Here’s the Poop

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I’ve always been amazed at how readily and how cleverly human beings acclimate to the demands of urban living.  And as I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that dog-walkers, those urban heroes who have dealt with the monumental problem of keeping our streets and sidewalks, our parks and greenbelts – even our dog parks – cleared of dog poop, are among the most dedicated stewards of the urban landscape.

These people have not only trained themselves to leash their dogs – I know, it’s the law – but have also trained themselves to gather up the poop with their plastic bags and to tote the bags to the nearest trash can.

I have cats, so my contact with animal poop is indirect. It comes through a plastic scooper and litter, where the poop is usually hardened by the time I am scooping it up into a plastic bag. When I imagine the dog-walker, day in and day out, rain or shine, twice a day, picking up the warm, soft, smelly, frequently unformed dog deposits, I am in awe at their commitment.

So you can imagine my dismay when, on a walk along a lovely greenbelt in a town where the people are known for their progressive ideas about recycling and protecting the environment, I came across the following sight: a water fountain adorned with a colorful array of poop-filled poop bags, and even a plastic glove (from one of the more fastidious dog-walkers, I guess):

How could that happen? What would prompt these conscientious, environmentally aware people to abandon the most essential part of the dog-poop cleanup – getting rid of the bags. What were they thinking when they tossed the bags on the one place that would be totally unsuitable, a water fountain? Did they consider that even their plastic bags might not be adequate protection against the E.coli and other harmful bacteria found in dog poop? Do they not read the messages printed on the very bags they use?

It boggles the mind. These are the same people who might squirt a dollop of sanitizer before pressing the button to take a drink from the fountain. These are same people who might cluck their tongues at the sight of a gum wrapper tarnishing their greenbelt. These are the same people who might volunteer their time on weekends to clean up rivers or trails.

But there it was, a trash heap as ugly and offensive as any I had ever seen, despite the pretty colored bags. I stood, astonished, and looked around.  Off to the side I noticed that the trashcan that usually stood in the area of the drinking fountain had somehow been tossed down the hill, away from the path. There was another trashcan in sight, but on a separate  pathway.

Why did these people not just walk to that other trashcan? I can’t believe it was because of the inconvenience. It wasn’t that far away.

It is difficult to know what motivates people to do what they do. Motivation involves many things; goals, expectations, effort, beliefs about our ability to achieve our goals.  And it also involves emotions, how we feel about what we are doing, and how we handle difficulties or roadblocks.

Maybe the dog-walkers became miffed at encountering the unexpected;  the missing trashcan. Perhaps they became impatient when they realized that they wouldn’t be able to toss the bag in the trashcan, but would have to go out of their way to achieve their goal of getting rid of the poop. Maybe they had carried the poop-bag as far as they were willing. This combination of anger and impatience can cause people to behave in ways they ordinarily would not.

Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt. A group of dog-walkers, my heroes, had decided it was okay to put aside their beliefs about cleanliness and health, to relinquish their standard of good behavior, and to go ahead and sully their beautiful greenbelt.  Very discouraging.

Several days later I was drawn back to that spot, and this is what I found:

All was well again with the world of the greenbelt.

I will never be able to pass that spot, however, without remembering, without wondering, without feeling that knot of disappointment in my gut.