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Do YOU mind stepping in dog poo?

10/02/2008

By Jennifer Peterson

Over the last few days, I've been conducting a very informal survey: Do you mind stepping in dog poo? The survey is a result of a confrontation I had with a woman last week near the Meadow Road end of the Mad River Path. After she watched her dog leave a pile on the path and then proceeded to walk away, I caught up with her to point out her dog's "business."

She said, "Oh, thank you." I continued on my way, but when I noticed that she also continued without returning back to pick up after her dog, I approached her to tell her she needed to pick it up before someone stepped/rode in it. She assured me that she would do so on the way back to her car after she was done with her walk. I expressed my concern that waiting would increase the likelihood of someone stepping in her dog's poo, to which she responded, "So? Most people don't mind stepping in dog poo."  

Hence, the survey. I always asked the question without any reference to my experience, and the response is typically a resounding, "Absolutely!" Of course, such a question piques curiosity and I usually had to tell the story. Almost everyone reacted with, "Are you kidding me?" and all the people I've relayed this story to, most of whom are dog owners, were disgusted by such irresponsible and inconsiderate behavior on the part of the dog owner I encountered. Every single person I interviewed said they do mind stepping in dog poo. I asked strangers, colleagues, friends and children, and it's pretty clear most people appreciate when there's no dog poo to step in.    

The other argument this woman made was that, "we live in nature."  I, personally, live in a house, and although my house may not be as tidy as I'd like it, I do prefer not having dog poo tracked through it. Does anyone ever forget that distinct squishy feeling of "stepping in it?" Or trying to get "it" out from between your toddlers' toes without getting it on yourself? Or trying to get "it" off your knobby tires before putting your bike into your car, if you didn't have a bike rack? For me, stepping in "it" immediately stirs up feelings of anger, and even briefly feeling victimized as if this "booby-trap" was set up just for me, and I fell for it.
 
During this dispute on the path, both sides got heated, and when I realized that this dog owner was not going to use common courtesy, I relented and continued on my walk.  As it turned out, she returned to her car and drove off never cleaning up after her dog. (Yes, I checked.) So, not only is she inconsiderate, she's a liar. Did she leave it to spite me?  Does she think she's above such a task?  Her reason is irrelevant and inexcusable to me.  

When I told Carol Thompson, director of the Mad River Path Association, about my experience, she asked me to remind dog owners that it is their responsibility to make sure the path remains free of dog waste. She also asked that users of the path be vigilant and to kindly remind anyone they observe not picking up after his/her dog of their responsibility. Finally, Thompson asked me to stress to all readers that the Mad River Path exists first by the generosity of private landowners and not to take that for granted. Although there is no ordinance addressing dog waste at this time, everyone would agree that it is simple consideration that should drive one to clean up after his/her dog. I'm not sure how much easier the Mad River Path Association can make it for people. There are bags and waste receptacles at both the Tremblay Road and Meadow Road parking areas.  

To all those responsible dog owners who are courteous enough to pick up after your dog(s), thank you, and I know there are more responsible dog owners than irresponsible ones. But dog owners like the one I encountered are giving all dog owners a bad name. I've talked to many people who don't use the path because they have to keep their heads down to avoid dog waste rather than enjoy the beautiful scenery. What the irresponsible dog owner does not realize is that she/he is going to create an environment where dogs are outlawed from the path.

I feel that the woman who wouldn't clean up after her dog should apologize to the moms and dads who have toddlers that think poo is as much fun to play with as mud, to the birders who are looking up where more birds are rather than down, to the other dog owners who have gotten the stink-eye because someone saw a pile of dog poo and immediately assumed the first dog owner he/she saw was the offender, to the landowners who allow the path on their land, to the bikers, runners and walkers who have to constantly be looking down rather than at the beautiful surroundings. Clearly this experience has left me a little agitated. I guess I just can't believe the arrogance of someone who can look me in the eye and tell me it's not her responsibility to clean up after her dog, which is essentially what she did.  

Hopefully the woman I came in contact with, and anyone who shares her view, will heed the people and pick up after her dog!

Peterson lives in Waitsfield.
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