“To Whom it May Concern”

I certainly won’t defend people who neglect to pick up after their dogs (in addition to contributing to filth in our city, they give the rest of us dog owners a bad name), but I’m not sure this is the most effective response:

To Whom it May Concern

(I blocked out the author’s name and phone number in the image.)

That sign is posted to a tree in a smallish park wedged between Park Boulevard and 5th Avenue which has informally become used as a dog park by a lot of people in the neighborhood. It is currently illegal to take one’s dog there, as it is illegal to take one’s dog to most Oakland city parks, but the law is mostly unenforced at this location, and many people let their dogs run around on the grass off leash despite the lack of fencing and the busy streets nearby. (In case anyone is wondering whether I have ever done such a thing myself, I invoke my fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination).

Some local dog owners are trying to get a fenced dog park built there, or to have the whole park designated as a legal dog park, so that dogs can at least be legally allowed in the park on leashes. (Pat Kernighan, who represents my district on the Oakland City Council, is taking an online survey to gauge community interest and opinion regarding a fenced dog park or a dogs-allowed policy in that park.) Naturally, some neighbors are strongly opposed to turning even one end of the park into a dog park, and I wonder if the person who nailed the above note to the tree is part of the backlash against the dog park supporters.

As I said, I can’t defend inconsiderate or irresponsible dog owners, but I wish some of the dog-haters would appreciate the benefits that responsible dog owners bring to their neighborhood. Oftentimes the only people I see walking around the streets in my neighborhood, especially after dark, are other neighbors walking their dogs. All of those “eyes on the street” make everyone in the neighborhood safer against muggers, burglars, car thieves, and so on. And most of the people I know in my surrounding neighborhood are people that I have gotten to know by walking my dog around every day (this includes people who don’t own dogs, but who recognize me and say hello when I’m walking past their homes). Those community benefits may be less quantifiable than a pile of dog shit on the sidewalk, but they are real nonetheless.

10 Responses to ““To Whom it May Concern””

  1. unique distance from isolation says:

    I wouldn’t put up a sign like that, but I am not unsympathetic to their complaint, which is explicitly NOT about responsible dog owners, but dog owners who leave their dog’s shit in public walkways.. In the park next to our house, where our kids play every day, we have stepped in dog shit more than once, and my son has been bitten. It drives me nuts when people don’t pick up their dog’s shit in the city. If you’re out in the woods, okay… That said, I am all for responsibly cared-for dogs. Whatever gets people out and about is a good thing. Some of our neighbors moved away last year, and the family member I miss most may be the dog, Jack.

  2. dc says:

    All good points. I’m very sympathetic to his complaint, and it’s true that there’s no evidence that the author of that note is a “dog-hater” as I implied. I actually didn’t post this because I was outraged by the note—I support the posting of notices like this, although I was amused by the guy’s tone (“You suck!” is almost never a useful way to win people over, even if they do suck). It may not be so different from the rage I occasionally feel when a car cuts me off or double parks in a bike lane on a busy street—I’ve often fantasized about leaving a nasty note under a car’s wiper, and failing to pick up one’s dog’s shit is more sociopathic behavior than double-parking in a bike lane. I just thought I would use this amusing (at least to me) note as a jumping off point for my more general comment about responsible dog owners.

    Even I, with my high tolerance for dog-related filth, get pissed off when I see dog shit left on sidewalks—not only is it beyond inconsiderate, but it only takes a small percentage of irresponsible dog owners to make us all seem like selfish jerks (just as it only takes a small percentage of inconsiderate or dangerous cyclists to make pedestrians and drivers feel like bike riders are all reckless jerks, or a small percentage of maniacal drivers to make cyclists feel like all drivers are unfit to be controlling very fast, very heavy machinery). I try to pick up other people’s abandoned dog waste if I have a suitable plastic bag with me, just as I try to be ostentatiously thankful when a car driver does something nice on the road when I am on foot or on bike. I feel like responsible people need to overcompensate for all the irresponsible people who are giving us a bad rap.

