What Would Happen If Every Dog Owner in NYC Stopped Scooping Poop?

A writer at statistics blog FiveThirtyEight.com ran the numbers, and now we know more about dog poop than we wanted to.


Have you ever stopped to wonder exactly what would happen if all the dog owners in New York City stopped cleaning up behind their pooches? If so, you’ve probably done it as just a momentary speculation, or as a rhetorical exaggeration because you’re pissed at someone down the street who just will. NOT. clean. up. their. dog’s. poop.

Of course, that’s because like me, you’re not a blogger at FiveThirtyEight.com, the statistics blog founded by Nate Silver. Those people take their number crunching seriously, hence this article by Walt Hickey, wherein he actually goes through and figures out what would literally happen if all the people in New York City stopped picking up dog poop. Frankly, it’s a pretty gross-looking picture. Urban dystopias like Blade Runner and Escape from New York may look pretty dire, but Hickey’s vision of a scooperless future can make even the most hardened fan of grimdark science fiction want to whimper and cry.

First of all, Hickey has to figure out just how much poop there would be. That by itself is bad enough:

After a bit of digging, I uncovered some actual scholarship: A 1999 paper from the Watershed Protection Techniques journal indicates that dogs poop about 0.32 pounds per day (I assume there’s substantial variation between breeds). Seems about right.

Multiplying the number of dogs by that poop rate gives us 96 tons dropped each day in New York City.

How much is that exactly? Repeated attempts to Google the density of dog poop went unrewarded, and while I’m typically down to conduct IRL measurements, I’m not in this case. However, given that New York has 12,750 miles of sidewalk, that comes out to a pound of dog crap for every 350 feet of sidewalk every day (if we assume they only relieve themselves on sidewalks). After a week, that’d be a pound every 50 feet.

That is a lot of dog poop. Bad enough that it represents a lot of time you’re going to have to spend scraping it off your sneakers, but it also represents a lot of bacteria and viruses circulating around the neighborhood. According to the numbers Hickey’s come up with, dog poop contains 23,000,000 fecal colioform bacteria per gram. Also, about 10 to 50 percent of bacteria in air samples from three midsize cities originally came from dog poop. In other words, there are a lot of health problems associated with that stink.

What sparked this sudden interest was the fact that when New York City got hit by a big blizzard recently, a lot of people stopped picking up their dog poop. When the snow started to disappear, the poop was still there.

Naturally, that’s not quite the same as if everyone never scooped their dog’s poop again. But even without full non-compliance, there’s a lot of good reasons to be a good citizen and pack those doggie bags. As Hickey says, “In reality, if 41 percent of New Yorkers didn’t clean up after their dog (as was found in the Chesapeake Bay study), 39.3 tons of dog crap gets left on the sidewalks each day — a little less than the weight of a subway car on the F train.”

Imagine that the next time you go out without the bags. The poop piles up fast.

Via FiveThirtyEight.com

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