Tag Archives: urban design

Dog pee on the sidewalk does more than just piss off your neighbors

Note from DoggyMom I follow all types of research.  But some – like this one – needs to be put into a larger context.  Urban cities have a lot of runoff thanks to all the hard surfaces including roads and sidewalks.  Urban designers look to institute green spaces to help with infiltration of water into soils and decrease runoff, which can be particularly helpful in high volume, storm events which overwhelm stormwater systems.

Urban runoff has a lot of contaminants from the oils, dust and debris of modern life.  All meat-eating animals have high nitrogen in their urine – and that’s why countries like NZ have issues with groundwater quality because of the number of cows that are left to graze and urinate on open pastures.  So of course dogs will have an impact on the soil quality and runoff in the very limited areas of green that they have to use in urban cities.  The solution?  Well, in my opinion, it’s partly an argument for creating more green space.


Nobody knows just how many dogs there are in the United States, but there are plenty—and many of them live (and pee) in human cities. Turns out, canine bathroom breaks may have more of an impact on the environment than you might think.

In a new study, a team of Columbia University undergraduate and graduate researchers led by ecologist Krista McGuire looked at the impact of pee on the urban soil microbiome. They found evidence that the nitrogen content and low pH of the urine can make city soil both harder and less absorbent of rainwater, while making the soil microbiome less diverse.

Your very good boy

The project was born out of McGuire’s observations with colleagues during other research on green infrastructure in NYC. In sites like unfenced tree pits, “the soils seemed barren, compacted, and the water from rainfall didn’t seem to penetrate very well,” she says.

The team suspected soil’s characteristics had something to do with all the dogs that urinated on those sites, so they designed an experiment to check. “We obtained soil from the city environment,” says McGuire, along with one species of commonly-used plant from the same nursery the city uses.

Both of these factors replicate what’s used out in the real world. Getting actual dog pee turned out to be harder. They approached animal shelters, which mostly turned them away, while the one shelter that acquiesced didn’t yield enough pee—the experiment required a whopping 40 gallons.

“Despite visiting the shelter twice a week for a couple months, less than 40mL [1.35 oz] of urine was collected due to difficulty in predicting when the dogs will urinate and the dogs’ refusal to continue urinating when a collecting bowl was brought near them as they were about to urinate,” the paper states.

“Ultimately, we decided to use coyote urine since coyotes are very closely related to domestic dogs, and their urine is commercially available,” McGuire says. If you’re not a gardener looking to repel deer from your tulips, you may not be aware of this, but yes, you can buy 40 gallons of coyote pee pretty easily.  (Note from DoggyMom:  Coyotes are kept in captivity and their urine is collected through drainage systems.  Some say that the income from the coyote urine farms help to support other conservation efforts.   I will need to research this further.)

Over the course of a month, they ran a greenhouse experiment, watering the plants at regular intervals with either straight water or water mixed with urine at different concentrations. They checked the soil each week. The results were dramatic: the bacterial community diversity decreased by up to a third during the experiment, and the kinds of bacteria in the microbiome changed. Meanwhile, the “runoff” from pots increased significantly, signifying that the soil was becoming less absorbent.

Outside the lab (say, outside your door), “a variety of different events can affect the impact of urine deposition,” says Gary King, a Louisiana State University biology professor who studies urban microbiomes. This experiment doesn’t address those factors—like, what if it’s raining, or what if some other pollutant has recently entered the soil?

But the results point to an important direction of research, he says. “There is a huge gap in our knowledge about basic microbial functions in the soils that are part of the system in our own built environment.”

That’s a serious problem, because soils help keep a city running. Things like street trees and planted medians aren’t just there to make downtown look good. Cities are mostly built on hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt, which don’t absorb water and allow it to enter the soil, so the sewer system works to keep water off the roads and out of your basement. But sometimes, it rains too much for this system. That’s where what’s known as “green infrastructure” comes in, by helping to absorb all the extra water. Otherwise, says McGuire, “What happens is that the stormwater combines with raw sewage in these below-ground piping systems. Past a certain threshold, it gets spewed out into local waterways.”

To keep this from happening, cities like New York are investing lots of money in building and maintaining green infrastructure, from street trees to deliberately designed water capture landscapes called “bioswales.” But as this research indicates, our furry friends’ bathroom breaks may be making these interventions less effective.

Journal citation:  Evaluating the effects of canine urine on urban soil microbial communities

Source:   Popular Science

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Dogs run amok?

Dogs run amok | Canterbury News | Local News in Canterbury.

This article was published in the Monday 27th February 2012 edition of the News Advertiser.  I wrote to the reporter, Anna Turner, today because the article encourages you to “Have your say” at the end but only encourages submissions from those who have had problems with dogs (not cyclists) on the shared path.

I wrote:

Dear Ms Turner,

For the record, the pathway from Northlands Shopping Centre to Mona Vale is not a cycleway – it is a shared corridor for use by cyclists, pedestrians and dog walkers.  As a shared space, it is essential that all users are polite, respectful and allow safe passage to other users.  It is unfortunately true that some dog walkers do not have their dogs under effective control (which can be on lead or off lead, if the dog is suitably trained).  To encourage responsible dog ownership, I favour a system where the offending dog owner is required to attend dog training (rather than a spot fine).  This would be a similar system to when drink drivers are required to attend alcohol education.

The pathway also needs a monitored speed limit for cyclists and a requirement for them to ring a bell or sound a horn when they are approaching pedestrians/dog walkers from behind.  You cannot hear a cyclist coming up behind you and they speed around you frightening both you and your dog (even a dog under effective control will respond if they are suddenly scared or threatened).  The cyclists using this pathway often use it as a speedway to get them from Point A to Point B and show little regard for anyone on foot (regardless of whether they have a dog or not).

And what can we learn from these types of conflicts?  The need for better urban design.  The proposed Otakaro green space along the Avon River presents us with an excellent opportunity to design an open green space for cyclists and dog owners plus other walkers who want to be dog-free in a seamless design.  There are examples from overseas about such design.  Sadly, when an overseas expert on dog-friendly design visited the city last year, not a single community board or city council representative attended his public talk. 

Your newspaper would serve our community better by investigating issues more thoroughly and reporting them in a balanced way rather than going for the inflammatory headline.  Please contact me if you’d like more information about urban design, responsible dog ownership and other issues facing dog owners.

I then got this reply from Ms Turner:

Hi Kathleen,

 If you read the story it says several times that this is a shared cycleway/walkway. You’ll also see that Mr Talbot acknowledges that some cyclists should monitor their behaviour as well.

And then I wrote back to say:

Hello Anna,

First impressions count.  The headline on the front page is “Dogs run amok” and the headline on page 3 is “Dogs running rampant on narrow cycleway”  (not narrow shared path)

My point is that you should encourage submissions about cyclists as well as dogs and take some time to investigate the issues of better urban planning so that all users can peacefully co-exist .

And her final reply said:

I’ll pass on your comments to the subeditors who write the headlines, I have no part in that.

Thanks for your input

Is this a case of buck passing?  It sounds like it to me.  How do we get our journalists to be more receptive to issues facing urban dog owners – that we need to encourage responsible ownership but at the same time provide facilities for them?

Are speeding cyclists not newsworthy?