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On the tail end of animal waste

Biodegradable bags and compost bins are alternatives for some pet owners.

February 26, 2011|By Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times

Enter the Diva of Dog Doo, a.k.a. Ann Rippy. A resource conservationist with Alaska's Natural Resources Conservation Service, she was tasked with figuring out a way to "effectively handle dog waste," she told me. Her solution was composting, which she did with the help of sled dogs and their mushers.

Mushers' preferred compost bin was hand-built from wire. Their preferred recipe: 2 parts dog waste to 1 part sawdust, by volume. The key was keeping the pile hot – to a pathogen-killing temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, preferably 170 degrees. If the poop needs to be transported to be composted, the best options are paper or corn-based biodegradable plastic bags. A family with 26 sled dogs in Alaska told me they've successfully composted iTunes gift cards and salad containers made from such plastics in their dog doo composter.

Rippy says the system works comfortably with 20 dogs and that people "could probably pull it off with seven or eight."

Sounds great, but who has seven or eight dogs in L.A.? And what about cats? Rippy says cat waste presents more potential human health issues. Composting it would be more complicated and "perhaps not advisable," she said, because cat feces contains different, more harmful pathogens and cats make so little feces owners would "have to be crazy cat ladies" to have enough of it to work.

Sorry, cat lovers. Your most environmentally sound option seems to be nonclay litters made from wheat, corn, pine or newspaper and to throw it in the trash.

After speaking with Rippy, I went back to the drawing board. Rather, the Internet, where I found something called a Doggie Dooley. A sort of Porta-Potty for dog doo, it's an easy-to-install in-ground tank that works like a septic system, breaking down dog waste using water and enzymes.

Even though I do not have a dog, I live near a dog park. I was game to buy a Dooley and conduct a week-long experiment, stocking it with stranger's doo to see if it worked. Gross, I admit, but I'm a hands-on kind of gal.

Digging the hole turned out to be the hardest part. The Dooley is 14 inches in diameter and about a foot deep, but it requires a four-foot-deep pit for the broken down waste to wash out of its overflow tube and seep into the ground. The unit, once installed, is flush with the ground so it's unobtrusive. Just scoop the poop, drop it in, add some water and a sprinkling of enzyme, and presto. You've got … gunk. And it doesn't smell.

At least it isn't trapped in plastic or headed to a landfill. It didn't prompt me to adopt a dog, but for those who've already got them, the Doggie Dooley seems like a very good solution.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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