogs, or have allergies or medical issues related to dogs. The public shouldn’t have to tolerate that.” And clearly many don’t.
And it’s not like people have no reason to be afraid. Some scary stats:
- Dog bites occur every 75 seconds in the United States. Each day, over 1,000 citizens need emergency medical care to treat these injuries.
- In 2012, more than 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.
- Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2015, costing more than $570 million.
- A 2010 study showed that the average cost of a dog bite-related hospital stay was $18,200, about 50% higher than the average injury-related hospital stay .
Dealing with doggie density
It is a complex issue; increasing urban density is seen by many as key to reducing housing costs, getting people out of cars and building better cities for everyone. But just as cities need bike and transit infrastructure, we have to think more about dog infrastructure, dog runs and dog parks, and even dog fountains like Claude Cormier + Associés is building in Toronto. Dogs are not the only noise problem either; perhaps we need better noise standards, higher sound transmission coefficient requirements. As for the fear factor: I’m working on it, starting small.