Foo's favourite dumping ground, the hydrant in front of the neighbourhood fire station.
Spring has arrived. The frozen turf of winter, so convenient for dogs and their walkers, has been supplanted by sprouting grass and snow drops. The gardens of the Annex, though teeny, are a source of beauty and pride. Thus a conundrum for dogs and their people: Where to crap? Where to pee?
I spend my days picking up after dogs, so I'm well aware of excrement angst. An example: one rainy morning at 5 a.m., Foo was squatting on a lawn when suddenly a tenant banged out of a basement apartment yelling "Pick It Up! Pick It Up! Pick It Up!"
I looked at him and said, "It's pee. I can't pick it up." After a moment's pause, I asked if I should Lick It Up — an offer which triggered an obscenity-filled rant.
I stewed over the incident. Someone should inform these Lawn Objectors, or LOs as I call them, that girl dogs squat to pee. Also, that the pee squat is obviously distinct from the poop squat: a tilted pelvis, vs. a rounded back. Any fool can tell the difference. Although perhaps it's best not to explain this mid-rant. Or mid-pee.
A friend of mine was also subjected to repeated, top volume"pick-it-up!" demands by an LO, after her dog had peed on a lawn across the street from his house (the LO version of Neighbourhood Watch). She is more conciliatory than I am, and reacted by pretending to scoop non-existent poop into a plastic bag. In effect, she rewarded the LO's misguided/ bad behaviour — something she never does with her dog.
The crap conundrum extends beyond my neighbourhood and its mingy yards. Last fall, CBC radio's Metro Morning devoted a week-long series to "How to keep downtown Toronto from going to the dogs — and their poop." The issue must be a burning one for many Torontonians, and for their lawns. In a recent municipal review of Responsible Dog Ownership, failure to "clean up after the dog" was reported as a problem by 80 percent of survey respondents (vs. "dogs at large," by 50 percent, and "dogs barking," by 36 percent). And it's not just dog poop. Pee also wrecks lawns, plants and, to go by some reactions, lives.
Grafitti found on Albany Street: No shit is free in the Annex.
Yet I feel some sympathy for these fierce LOs. How could I not? Their behaviour mirrors my dogs', ie. usually civil, but prone to defensive posturing. They protect their territories. Whenever LOs yell at me, I imagine they are loud, barking dogs. The bared teeth I don't have to imagine.
So I do my best to remember where LOs are located and avoid them. I steer clear of the pristine, landscaped gardens. Like many walkers, I look for the neglected and run down, like the lawn outside my own low-rent building. I feel bad, since I'm targetting the have-nots (or at least the have-lesses). Shit distribution should be an equal opportunity affair.
Some of the Annex residents I know are both dog-friendly and gardeners, so the two aren't mutually exclusive. There's a lot of home ownership turnover, though, and my instructions to the dogs can change overnight, from "OK, here," to "Uh uh. No. Not here. Please not here." The dogs understand my urgency; who better to comprehend the importance of location?
Outside my own abode; note the dead trees and junky lawn, an ideal location for Pushkin to pee.
A couple of years ago, there was a huge dog park debate in our neighbourhood, and much of it focused on dog poop. A lawyer named Tom, not a fan of off-leash dogs, asked me why no one had yet invented a "poop zamboni." He pulled me over to a patch of earth. "Look at that!" he said. I looked, trying to maintain an open mind. "Poop residue," he explained. There was residue, I had to admit. I wondered whether Tom's zamboni would be able to get rid of both the poop and its residue.
In the spirit of scientific curiousity, I returned to the patch to observe what happened over time. Perhaps the poop zamboni has already been invented, only it's known to most of us as Nature At Work. Once moisture evaporates, the crumbly poop remnants return to the earth. Stunning. But of no comfort to germ-and-worm sensitive parents.
LOs are unhinged when a dog so much as eyeballs their property, not to mention squatting or lifting a leg. It's road rage for the gardening set. But dog poop is not a major destroyer of gardens or a significant public health problem, at least in the Annex. I have been known to mutter that "it's a poop, not a war crime" under my breath during tense interactions. To me it's a minor infringement of property rights.
When I mentioned to my stepfather that I was writing about this issue, his response was "No shit." Unfortunately, there's always shit. And I promise to pick it up, every time.
Some signs can be hard for dogs to read. Photo by Ann McBride.
For the CBC's take on dog poop, click here.
For summaries of Toronto City surveys about dogs, click here and here.
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