This article is part of the CelebrEighty series by Judy Katz…Walking around my new Upper West Side neighborhood with Bindy and Lia, my two eight-year-old Chihuahuas, I am struck by the sheer amount of “unaddressed” poop. Part of the privilege of sharing life with a canine is cleaning up after your dog. Yet many people—and conceivably many dog walkers—apparently feel no obligation and leave anything from huge mounds produced by larger dogs to “tootsie rolls” from the smaller breeds lying in plain sight on sidewalks and grassy areas throughout the city.
Seeing these “left-behinds” on almost every street and in every park—this neighborhood is no exception, as it’s everywhere in the city—I was struck by a realization that there are three types of dog owners—and perhaps, in the same vein, three types of people in general. They are 1) People who do not clean up after their dogs, 2) Those who do clean up after their dogs. And, lastly, 3) People who clean up after their dog or dogs, and sometimes also clean up after other people’s dogs.
I admit to being the third type of person. Please don’t picture me roaming the streets with a supply of poop bags looking for poop to scoop up and toss away. That is not how I operate. However, if I pick up from my dogs and see some leftovers from other dogs, I include them. Yes, sometimes I pick up those leftovers regardless of my dog’s elimination. The pile, left in the middle of the sidewalk or in some other unsightly area where men, women, and children will step on it or be run down by carriage or grocery carts wheels and spread the poop in all the wrong places, is a sad reminder of how disrespectful some people are—how uncaring. How disgracefully irresponsible.
Giving my fellow citizens who don’t pick up after their dogs in grassy areas the best-case scenario, some people may be mistaken that poop left on the grass fertilizes the site—although the same can’t be said of the poop left on the concrete sidewalks! This is what I found on Facebook:
“There seems to be a common misconception that dog poop fertilizes grass, but it’s NOT a good fertilizer. Dog poop kills grass if you let it sit out for too long. It also spreads bacteria and parasites and has the potential to pollute drinking water.”
Let’s say, dear reader, that you agree with my characterization of these three “types.” How, then, do I extend these descriptions to humanity in general? This might be somewhat of a torturous analogy but bear with me. In life, some people think rules are made for others or made to be broken, and go through life in this irresponsible, even dangerous, and unlawful way. Other people take their privileges and responsibilities seriously and always try to do the right thing. There is the third category. They are so profoundly attuned to others that they go out of their way to help make life even a little bit better for them. While these may be social workers, health professionals, non for profit leaders, and their volunteers, nationally and globally—it might be you too, whatever your profession, or your next-door neighbor—doing a lot more than picking up discarded poop.
One could conceivably argue that picking up other people’s dog poop—or in the broader sense helping people in need or pain, doing for them or their helpless children that they should be doing themselves—removes their responsibility and the consequences of their bad choices.
Let’s put it this way: if someone walks into an emergency room in extreme pain, the doctors and nurses have the first responsibility to relieve that pain—and then administer every appropriate test to see what caused that pain. Likewise, when people—men, women, and children—need mental or physical health care, food, or shelter—any human need that, when absent, causes suffering—the first goal is to relieve their suffering. The next big step is to find ways to prevent those forms of human suffering from continuing in the future.
Our Constitution guarantees everyone the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Should we not look after each other to the best of our ability? I look at less fortunate people and tell myself—there, but for the Grace of God go I—if not for my good fortune in being born into my particular family or having the kind of education and support system I had, that suffering person could well have been me. If I deserved a helping hand, why not do my best to help others who have not had such a good birth or whose lives have taken a very different turn?
In that broader context, picking poop up from the streets may seem a relatively small, insignificant gesture. Perhaps it is. I wish I could be one of those doctors who travel selflessly to third-world countries to correct cleft palates or twisted limbs, giving those children a new lease on life. We can’t all be grandiose in our generosity, but the world would be far better for all if we each do what we can to improve things right where our roots are planted.
For me, that includes occasionally picking up the most unsightly dog poop someone else has left behind. What might that mean for you? I’d love to hear back.