Are San Francisco canines gobbling up the drug-laced poop of meth users and getting addicted themselves?
It’s a real question flashing across social media right now, further dividing the City by the Bay, where crime, drugs and politicians have all made a mess — but not the hellscape some conservatives salivate for — of California’s most picturesque place.
It was a Twitter post, of course, that caused the feces to hit the viral fan. I won’t name names because 1) I don’t punch down and 2) I don’t promote crap (usually). But the account of a well-known San Francisco basher posted this warning a few days ago:
Do not read this if you are easily grossed out.
Last night at a party I met a woman who left San Francisco after her dog walker told her the dogs were getting addicted to meth-laced feces.
Apparently they were running around the parks looking for it and then getting high.
Thousands of comments, retweets and even a Reddit thread ensued.
In one camp are the San Francisco haters, the $1,000-shoe types who simply can’t live there any longer because the whole town is a steaming hot mess. Not even Fluffy is safe!
On the other side is the “Calm down, Karen” crowd.
Who’s right and what does it all mean?
I know you’re still reading this largely to find out if the dogs really are meth-poop junkies, but you’re not going to get a quick answer. Sit. Read.
This poop consumption scandal matters because San Francisco has become the love-to-hate icon of the right-wing media. For years, propaganda purveyors such as Tucker Carlson have zoomed in on San Francisco — and poop problems in particular — as proof that Democrats are conspiring to ruin America as we know it.
As far back as 2020, Carlson launched a series dubbed “American Dystopia” that detailed this sinister plan by Democrats that somehow the rest of us missed. It was not, and is not, subtle. But it is effective. Everybody hates public poop.
“Civilization itself is coming apart in San Francisco,” Carlson warned back then. “Right there in broad daylight, on the city’s sidewalks, which are littered with junkies and feces and dirty needles. … This is what they would like to do to your neighborhood.”
With President Biden’s election and Gov. Gavin Newsom clawing his way to national attention, the poop stakes have risen. It’s not enough anymore that we could see it, or even step in it. Now it could kill our furry friends.
OK, here you go: It’s not likely. Turns out that the drug-poop scare is something of an urban myth, the same as the killer with the hook hand or the chupacabra. Media outlets have chronicled this drug scare from the Humboldt Coast to New York’s Prospect Park, and even Germany.
But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, right?
Being a reporter, I did that reporting thing and asked experts who actually know about dogs and poop and how much of a threat addict excrement is. UC Davis veterinary toxicologist Robert Poppenga sounded sorry he picked up my call, but answered anyway. Poppenga pointed out that the byproducts of methamphetamines are predominately excreted through urine. He’s personally never seen a case of meth-poop intoxication, and theorized that “a dog would have to eat an awful lot of feces to come close to a toxic dose.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which runs one of the largest pet poisoning hotlines in the U.S., concurred that it is highly unlikely that an active dose of meth could become concentrated in feces. But as it noted in a statement, reports of drug-impaired pooches are on the upswing, and some drugs do wind up in poop — mostly marijuana. The hotline had 6,259 calls about potential canine exposures to cannabis last year.
Turns out lots of dogs get a weed high from eating poop — the substance is found in an active form in excrement — and of course from just eating straight marijuana left around by careless owners who then tell vets the pets ingested it on a walk. Way less embarrassing, way better story.
Rowena Fontanilla works at Park Animal Hospital in San Francisco, right on the panhandle of Golden Gate Park near Haight-Ashbury. She said the hospital often treats impaired dogs that come in “just falling over and stumbling.”
It even happened recently to Panko, the Chihuahua mix of head nurse Tiani Palmer, who noticed her pet acting weird after a walk near the California Academy of Sciences.
Panko got wobbly, and Palmer said that with her 10 years of experience as a registered nurse for animals, she recognized quickly that the dog had likely eaten something altering. She let her pooch sleep it off, and Panko is fine.
Fontanilla said inducing vomiting and testing the puke is the only way to know what poison a dog has ingested, a procedure her facility has performed. But even that bit of crime-scene investigation doesn’t reveal whether the drug came packaged in poop, or was actually just meth or heroin or weed that someone dropped. A lot happens in the park.
Some dogs aren’t as lucky as Panko. Any kind of overdose can be fatal, and as the owner of a chow chow puppy that — I am sorry to say — loves to eat poop, I take the concern seriously. Like my Winnie, about 16% of dogs are “serious” poop eaters, repulsively caught in the act of eating feces more than five times, and deemed to have the fancier, scientific term of coprophagia. So the real addiction here might be to the poop itself. Bad, bad dog.
But Palmer had this key insight: Dogs eating drugs is a “widespread problem, but no more than it has been all these years.”
Yes, folks. Dogs eating drugs is nothing new, in San Francisco or anyplace else.
San Francisco dog walker Janet Slissman told me via email that she has heard about dogs dying from drugs for a long time, but argued “most parks have their own specific poison.”
At Crissy Field at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, as nice a park as you can find in San Francisco, she warns that the sea lions infected with leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, can sicken dogs. Ft. Funston, she cautions, has horse manure that can contain giardia. Other parks have coyotes, which can just straight up kill dogs.
Dog walker Eric Burford, who calls himself “the Fairy Dogfather,” laments the “staggering” number of chicken bones his charges pick up weekly.
So instead of being freaked out about meth-poop, Burford suggests we focus on the real problems. We have thousands of people with no place to defecate but on the streets and in our parks. We know that homelessness, addiction, housing and poverty are crises that hurt us all, whether we are directly affected or poop-avoiding bystanders.
We don’t need the constant fear-mongering of poverty-porn social media influencers and right-wing media peddling simplistic — and false — narratives about the end of civilization. San Francisco, like any urban center, has always had problems, including drugs.
By Friday, when I reached the original Twitter poster via a direct message, she conceded that “cannabis not meth seems to be the consensus,” without mentioning that marijuana is a legal drug that has probably been sending San Francisco dogs on long, strange trips since before Jerry Garcia and the Summer of Love.
Reality has never stopped propaganda, but here’s a thought.
You don’t want your dogs eating drug-laced poop? Then give those with addictions someplace else to be other than our outdoor spaces. Senate Bill 57, which would allow for safe consumption sites to open in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland, is on Newsom’s desk — he has until Monday to sign it or veto it. Safe consumption sites don’t just keep people from overdosing, they also provide bathrooms. So advocate for Newsom to sign it.
Or focus on housing and San Francisco’s still-inflated rents and lack of affordable places. Hold politicians like Mayor London Breed to account — despite her calls for crackdowns and more policing, little has changed. Ask the police why they aren’t arresting criminals for rampant petty crimes, like the recent story of a thief caught red-handed cutting off a catalytic converter, only to be directed to the nearest bus stop by officers. That is an actual problem.