Dog Poop is Driving Torontonians Crazy
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Dog Poop is Driving Torontonians Crazy

In high-density areas, where's a pooch supposed to do its business?

If you’re that person who takes your dog out for a walk in the city, lets it run off-leash in areas it’s supposed to be on-leash, and can’t be bothered to pick up its poop, your fellow Torontonians may have a serious bone to pick with you.

You’re only adding to the city’s pet-poo woes—and not the kind that Drake was running through the 6ix with.

“It’s not (totally) their fault though,” says Sarah Gertler. “There just simply aren’t areas to deal with this stuff.”

That’s what Gertler, an architecture graduate student at the University of Waterloo, is working to fix.

For over a year, Gertler has been compiling research on how high-density communities in Toronto, such as condos, can deal with the city’s growing pile of poop. Her thesis focuses on the Concord CityPlace condo development, which an informal study found to have about seven dogs per floor.

That adds up to a whole lot of shit. And the neighbourhoods with more people than green space feel it the most.

“CityPlace only has one major park for how many thousands of people,” says Gertler. “Almost every single flower bed in the area has a sign that says ‘No dogs allowed’… [Condos] just don’t really know how to deal with it because it’s not something the areas were planned for.”

To her, dogs can and should be integrated into the pre-existing infrastructure of communities like CityPlace.

“Architecture can be both helpful to us and the animals we live with,” she says.

For example, clover is particularly resistant to dog urine, so it could be planted along buildings for a designated doggy restroom.

Separating dog waste from the building face through a buffer zone, and plantings like clover, could begin to alleviate the issue.

Gertler also believes that improving the drainage of balconies could create mini-backyards for dogs, and that interventions like these should be spread out “to different areas, (so) no single space will get a lot of high concentration.”

“It’s a pretty new crisis, because when you think about dogs, you don’t think of them as being problematic,” she says. “But in such a dense situation, they really are.”

Pet poop is more than just annoying. Dog crap left on sidewalks and in parks is carried along by rainwater and storm sewers, and eventually ends up in our lakes.
According to the Canadian Public Health Association, pet poo is full of nitrogen and phosphorous, which encourage algae growth in bodies of water. As that algae grows, it limits the amount of sunlight for underwater plants, reducing the amount of oxygen in the water for fish.

Gertler notes that using bioswales—planted areas in the sidewalk that collect stormwater—can “deal with the run-off water from the streets,” while making it a nicer street, and providing “areas for dogs to actually go to the washroom.”

Condos and their infrastructure aren't exactly pet-friendly. Photo by Lori Whelan from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Condos and their infrastructure aren’t exactly pet-friendly. Photo by Lori Whelan from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

At this point, many Torontonians are really sick of dog shit. Last month, a company of dog-poop detectives emerged by the name of Poo Prints Canada.

They can create a DNA registry for condo boards looking to nab dog owners who haven’t scooped their pup’s poop. For $50 a dog, they’ll swab and register all the dogs in a building, and if any errant turds turn up, they can actually match it to the dog in question.

Dog waste is a problem condo dwellers continue to be vocal about. In 2014, the City of Toronto consulted with condo residents, and they found that Torontonians in the downtown core were particularly peeved.

They received numerous photos of dead grass, and realized there was a real need for developing bathrooms for our furry friends.

Last year, Animal Services Enforcement responded to 998 excrement and unsanitary calls. And complaints about dogs have even prompted CityPlace to ban any more pets from being brought into two of its buildings.

“There’s a lot of problems associated with high-density living that need be dealt with,” Gertler says. “My thesis almost uses the dog as a surrogate to correct some of the larger issues of the condominium development…(and) this is one of the more contentious ones that have come out.”

Meanwhile, the City of Toronto began a dog waste pilot program back in 2007.

The enduring part of that project is the Green Bin Program, which collects organic waste and turns it into compost. Animal waste is one of the accepted items, and the program services nearly half a million Toronto households.

In 2014, city planners wanted to introduce bylaws that would make including pet amenities mandatory for condo developers. In October of this year, Gertler’s architecture professor at the University of Waterloo, Mona El Khafif, also spoke out about the need for bylaws.

That would be a good start.

“As long as there are dual purposes to a lot of the interventions, it’s not just about accommodating (the dogs),” says Gertler. “It’s making the entire city better.”