Wednesday, April 21, 2010

COLUMN: Power to (and from) the pooches!

It’s school vacation week, and in my house that can only mean one thing: People go away and leave their dogs with us. Typically they do this in the middle of the night, hoping we won’t notice.

Ha ha! I kid our friends whose dogs are at this very moment lying in a pile on my couch, waiting for someone to come along and scratch their bellies. Actually, my wife loves taking them in to share space with our own three dogs, because as she says, once you have two dogs you might as well have 10. The most we’ve ever had at one time is six, but I’m more than willing to take her word for it.

Anyway, as people whose house is often full of dogs, we like to keep up with the latest dog-related news stories, and I can’t think of a more significant doggie development than the one this week out of Cambridge, Mass.: the plan to convert dog waste into electricity in public parks. Anyone who doesn’t think this is the best thing to come out of Cambridge since Matt Damon and Ben Affleck clearly hasn’t had to trek to a garbage can carrying the least fashionable handbag ever.

The plan is the brainchild of a Cambridge artist, because that’s the way things work in Cambridge: Even the artists are coming up with alternative energy sources. This is in direct contrast to the artists in places like, say, Rockport, Mass., who are still coming up primarily with paintings of shacks. (These provide very little energy unless you happen to burn them afterward. You know who you are.)

The artist, Matthew Mazzotta, says the energy would come via a special “methane digester,” which is apparently some sort of mechanical device and not your elderly uncle who supplements every meal with extra portions of broccoli and sauerkraut. According to the Cambridge Chronicle, the dog poop could run a popcorn machine or a tea-maker, “with free samples for park-goers.” Er … When they say “free samples,” I’m going to assume they mean the tea and popcorn.

And as much as you might prefer your tea not be associated with anything that comes out a dog (either end), you have to admit it’s a revolutionary idea. “As long as people are walking dogs and throwing away dog poo, a flame can burn,” says Mazzotta on his website, I believe quoting FDR.

But I’m presuming that the effort doesn’t have to end with popcorn poppers and park lampposts. Given the amount of raw material we have here in America (by which I mean, my front lawn), we might eventually turn this into some serious energy — not to mention the program’s contributions to world peace. Turn all that waste into electricity and suddenly all those annoying people whining about dog mess will be skipping hand in hand with the dog lovers down the sidewalk, not even looking down.

It sounds fanciful, I know, but it isn’t all just pie in the sky — according to Mazzotta’s website, this is already happening. For instance, one of his links is labeled, “This family turns pony manure into gas for their kitchen stove,” which I’m sure would be very informative if I could bring myself to click on it.

Regardless, the project has my support, and I’ll do my best to promote it. Even if it hasn’t turned up yet in an Al Gore documentary (suggested title: “An Inconvenient Woof!”), you can take it from someone who knows — this is an idea that smells like success.

By which I mean, my front lawn.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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