Saturday, September 30, 2017

Trash Talk turned Trash Walk

Kael + Thor = 160lbs of doggie-ness
While I love many different types of animals, our current pet capacity involves the retention and care of two large dogs. Both rescues, one is a pure-bred Alaskan malamute and the other a standard mutt. Kael, whose name means ‘mighty warrior’, was born in the heat of Florida when his mother was dumped from a puppy mill. The average litter size for a malamute is only six, and Kael is one of ten. Having a dog bred for cold weather living so close to the equator is a challenge, and walking the dog takes on a whole new meaning when A) he looks like a wolf and either scares or intrigues people at first sight, B) he weighs 115 lbs. and C) is prone to overheating due to a thick double coat.

Living in the Florida suburbs, we have a wonderful and dog-friendly neighborhood – perhaps this is because very few residents actually have a yard, ourselves included. Whenever the heat takes a step back we jump on the opportunity to get outside for a real walk and not just a business trip. Often one of the side effects of hurricanes is a break in the heat, and with hurricane Irma this past month Kael enjoyed time in the wind and rain – me, not so much. Watching him outside being a normal dog and not panting heavily within 90 seconds is always a treat for me too, and I decided while getting whipped by the storm (and, no, we did not go out during the height of the inclement weather) that I needed to get out there and really let my dogs have some quality time on the leash.

It was only while regularly walking my dogs post-Irma that I really began to see all the trash that had piled up in our sweet little neighborhood. Not just the piles of downed trees and fencing, but all sorts of flotsam and bits of trash had even blocked the sewer drains. Yards were covered in litter and rotting filth. People didn’t have power, and windows remained shuttered. It didn’t look or feel like the nice little blocks I was used to and found myself getting annoyed at how people could just let these things pile up in their own space. After all, I had picked up the trash that blew into my yard within two days…

I'm not talking about the hurricane-induced debris piles, of which there are still so many even weeks later.
The hurricane had caused many facilities to reschedule events, one of which was the International Coastal Cleanup. When power returned, I decided to sign up myself and my 8-yr old for a cleanup in Delray Beach in October. I was feeling quite smug and accomplished as I announced to my son that were going to help clean up the beach – and then it really hit me - like a plastic bag blowing onto the front windshield of my car on the way to school (which of course has NEVER happened). Plastic is destroying our oceans. Countless cleanups and many wonderful organizations dedicate themselves to ridding the largest biome on this planet of plastic and trash. It takes no time whatsoever to go online, search the words ‘wildlife’ and ‘trash’ and be inundated with horrifying photos, videos of poor sea turtles with straws stuck up their nasal passages, and the ever-present soda can rings of death and destruction. I know the trash doesn’t necessarily come from boaters or even beach goers. It can travel by wind and storms, by drainage canals and highways, and I was walking right past trash every day and doing nothing.

Hello there, bottle cap
It started with a bottle cap.
Caps cannot be recycled here in Florida by simply tossing them into the blue bin and it is best to remove them from bottles before they are put in the bins. Between our two dogs, I walk ~165 lbs of pup each day. The cute little doggie bags are no match for the boys, so I put the plastic bags from the grocer or other stores to use. Despite typically having reusable bags on hand, I have friends and family who give me their plastic bags specifically for doggie-doo duty. As I went to pick up after one of the dogs, there was a bottle cap in the grass nearby. It had obviously been there for a few days, and I picked it up with a plastic garbed hand while doing my neighborly assignment of picking up after Thor (he’s the little dog at 50 lbs). And being the unique person I am, I took a photo for future contemplation.

I stared at the photo that evening and the next day took an extra bag with me specifically for trash. I didn’t go into any bushes or climb trees; I didn’t walk any closer to a house that the sidewalk, and yet I was shocked in the amount of trash collected during a short walk with a panting malamute. Walking the second dog, I decided to take a different street and found a whole new array of trashy treasures. I felt so good! No letters to the HOA complaining, no dirty looks at neighbors (nor from any neighbors either), and my dogs are getting much better on the leash. Stopping frequently has led them to be better at heeling and let’s face it, dogs are really good at finding bits of trash so they are even helping the cause when walking after dark. Success! I have made the world better!
Day 1 haul - thanks for the help, Thor!
And then, we went for walk the next day – same route, more trash. But wait, I was just here yesterday?! This makes no sense. So now, we are about two weeks in to the “trash walk” and the amount being collected is about the same each time. We rotate our routes, which means I have met more neighbors and my dogs receive new enrichment of smells, contact with humans, and so many squirrels eventually they will stop lunging at them (right?). I don’t take photos anymore, but I do talk to the dogs about what we are doing and why it is important.

I look forward to showing my son next month that cleaning the beach once a year is great, but that we can and will do better. Every bit of refuse that ends up in the right receptacle and out of the environment is a good thing, and I am reminded again how small decisions can lead to big results over time. Who, knows - maybe even a few neighbors here us chatting.

I am not so sure, however, about how much trash will be around the neighborhood on November 1st – the day after Halloween. That should be an interesting walk.