Monday, March 7, 2011

Handling dog poop, from a ruralist’s perspective

Having grown up in the unincorporated areas of Humboldt County, I always saw dogs as having certain natural freedoms. Chief among those natural rights was the right for canines to poop wherever they deemed necessary. I was never aware of any special rules governing dog poop in my town. As a child attending my elementary school, accidentally stepping in dog poop during recess twice a year was almost like a right of passage. I think that growing up I chalked it up to just another way one learns to pay attention to one’s surroundings. If you don’t watch where you’re going, you might just step in shit, literally. Similarly, leashes were really only for big scary dogs like Dobermans or Rotwilers. Most dog owners in my area, including myself (back when my Labrador “Bo Bo” was still alive) viewed leashes only as means to get said dog from the back of the pickup to the park entrance. And when my dog had to poop, he did it, usually in an appropriately chosen spot such as in the weeds or somewhere else located off the main path.

You can imagine my surprise when I moved to San Francisco and witnessed one of the weirdest human behaviors I had ever seen. People were walking their dogs down the street with a plastic glove on one hand, a leash in the other, and a plastic baggie in their pocket. I watched in amusement as these people waited anxiously for the dog to do it’s “business” so they could eagerly scoop up the warm poop with their free hand for collection. The dog owners would then hang on to their little present until they found a public trashcan or in some instance a special receptacle made for dog poop collection. “Dumbfounded” is the only word that can accurately describe my reaction to this bizarre urban ritual. These people must really, really, want a dog in their life, I thought.

I can remember a stand-up routine where the comedian was elaborating on the same basic scene. I will do my best to paraphrase from my hazy recollection of this part of the routine:
If an alien race suddenly landed on earth and the first two earth beings they encountered, were a man and a dog. A big dog was leading a man on a leash. Every once in a while the man stoops over to pick up the dog poop with his hand. Who do you think the aliens would assume was in charge of the world, the big hairy beast leading the way, or the little pink man who is in charge of doo-doo collection?
The longer I lived in San Francisco, the more I realized how commonplace this behavior was. In fact the San Francisco Municipal code states that:
It shall be unlawful for any person owning or having control or custody of any dog to permit the animal to defecate upon the public property of this City or upon the private property of another unless the person immediately remove the feces and properly dispose of it. 
It shall be unlawful for any person to walk a dog on public property of this City or upon the private property of another without carrying at all times a suitable container or other suitable instrument for the removal and disposal of dog feces.
Upon comparing the Municipal code of rural Crescent City California, I saw that it was similar in the first part, but did not contain the language about the “suitable container.”

Then I thought about the town in which I grew up. There is no municipal code, because our town is unincorporated. I have never heard of anyone receiving a citation or a ticket over dog poop. I believe that the reason for this discrepancy is obviously the spaciousness of rural towns compared to that of the city. In a city people must already watch out for numerous hazards as they walk down the street without having to worry about stepping in doo-doo. It makes sense, but then why all the dogs? It’s funny to me how people who hold themselves as being so sophisticated are the first ones to volunteer pick dog crap off the sidewalk with their hand. As for me, I don’t think I need a dog in my life that bad.


lauren said...

Great post, had me chuckling. I agree it is a bit ridiculous. I remember a couple of years ago there was battle between neighbors in Noe Valley in SF over where dogs could and could not got pretty heated and letters were exchanged on blog sites and warning signs posted. A friend with a dog in that area made a comment to me during that time that there was practically nowhere to let your dog do its business without fear that neighbors were watching your every step. One person even stopped her car as she drove past him and his dog, scolded him, then handed him a plastic bag.

Jon di Cristina said...

I guess it's the classic "pig in the parlor" thing about nuisances, right? If a dog poops in the woods with no one around, it doesn't really make a sound; but it's a very different story in the middle of Union Square. I have to think there's a reasonable middle ground in a city like Davis, though. Clearly you shouldn't have to worry about stepping in dog poop if you're walking down F St, but what about on the Greenbelt? Isn't it reasonable to just take your dog off the path and let it do its business in a place where only squirrels might be annoyed?

Anonymous said...

All these rules for dog owners;
Why aren't cat owners ever held accountable for anything? Many just open the door and let their cats run the neighborhood pooping in flower beds and kids sand boxes,peeing on bushes in landscaping, hunting off of bird feeders, tearing into trash and tracking up vehicles. To me that is irresponsible pet ownership and they should be fined!
Dog owners are also discriminated against by having have to license their dogs and that is just a county tax..License cats too.!