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Tag: waterways

Wolfdog: A treasure among the trash

He goes by the nickname “Wolfdog.” Lives in Alabama’s great outdoors. And he spends most of his time, along with his dog, Bandit, picking trash — copious amounts of trash — out of the waterways.

It’s not a job. He doesn’t get paid. He says he does it out of his love for the planet and its wildlife.

“I’m not asking anybody for anything. I’m not a charity case. I ain’t a bum. I’m not a mooch,” says 55-year-old Cliff Skees. “But I do care about the environment. I care about wildlife. I care about human beings, but human beings, they take one look at me and they say, ‘Well, he’s just a piece of trash, you know.’

“Maybe I am. But then again, maybe I ain’t. I can look myself in the mirror and say I’m trying.”

We’ll go so far — despite the hard times he’s gone through in life — to cast a vote for “ain’t.”

And to point out that, most likely, a lot of those people who see him as “trash” are the same ones who so casually discard it, cluttering the waterways around Mobile, Alabama.

Skees is an unpolished gem, first discovered four years ago by Ben Raines, an environmental reporter for the Mobile Press-Register.

At the time, Skees was living the woods and was commonly seen with Bandit, gathering garbage from the shores from a canoe with these words painted on the side, “Be a critter, please don’t litter.”

Raines wrote a story back then about the man and his mission. He followed along as Skees — and Bandit, too — scooped up trash from the water and returned it to their base, where 140 bags full of garbage, stacked and numbered, sat.

“It was a startling sight, and a testament to just how trashy we Alabamians are, for even with that much trash picked up, so much more remained along the river banks,” Raines wrote.

Recently, Raines ran into him again — and found out that, while Skees’ mission remained the same, his situation has improved somewhat. You can read that second story here.

After the first story appeared, someone donated a pontoon boat to Skees, and he turned it into his base of operations.

Raines happened upon Wolfdog and Bandit again last week at a boat ramp on Chickasabouge Creek.

“They both looked prosperous and had a certain spring in their collective step. I immediately had the feeling some good fortune had come their way,” Raines wrote.

“Mr. Ben!” Wolfdog shouted, “You’ve got to see my rig. Things are different these days.”

bandit

Wolfdog then showed off the houseboat he had fashioned from the pontoon boat — one complete with solar panels, an electric motor, and other features that he fashioned out of recycled materials and some “backwoods hillbilly ingenuity.”

“The woodwork is top notch. Glossy marine varnish shines from every surface. There’s a bed, a table, a propane stove and several small windows. The framing for the insulated walls is aluminum, to better resist rotting. Everywhere you look, the craftsmanship is meticulous,” Raines reported.

An anonymous donor gave Skees the old 1979 pontoon boat after the first article appeared, apparently to support his one-man cleanup mission.

While friends donated items to the houseboat project, Skees receives no support for his efforts to keep the waterways clean — except that which Bandit supplies. When they are out in the canoe, Bandit will leap off to collect cups and plastic bottles in his mouth.

Wolfdog says he hopes to set a Guinness World Record for picking up trash, and he still dreams of finding some support from the local environmental groups.

“I can’t get nobody to help me. That’s what breaks my heart the worst. I can’t even get a thank you,” Wolfdog said. “I think they look at me and they see trash…

“I won’t give up. Get discouraged sometimes. But my best work, the best of my work, don’t come nowhere close to what I leave behind … There’s just no comparison. No comparison. Not nowhere close.”

Skees says it was on his first canoe ride that he fell in love with the solace of canoeing.

That trip is also when, seeing trash in the water, cleaning it up began his calling.

“For certain for sure,” he said. “There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to talk about it.”

If you are interested in helping Wolfdog and Bandit with their mission, contact Raines at braines@al.com.

(Photo courtesy of Wolfdog)

Getting (a little) serious about dog poop

Every day in Seattle, where dogs outnumber children, 41,250 pounds of poop exits dogs and lands on the otherwise fair city, according to the Seattle Times.

In a year (who says newspapers don’t cover the important stuff anymore) that adds up to 15.1 million pounds, but it also leads to a lot of confrontations between neighbors, between dog owners and animal-control officers, and between dog owners and passers-by — not to mention steppers-in.

And, actually, it is important stuff.

The non-scoopers among us — and you know who you are — aren’t just contributing to an erosion in the quality of life, but to health problems as well.

When it rains, as it often does in Seattle, dog poop can run into storm drains, and then into lakes and streams and eventually Puget Sound. In Baltimore, it can take a similar route and end up in the Inner Harbor, and other, more frolic-worthy waterways.

Dave Ward, principal watershed steward for Snohomish County in Washington, notes that kids thinking they are playing in a pristine stream could actually be coming into contact with roundworms, E. coli and Giardia.

“Pet waste comes consistently to the top as one of the principal sources of contamination in urban waterways,” Ward said.

The Times story goes on to recount some of the nasty confrontations dog poop has led to in Seattle, where citations ($54 a whack) can be issued not just for failing to scoop poop, but for failure to carry proper poop-scooping equipment.

In 2007, Seattle — home to an estimated 125,000 dogs — issued 65 citations related to dog poop, from failing to scoop in parks to allowing accumulation of feces on one’s property.

(Graphic by Clyde Peterson, official ohmidog! cartoonist)