The Paradox of Poop and the Urban Dog

When I spent some time in France in my early 20s, the ever-presence of dog poop on city sidewalks never ceased to amaze me.  This was worst in Paris, where population is dense and there’s less green space for four-legged poopers, but I noticed it even in smaller towns like Perpignan (where I had the (mis)fortune of being stuck for over a month).  It’s probably not fair to pin this on the French — perhaps Europeans at large are more averse to picking up their animals’ poop than we are in the US.  Or is it even fair to compare the whole of the US to Europe?  Growing up in the Bay Area, and then later being a dog owner in Berkeley, I felt I had no reasonable alternative but to pick up my dog’s poop.  Not doing so would be an aggressive violation of Berkeley social norms, and I couldn’t see any way to leave the turds there without preparing a batshit-crazy-don’t-mess-with-me response for any concerned citizens who would undoubtedly chide me for leaving a trail of poop.

The single most difficult thing about leaving California was putting my dog up for adoption, a decision that I came to after much difficult deliberation and frequent changes of heart.  In the bitter end I decided that it was more fair to the dog to find him another home, so long as that home met his needs & lifestyle.  He’s a 2-year-old, 65-pound lab-greyhound or -whippet mix, sort of the canine equivalent of a hyperactive cheetah.

The two years that I had him was a more or less constant struggle to get him enough exercise, stimulation & attention, which went pretty well but was still laced with feelings of guilt for not setting aside more park-time, more playtime, more space to roam or more attention.  The last 7 months we spent in California were in a small apartment with no yard – more affordable than my previous place but far inferior in terms of dog space.  If there was one thing I knew about housing in New York, it was that space is limited and yards are expensive & rare, or just far, far away.  I also knew that at my new job, I’d be working longer hours & probably unable to afford a dog walker.  I realized that if there was any hope of my dog getting the active lifestyle he deserved, it was not going to be with me in NY.  Making this choice and ultimately letting him go was exponentially harder than I thought it would be, but I was heartened by the words of a wise dog-owning friend:  “If it’s any consolation, dogs live in the now and he’ll be fine.  It’s you I’m worried about.”  While the adjustment is difficult for both of us, the pup is in great hands and he’ll get into his new groove in no time.  And as long as I can remember that, it’ll be just a little bit easier for me too.

The good news is that I couldn’t have asked for a better family to adopt my guy.  Picture a modern version of the Brady Bunch: 2 single parents, her with 2 young girls and him with 2 young sons, who found each other via an online dating site.  The couple, let’s call them Mom & Dad, are fantastic folks.  Very friendly, bright, successful, and great with their posse of kids.  They were both excited to get a dog, and instantly adored my Pullo.  They’re active folks who wanted a dog to take running, hiking, & out to the park with the kids.  And the kids!  What great kids.  The kids were also thrilled at the prospect of a dog, and thought Pullo was just the cutest thing (because, obviously, he is).  As for Pullo, he liked them all right away.  He spent the night with them for a trial sleep-over, after which Mom & Dad took him to the dog park with all four kids.  Pullo’s been to the dog park many a time, but I have never, ever seen him as exhausted as he was when they brought him back to me that afternoon.  He’s never been a dog to lie quietly at your feet while you finish your beer, but he was out flat.  After dinner when I took him out for his evening walk & poop, he dragged behind me with a pathetic look that said “Are you serious?  We’re walking?  Do you have any idea how tired I am?”  Love: check.  Attention: check.  Exercise: double check.  This is going to be great for him.

The patriarch of this modern family, Dad, is from Wales.  Before I left, he asked me, “So what do you do with his poop?  Do you actually pick it up or do you just, like, leave it there?”  He’s not a man who wants to pick up poop, and I had the impression that he thought Americans were a little silly for being so adamant about it.  His girlfriend & I assured him that unless you wanted to start some fights with your neighbors, poop had to be picked up in Berkeley.  In your own yard there’s not the same urgency, and in fact day-old turds are easier to pick up and less stinky than fresh ones.  But there’s no convincing your neighbor that you’ll be back in a day or two to pick up that poop once it’s aged a bit.  Berkeley post-hippies will go all kinds of righteous on your ass if you leave your poop lying around where they can see it, whether it’s on public or private property.

Poop actually played a large factor in my doggie deliberations.  Pullo, like most dogs, prefers to pee & poop on something grassy or fluffy.  He goes right for the tall grasses, bushes, shrubs, or whatever will be the hardest for you to pluck his poop out of.  He’ll settle for a scraggy lawn or some wood chips, but this is not a dog who likes to eliminate on concrete.  It is probably his least preferred material on this earth.  New York sidewalks, even in the greener & more tree-lined neighborhoods, are largely concrete.  There’s no fluffy green nature strip between the sidewalk and the curb in the city, and what’s there is usually fenced off with the express purpose of keeping your dog out.  Forget about huge bushes of wild rosemary, proffering both tender shoots at the upper reaches of the bush, ready for your kitchen, and a shady, bushy haven for dog poop underneath.  Hello, lots and lots of cement curb.

So what do dogs owners do in NY?  “Please curb your dog.”  From what I can tell this means “Please don’t let your dog poop or pee anywhere but on that concrete curb over there.”  Yes, that minimally appealing rock-hard space with absolutely no appeal to your dog; make it poop there.  City dogs must adjust to this eventually, but I’ve seen some interesting compromises around town.  This morning on the way to the train, I passed a neatly tied bundle of old newspapers sitting on the curb, with a well-formed poop sitting right on top.  I’ve seen dozens of dogs peeing on the garbage bags left out on the curb (there are no dumpsters in NY, no alleys, and few proper trash bins.  Garbage is often left in bags on the sidewalk for pickup).  Woe is the garbage man whose job it is to pick up those pee-coated plastic bags.  In Park Slope, I passed a pug who danced in a circle 3 times before finally squatting to poop on a piece of cardboard.  I hadn’t gotten there in time to see whether the cardboard had been laid out expressly for the pug, but it almost wouldn’t surprise me.  Last week I saw wiener dog straining a poop just outside the front door of Katz’s deli – it’s a restaurant, people!  Don’t put your dog poop on the front step!  Isn’t that an obviously poor idea?  Aside from these more creative poops, there is just an absurd amount of dog poop left on the sidewalks.  Sometimes the poop is gone but the awkward footprints remain, tracking it down the block.  European sidewalks, eat your hearts out.  Or rather, don’t, since they are probably soaked in dog pee.  NY dog owners, how do you do it?  Perhaps this is a question for the dogs.

That is quite a lot of poop talk.  If you’ve never owned a dog I don’t expect you to understand it, unless you happen to be a parent.  Parents and dog owners know all about poop.  It rules your world, almost as much as the critter that makes it, & who makes it all worthwhile.

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2 responses to “The Paradox of Poop and the Urban Dog

  1. I’m sorry you had to give up your dog. Pullo is gorgeous!! Sounds like he’s at a great new home and not even worried about the New York pooping rules.

    • Isn’t he handsome? I know his pooper is happier with the Brady bunch than he would be here, although it is super sad for me. Every time I see a dog poop on the curb I feel a little better about it though.

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