Guest Column - May 2015
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Dog Parks

Near Zero-Waste Dog Park?
The Tale (Tail?) of Dog Waste Composting Programs

By Rose Seemann

Denali is the only national park that maintains a working sled dog team, a program that dates back to the 1920s. The sled dogs, all Alaskan huskies, have cultural significance, demonstrating the area's Native American and early explorer heritage to the 75,000 tourists who visit the kennels each season. And because Denali is limited to using motorized vehicles as "minimum tools," park staff relies on dog sleds to patrol and maintain the park's 6 million acres through the long winter months.

Thirty sled dogs produce around 50 pounds of poop a day—around the same weight as some of the huskies. In 1980 the kennel staff decided to start composting the waste to minimize buildup and keep the area clean. The finished compost is used in area flower beds and gardens. The Denali website notes that the compost is "odorless," "jam-packed with nutrients" and "helps retain soil moisture," eliminating the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

Kennel manager Jennifer Raffaeli said that from April through September, she and a "team lead," a seasonal staff of two paid workers and three students provide tours, maintain the dogs' health, clean the kennels and process compost. "Everyone thinks of just the fun, fluffy parts of the job," she said. "But taking responsibility for the dog waste and showing respect for nature are the other side of the picture."

Raffaeli said that staff enjoy all aspects of working the kennels. She has no trouble lining up workers. The students apply for the program through a conservation association. A team of three staffers spend one hour a day scooping and cleaning and one person turns the compost two hours per week. The staff is well trained and committed to nature preservation. During the park's deep freeze, the poop piles are simply layered with sawdust and "over wintered" until they are workable.

Composting dog waste is easy. See the references below for all the details. Successfully maintaining a program is trickier. Denali's keys to success: enthusiastic leadership; well-trained, committed help; and tie-in with an ongoing sustainability education program.

Rose Seemann is the owner and operator of EnviroWagg, a Colorado company dedicated to collecting and composting canine waste into safe, nutrient-rich garden soil. She is author of The Pet Poo Handbook: How to Recycle and Compost Pet Waste (New Society Publishers). For more information visit