Dog owners shirking duty

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The, ahem, evidence appears to be proliferating


  • A message to dog owners in Chelsea. Photo: Deborah Fenker


“Are you a dog person or a cat person?” A fairly generic small-talk inquiry, but years ago, I added a third option: plant people. This is not because I do not like animals, but because I simply refuse to gather an organism’s excrement off the sidewalk (or any other surface). Unfortunately, however, so too do many dog owners in our Chelsea neighborhood.

Like so many predicaments in Manhattan, this one seems to be increasing exponentially in severity. If there has been a day that I walked my block without evidence of a dog owner’s negligence, I do not recall it.

The problem is nefariously multi-faceted. The scoop law (which currently stands at $250 per violation), is virtually impossible to enforce. A violator would have to be caught in the act, and the perpetrators seem to skulk about in the shadowy dark of night, between vehicles, or at least only after a stealthy peripheral scan to make sure no one is witness.

There is an insufficient number of police officers patrolling to formulate a matrix that would preclude the offense, and it is, in fact, the occupation of agents of the DSNY who are responsible, not the NYPD. Neither I nor the 3-1-1 agent with whom I spoke could deduce what a DSNY agent actually IS. So, it is doubtful that there are any of the tickets being issued.

Certainly, I have personally observed people blatantly shirking scoop duty, but with no viable recourse, the only result of calling people out on their crime has been a scathing retort of retaliatory slurs about my own psychological and emotional state, vulgarities included.

But it isn’t only my personal disgust for the abandoned poop: in New York, some restaurant deliveries are made on the sidewalk, so the hygiene issue is monumental. And even dog owners should fear that their own pets encounter other dogs’ waste, which spreads disease among the species.

Additionally, right or wrong, restaurant and grocery delivery services often unload their trucks right onto the sidewalk, where whether it was picked up or not, residue of canine fecal matter might recently have been. This is the foremost justification of literally curbing animals: hygiene and sanitation.

And that’s not the mention the quality of life havoc wreaked by the stench, unsightliness, and hazardous shoe-destroying potential of it all. And honestly, whether it is dog poo, chewed gum, cigarette butts, or pistachio hulls — people should NOT LITTER!

In a pacifistic moment, it occurred to me perhaps people don’t know what “curb your dog” really means. An ordinance dubbed the pooper scooper law effected in 1978 in New York State avows “it shall be the duty of each dog owner or person having possession, custody or control of a dog to remove any feces left by his or her dog on any sidewalk, gutter, street or other public area.”

In 2004, there were 644 summonses delivered (although to uncertain effect). In recent years, I could find no documentation of any. A more popular definition in circulation instructs “that owners cannot allow their pets to soil buildings, nor can a dog make a nuisance of himself on the grass of the parkway or on the sidewalk.” Neither of these specifically mention the curb, although several dog walkers I questioned thought that it meant to make your dog go as close to the curb as possible, and then eliminate the aftermath, which would seem the ideal practice. In fact, every dog-accompanied human I encountered offered a response similar to this, revealing that on the surface, at a least, most do seem to be aware of their responsibility. At the same time, they were all just as aware of the rampant disregard of this instructive, and seemed universally disgusted with the state of the sidewalks.

A professional dog walker I encountered posited that he and his work cohorts were the most conscientious followers of the scoop law, since their reputations are at stake. He cited temporary dog sitters and pet-sitting friends as the most culpable offenders, but doubted that those sporadic violators could possibly be responsible for the widespread violations. “Nobody picks their xxxx up. I don’t get it,” he said, shaking his head. Well, that makes two of us.

He suggested giving the power of enforcement to such ubiquitous neighbor presences such as parking lot attendants or postal deliverers, which might serve as a deterrent but it is doubtful those parties would willingly participate.

An owner of “D” is for Doggy on 22nd Street in Chelsea is probably as big a dog lover as could be, but is just as passionate about her disdain for people who do not pick up after their charges. She sees pee-pee puddles and poo piles mid-sidewalk, fully wrapped and collected waste in plastic bags then discarded right IN her tree pit, and the rusty erosion and urine-burned plants from dogs marking (not their) territory. She has created elaborately crafty “Curb Your Dog” signs for her tree pit, protected with bright red sideboards. Some prior iterations were stolen, but the effort has ultimately proved effective, and the little garden-ette in front of the store is now thriving.

The “obvious” common sense notions that dogs shouldn’t go on the plants or in the middle of the sidewalk is not so obvious to people, it seems. Of course, everyone I asked swore they obeyed the law without fail. But then again, who would admit they didn’t? I did, however, sense some hesitancies in response time that implied perhaps their record wasn’t 100 percent clean. Only one man refused to talk with me: “Sorry I don’t have time,” and feigned to rush across the street, only to regain his leisurely pace, and then unleash his dog to lope alongside. I guess if you break one law, you might be more prone to break another, and he seemed the type for both.

So. What to do? The hope that there was just a misunderstanding of the meaning of “curbing” as the root of the problem doesn’t seem to hold water. Everybody seems to know what they should be doing, but a massive number of them aren’t doing it. Thus, proposing a simple P.S.A. blitz to inform people of their responsibilities would seem insufficient. One would hope that people took more pride in their neighborhood than this kind of thoughtlessness would indicate. If you have taken on the responsibility of caring for a canine companion, cleaning up for him, thoroughly and consistently, is just part of the commitment. Doo ... I mean, do the right thing.

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