    I’m generally in favor of public shaming as a way of disciplining anti-social behavior. Someone in my neighborhood caught a dog walker failing to pick up her dog’s waste on his home’s surveillance system. He printed out a few still images of the crime in progress and posted them on trees in front of the house, with a polite but angry note demanding that the dogwalker clean up the mess that her dog had left on his treelawn. I don’t know if she cleaned up the mess, but I hope she was suitably embarrased to see herself in the photos, I bet she’ll be less likely to leave her dog’s poop lying around on people’s lawns in the future. You can also be sure that other local dog owners will be less likely to leave poop on his treelawn in the future. It’s really the “You suck!” on the note above which seemed like it was more likely to encourage further misbehavior than to discourage it. Rewarding good behavior and disciplining bad behavior are great human-training techniques!

  3. unique distance from isolation says:

    “Rewarding good behavior and disciplining bad behavior are great human-training techniques!”

    True.

  4. jabel says:

    I recall Berkeley in the summer of 1970 where I spent the summer as a 15 year old living with my University aged brother and his friends and dog shit was all over the sidewalks.One would have to look down to walk the sidewalks on Telegraph.Of course then dogs were running all over the place as were street people so I assume it was dog shit.I’d ask Berkeley Billy who had women panhandling for him but I’m not sure where he is now.Maybe with Trout Fishing in America Shorty.

  5. dc says:

    I actually remember the big public campaign that NYC undertook when it passed its pooper scooper law in 1978, even though I was a young boy then. It’s pretty amazing that only 30-some years ago, no major cities had such laws on the books, and picking up after one’s dog was not common practice. While it’s still a problem, the vast majority of people, at least around my neighborhood, seem to be pretty diligent about cleaning up after their dogs these days.

    One still has to look down when you walk on Telegraph in Berkeley, to make sure you don’t trip over some teenage runaway from Modesto. Did you used to hang out with fictional characters from a Richard Brautigan novella? Are you a fictional character from a Richard Brautigan novella? I have to admit that the thought has crossed my mind before.

  6. jabel says:

    Dave your comment on Brautigan sent me searching and I found a great site on all things Brautigan. http://www.brautigan.net/index.html Many Thanks!

  7. wordnerd says:

    When I was a kid in NY there were signs everywhere: CURB YOUR DOG. It was years before I undrstood them.

  8. dc says:

    I still see “curb your dog” signs around sometimes, posted by homeowners who don’t want dogs soiling their treelawns or flower beds. Much more often I see signs saying “Please pick up after your pet.” “Curb your dog” laws were never effective, according to the guy who literally wrote the book on NY’s pooper scooper law.

    Even in Paris, which is famous for having a lot of dog shit on the sidewalks, they finally faced the fact that “curb your dog” doesn’t work, and they enacted a pooper scooper law in 2002. Dog waste became such a contentious issue in a small city in Israel that they have established a DNA database of all the pet dogs in the city, so that they can test the DNA of any uncollected dog waste and fine the owner of the dog. Since Oakland can’t even afford to maintain its small parks anymore, I doubt we’ll see a dog DNA database here anytime soon.

    Sort of unrelated, but one of the few things I remember from “Gotham,” the 1100-page history of NYC, is how incredibly filthy the city was until late in the 19th century. There was practically no sewage system or garbage collection, and you would have horses, cows and various other animals constantly shitting all over the city (and sometimes dying in the streets, where they would often be left to decompose).

  9. ng says:

    ‘New York, New York, the city that never sweeps’, as paraphrased by a certain 5-year-old over 30 years ago.

  10. dc says:

    Start spreading the news
    I’m leaving today
    I want to put a foot in it
    New York, New York

    These vagabond shoes
    Are longing to stray
    Right in the very pile of shit
    New York, New York

    I want to wake up in that city
    That doesn’t sweep
    To find I’m king of the hill
    Deep in a heap.

    These little town blues
    They’re melting away
    I’m gonna find a brand new pile of it
    In old New York

    If I can step in it there
    I’ll step in it anywhere
    It’s up to you
    New York, New York

    (Doesn’t really work as well as it would have in the 70’s, since NY is now notable for being clean and well-kept instead of notable for being filthy.)

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