Perils of poop are simply unavoidable

So should we increase our laws governing dog poop?

Let’s start with some facts. We don’t let people publicly urinate or defecate on our streets although we could do a better job of policing the miscreants who regularly do both.

I have caught people relieving themselves in the parking lot of the public radio station where I work. Once I yelled at a guy who answered, “Oh, I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowed to do that.” Another time, a jerk looked at me and said, “Well, I’ve got to go somewhere.”

There are reasons why we don’t allow people to do their thing at will. When people publicly urinate or defecate, we know they spread germs and disease.

Public health professionals will give you all the particulars but we know the risks associated with coming into contact with feces and urine. As a society, we have come up with laws that should be enforced but often are not. That means that citizens have to take up the slack where police aren’t available to do so.

That brings us from people to dogs. We Americans love our animals and of course, dog feces are also quite dangerous. But if you were to tell people that their dogs can’t poop or pee on public thoroughfares, you would have a virtual revolution on your hands.

I have Murray, the world’s cutest dog, and if my town were to pass an ordinance saying that I couldn’t walk him, I’d be the first person on the protest line even though I understand the issues.

Sometimes we see someone walking a big dog and notice that the potential offender is not carrying a receptacle to scoop up the dog’s leavings. Back when I was a kid on Fire Island, everyone walked barefoot on the sidewalks.

There was one woman who would let a dog-poop offender have it if she caught the dog in the act. Doing this is largely situational. Let’s say that you see a big galoot walking along with a giant dog or two. You witness the act. Are you really going to tempt the fates? Are you really going to yell at someone twice your size and tell them to clean up after their dog?

What are the alternatives? I guess we could have designated areas known as dog parks where our animals could go to do their business. But you would still have to get them there and that might prove very difficult in exigent situations and depend on geography. So there is little that can be done.

It would be a good idea for legislatures to pass bills reinforcing the idea that if you don’t pick up after your dog, you’d face a thousand dollar fine. With the advent of cellphones to catch people and their pets in the act, fewer people would fail to pick up.

Then, too, there are those people who let their animals roam free, often untagged, so that the offenders can’t be held responsible. On the other hand, does anyone really think that legislators are going to alienate the animal owners? My bet is that they would not.

To make that work there would have to be a huge public educational campaign. Scientists and public health people would have to tell all about just how we might become infected. We would have to learn about the flies and other insects that we see buzzing around the deposits.

So as it stands, we’ll have to do our best to keep the grand compromise going. Animals will continue to walk and people will have to pick up.

If at some point in the future the science provides knowledge about what risks we are courting, we may have to come up with other solutions. Until then, let’s keep those little plastic bags handy and remember that even there, we are creating an environmental problem.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 7/25/15

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