Flying undetected, the fabled dog poop fairy is believed to follow dogs and their owners, picking up what dogs have deposited on the ground and their owners have left behind in small plastic bags. A belief in this fairy apparently reassures the owners that additional cleanup is optional.

Public parks attract poop fairy devotees in large numbers. A few months ago, I took a walk in the Paces Mill Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Within 50 feet of the river that supplies drinking water to metro Atlanta, I was disgusted to find dozens of (loaded) plastic doggie bags decorating the trail and nearby bushes.

Some of the plastic bags were only a few hundred yards from the pet waste receptacle installed by the National Park Service. I picked up a dozen bags during my walk and carried them to the trashcan. Two week later, I walked the same trail and more dog poop bags had blossomed!

Dog waste is an environmental pollutant; therefore, properly disposing it is a health imperative. It can contain nasty things like giardia, heartworms, whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, parvovirus, salmonella and E. coli. Leaving dog poop, bagged or unbagged, near a river or stream – where stormwater can carry it into the waterway – is particularly appalling.

So, why do some dog owners do only half the job: neatly bagging the waste and then leaving it beside the trail or along a road?

Perhaps: they can’t stand the thought of carrying the poop bag any distance, even in a bag; they forget to pick the bag up later and properly dispose it; they think the bags are biodegradable and the bag and poop will eventually “go away”; or they truly believe in the dog poop fairy. With 80 million dogs in our country producing ten million tons of poop each year, this issue is worth the attention of all responsible dog owners.

Since my discovery of poop bags left for the fairy, I have conducted an informal survey and concluded that this problem is ubiquitous, growing and controversial. Of course, the only “fairies” are the park volunteers and civic-minded folks who pick up a very small percentage of the doggie bags and put them where they belong – in a trash can and not a yard-waste container or home composter!

In a perfect world, all dog poop would be flushed down the toilet (but not the bag; few if any are biodegradable as claimed, says the FTC) and treated in municipal sewage treatment plants. This is not practical for most people, especially when walking in parks or the woods, so bagging the waste and carrying it to a trash can is preferred, according to experts. Yes, it will end up in a lined landfill, but that’s better than in a river or a child’s hand.

Exactly how you get the poop into the bag is up to you: using the Piqapoo (a clip attached to your dog’s tail with a small bag beneath), Pooper Scooper Power Tool, Poo Puck, Auggie Dog or any of the multitude of poop tools available online. My method: use the plastic bag as a mitt, pick up the waste, knot the top of the bag and then toss it into the nearest trash receptacle. It’s that simple.

Do not toss your poop bag into the bushes or drop it beside the trail. That is rude and potentially harmful to other people, our waterways and the local environment.

Lastly, do not place your dog’s plastic-wrapped gift at the front door of National Park Service headquarters, as more than one person has (unbelievably) done. It’s your responsibility as a dog owner to properly dispose the poop – so let’s DOO it!


Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper , a nonprofit environmental organization whose mission is to protect and restore the drinking water supply for nearly four million people.

One reply on “Above the Waterline: Do you believe in the dog poop fairy?”

  1. First off thanks for being dedicated enough to pick up after all the dog owners who could care less. Second, thanks for writing about the issue. Most people don’t even think about it. When we teach our Plastic and Recycling Awareness Program to communities, that has to be the number one question we get asked as we tell them to reduce their usage of plastic bags… “What are we supposed to do when our dogs gotta go?”

    People don’t realize that they are placing the pet bio-hazard in a plastic bag that never disintegrates, it will literally be here for hundreds of years. We have done a lot of research and the solution we found that truly works is a product called “Flush Puppies”. You can read the article we wrote on the subject here:

    And you can order your Flush Puppies here:

    I hope this helps and thanks again for being the brace sole you are 😉

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