Dear Mabel…Dog Poo and Meddling Mother-in-Law

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Dear Mabel,

Q. Dog poo dilemma: My husband and I are having an argument and I’m hoping you can help me win it! It seems crazy, but we’ve been arguing about dog poo.

We have two older dogs, a lab and a shepherd cross. Since they’re older dogs, they don’t get out as much as they used to. But, since they’re larger dogs, they produce a lot of poo. And, our backyard, where they usually do their business, is quite small.

Where the argument comes in is that I think we should pick up after our dogs, even when they’re in our backyard while my husband says that it’s just a waste of time and that we’re filling the landfill with dog poo.

I think having a backyard full of poo is disgusting, especially in the spring after the snow melts and I really think that he just doesn’t want to help pick up after the dogs, but which is better? Dog poo in the landfill or leaving it to be washed away by the rain?

A. It seems as though dog poo is destined to cause conflict no matter where it happens. I have bad news for your husband (and good news for you). Pet feces is a significant contaminant of our water system. When it is left to degrade in your backyard, the bacteria, including fecal-coliforms such as E. coli, that are in feces enter the stormwater system. From there, they enter the river without being treated. In other words, not picking up after your dog (even your own backyard) is the same as taking a bag of poo down to the river and throwing it in.

Putting your dog poo in the landfill is a better solution as landfills are designed not to have their “juices” leak out into the water supply. In some places, such as Waterloo, they are investigating the possibility of using special receptacles that would process dog waste separately and would harvest methane and produce green energy.


Q. Cupboard cleaner: My mother-in-law is driving me crazy! She is completed obsessed with best before dates on food. Every time she visits our house, she goes through my cupboards and throws away anything with an old date on it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tin of soup or a package of cookies, if it’s even one day over the date, she throws it in the garbage.

Not only is this costing me a ton of money to continually replace my food, it’s also creating a lot of garbage.

What can I say to her to get her to stop cleaning out my cupboards?

A. It sounds like the first conversation you might need to have with your mother-in-law is about boundaries. I can’t imagine having someone ransack my cupboards every time they visited.

Many people think that best before dates are expiry dates that are legally required for safety reasons. However, there are only five types of products that are mandated to have expiry dates: baby food and milk replacements, nutritional supplements, meal replacements, pharmacist-sold foods for low energy diets and formulated liquid diets. All other best before dates are simply the date after which the producer or manufacturer no longer guarantees the freshness and taste of the food.

This is particularly true for non-perishable foods that remain sealed. Once packages have been opened, the best before dates no longer apply and you need to rely on your common sense about how long to keep them around. As a general rule, as long as a food product hasn’t changed its appearance, color or smell, it is probably safe to eat. But, if you’re not sure, then you should throw it away.

Food waste is a huge problem for our landfill. In Lethbridge about 48% of residential waste is organic. Studies have shown that nearly half of the food waste in Canada comes from people’s homes, rather than from processing, and costs households more than $40 billion per year. Although I’m sure not all of that can be attributed to your mother-in-law!


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