Friends, I write today of one of the most revolting hazards facing Seanetters on the beaches: dog feces. I recently resumed Seanetting myself, teaming up with Dan Tracey to alternate walks at Salisbury Beach State Reservation at the mouth of the Merrimack River in Massachusetts. Dan and I each walk MA_23 once a month, so between us, we generate the golden, twice-monthly frequency that we strive for here at SEANET.
Like many of you, I walk a lovely, sandy beach popular with walkers of various stripes including many, many dog owners. I disclose here that I am not a dog person. I am a bird person. I own a coop full of chickens, three pet parrots, and I graduated veterinary school only to run a beached bird survey program. I have certainly met many charming and well behaved dogs, and I maintain that obnoxious dogs are merely an extension of their obnoxious owners. Unfortunately, these people seem to hanging out on my beach. With their dogs.
MA_23 is generally trash strewn; being at a river’s mouth, it snags both incoming ocean debris and outgoing river discharge. This is a hotspot for the Hooksett sewage disc outfall, and on any given day, you can find tens to hundreds of those little plastic grids strewn about the beach. But for all the hysteria these sewage discs caused “fecal bacteria?! In the water?!” people seem inexplicably untroubled by the presence of large quantities of dog excrement on the sand and in the surf.
Most days I just grumblingly dodge the piles dotting MA_23, but last week I was confronted with a dog feces situation that was impossible to ignore. As I approached the turnaround point on my beach, I spotted a form in the sand, and felt the familiar quickening of the heart that only a Seanetter would feel–could that dark form be a dead bird? And indeed, this one was. A subadult Herring Gull, bread and butter of the SEANET program. But as I drew closer, I saw that the mostly mummified carcass was precisely topped with a large dollop of dog poop. It seemed impossibly well placed; bizarrely so, and I eyed suspiciously the slobbering Newfie bounding away from his shifty-eyed owner.
This was the ultimate indignity. I shook the bird free of the coiled turd and arrayed it for the usual SEANET photos. As if handling maggot-ridden bird carcasses weren’t gross enough, must we now add a garnish of feces? And in the larger scheme, why is it that people feel so free to leave trash and dog poop all over the beach? I believe that people will only wish to protect the places they love. But people claim to love this beach, and yet, here we are with a bird covered in poop and plastic bottles and flip flops everywhere.
Sometimes, I despair.