Thursday, February 23, 2017
What's a dog owner to do?
You know what's really hard to locate on February grass? Dog shit. It blends right in, among the muddy splotches and wet clumps of leaves, and once you take your eye off it, well, it's gone.
I was walking Kitty Wednesday morning down Walters Street when, having done her business a few blocks earlier, she stopped a second time. She sometimes stops a second time, which is why I always bring two bags, just in case.
Well, not always. As Kitty assumed the position, I dug my hand into my blazer pocket. But no bag. Maybe it fell out when I grabbed the first bag, which I had already disposed in a convenient trash receptacle. Maybe I only grabbed one leaving the house.
As you might have guessed from reading my column, I am a pathologically responsible person. I pay my taxes, vote, recycle, hold doors for ladies and men, do everything I think is required of a member of society. I would no sooner leave my dog's waste on somebody's lawn than I would burn a cross on it.
So what to do? I was miffed but not panicked. I looked up, noted the address and the approximate location of the deposit, and hurried west on Walters, scanning the gutter for some kind of useful debris. There's usually a scrap of plastic blowing somewhere.
What I found was a copy of the Wall Street Journal, snugly doubled-bagged, in front of a house. I stripped off one of the bags, and walked the paper up to the front door, where I propped it up on the porch.
I did ponder the ethics of this. I was taking a bag, but newspaper bags are usually trash for non-dog owners. I had second thoughts about moving the paper—yes, making access to it more convenient as penance for skimming the bag. But what if the owner gazed out the door, saw no paper out front, thought it wasn't delivered and ever went to retrieve it, not noticing it right next to the door? I almost turned around and put the paper back on the curb. But fortune favors the bold, and too much responsibility can be suffocating. I decided to live with my minor misdeed, particularly since it was committed in the name of neighborhood cleanliness.
I marched briskly back to the address, a pleasant yellow house, to set matters right. Only the poop wasn't there. I scanned the ground closely. It all looked like dog shit, more or less. I made a few passes back and forth, leaning over, gazing hard. Kitty giving me a few impatient looks. Or maybe they were judgmental. Or quizzical. Hard to say. She's a dog.
A minute passed. I was loathe to leave. I hate people who don't pick up after their dogs. They're like people who don't signal when driving. Making the world a worse place through indifference. And we already have a world that's a worse place, thank you very much all you folks who don't realize how we have to all care about other people and consider the effects of our actions on them and think and participate in order to live in a decent society.
I must have been walking like Groucho Marx at this point, bent over, examining the ground when ... well, you know what happened, right? No, I didn't step in it, though that's a good guess. I did consider, on the spot, that the best way to find it would be by closing my eyes and blindly walking over the area, confident that would certainly locate the waste underfoot. But I was not willing to go that far. Besides, how would I pick it up after stepping in it?
No, the obvious next event was the home owner came out—a friendly-looking lady, hefting a 20-pound bag of dog food to her car, so at least she was on the team. She said something like, "Cute puppy, see you too having a stroll there," or words to that effect, conveying curiosity about what I was doing, and I explained that the dog had left a mess, I didn't have a bag, I had run home—a shorthand I like to think, more than a lie; somehow "so I stole a plastic bag off a neighbor's newspaper" seemed like it would make matters worse—and she waved it off. "Don't worry about it," she said. I could have said, "I worry about everything," but what I actually said was, "Just so you know it was inattention, not indifference."
Even after she got into the car I lingered, really wanting to leave this campsite the way I found it —I was in Scouting as a lad, that could be part of the problem. Then I had a thought, the doggie-doo version of Peter Singer's controversial view of infanticide *—I would rationalize not picking up Kitty's poop, here, due to carelessness on my part, by cleaning up after someone else at first opportunity. Thus the universe's quantity of neglected dog messes—a bane on pedestrian life —would not be increased because of me. The problem was rationalized. And so, with a clear conscience, I headed home.
* In 1993, Princeton philosopher Peter Singer sparked a firestorm of controversy by suggesting that babies not be considered alive until they were 30 days old, since they lacked self-awareness, and suggested that it would be morally-defensible for their parents to kill them, if deformed, provided they had another baby to replace it, thus the world would not be short one baby.
Postscript: On Thursday morning, as promised, I scooped up the first carelessly neglected dog waste I came across. And here's the interesting part. It was not without a shudder of revulsion. Because this was not Kitty's dainty doggie doo, but a mountainous mound from some big dog. Which really made me smile after I bagged it up and headed toward a nearby Dumpster. We are comfortable with crap that's familiar, while revolted at the unfamiliar. When really, it's all the same shit.