In that moment between wondering what that awful smell is and realizing it's something the dog's done on the living room rug, a pet owner's mind may pinball between fleeing, bribing someone to do the dirty work or hoping she is mistaken.
Then she has to accept reality and clean it up.
A popular solution to messy surprises is to use bio-enzymatic pet-stain and odor removers. They contain live, specialized enzymes that eliminate the stink by devouring the bacteria left behind.
One manufacturer found inspiration from the surprises pets leave behind.
"We decided to name it just what it was," says Siege Solutions' President Audrey Siegel. "It's the 'Poops, Oops & Barf Stain Remover," says Siegel from her Boca Raton, Fla., office. Its label features a cartoon cat pointing a paw at an embarrassed mutt.
Siege's chemists use only environmentally friendly, bio?degradable ingredients. Its pet products are among a wide range of organic pet-stain and odor removers available. Others include PetZyme, Bi-O-Kleen, Earth Friendly Products, Force Out, Enviro-Magic, NilOdor and Nature's Miracle.
The products are sprayed on and left to remove the stain or odor. The ingredients are harmless to children and pets. Any residue or powder can be vacuumed when the area is dry.
An alternative to the bio-enzymatics, according to www.howstuffworks.com, is to scrub the area with club soda, let it dry, then sprinkle with baking soda and let stand. The baking soda can be vacuumed up when it's dry and the odor is gone.
Generally, the environmentally friendly formulas contain purified enzymes, explains Graham Hatfull, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute biology professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Enzymes aren't uncommon. Hundreds of different enzymes go about their daily work largely unnoticed. According to Indiana Biolab, there are hundreds of bacteria species, and with the help of their partner enzymes, bacteria will consume all sorts of things, from sugar to motor oil to corn protein to iron nails.
The enzymes in the pet products destroy bacteria and organic waste and other malodorous surprises animals leave behind for their human companions. A survey of the labels shows the products generally contain the enzymes, water, sometimes a mild surfactant and occasionally citrus.
The process is biochemical magic with a complex explanation.
Here's the abridged version: Bacteria produce the enzymes, which speed up chemical reactions. The cleaners contain live beneficial bacteria and specialized enzymes.
It's the enzymes' job to make it faster and easier for the bacteria to do their work. Turned loose on dog-poop bacteria, the enzymes chop up the bad stuff into smaller units to be absorbed and consumed by bacteria. The stain-remover bacteria literally gobble up the proteins, causing the breathtaking stench.
"An enzyme is a protein that will act on other proteins to degrade them," Hatfull says. The foul smell "is generated by protein in the urine. The enzymes (in cleaners) are used to control the bacteria."
Because the enzymes in the pet-stain removers are specialized, they won't run amok and eat the carpet, rug, upholstery or clothing they're sprayed upon. In the process, odors are neutralized and stains removed. As the solution dries, their work done, the beneficial bacteria and enzymes die.
"Of course, [the stain remover] doesn't take care of everything," Siegel says. "The directions still say you'll have to pick up the solid stuff."
And blot. There's almost always blotting involved.
The technology, explains Hatfull, is similar to other stain removers, such as the ones used in laundry detergents, which break down the fat in stains.
The enzymes are live, Siegel says. Just like a chef would purchase ingredients for a meal, chemists buy the enzymes from industrial laboratories to use in the manufacture of the stain and odor removers.
Pet stains being what they are, a person has to wonder: Why go to all the trouble? Why not just use the quickest, strongest spray, foam or powder on the shelf and get rid of whatever the cat brought up, so to speak?
"From square one, our mission was to make products that are environmentally friendly," says Gerald Siegel, Siege Solutions' chief executive officer and Audrey's dad. He started the company 12 years ago with four products.
"We have a teddy-bear cleaner that took a year and a half to develop," Siegel recalls. "I asked the chemist, 'If a baby chews on a stuffed animal that's been cleaned with this, is it safe?' The chemist said yes. I asked if he was sure it was nontoxic; what if a child swallowed it? He said it was nontoxic, safe even if a child accidentally swallowed it. So I asked him to drink it. He did. It's nontoxic."
The company, father and daughter say, made the conscious decision to invest in formulas safe for the earth. "As a company, we are fortunate," Audrey says. "We get to do what we want to do and have fun. The consumer deserves products that do what they say they're going to do. We don't touch stuff that isn't environmentally safe."
Lori Ozzello is a Greeley, Colo.-based freelance writer and editor.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 3/p. 88, 90