Featured Stories

When nobody's looking

The extremes of human behavior, from unspeakable evils to heavenly kindnesses, set the tone of a society much less than the small acts that the millions in the middle perform daily. The Stalins and Ghandis of the world come and go, but the masses in the center establish the norms that either put ‘civil’ into civilization and make living in a high-density urban environment enjoyable, or take it out and make life anywhere unpleasant, even nasty.

For me, one of the most uncivil behaviors is the seemingly prosaic habit of picking up — or, more accurately, not picking up — dog poop. It’s not so difficult a task really, nor is it so complicated. Even a 6-year-old could master it. And yet a great many people leave their dog’s poop on lawns, sidewalks and trails, where it is unsightly, and where others might step in it.

Since 1991, the EPA has labeled dog feces a non-point-source pollutant. It carries whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, parvo, corona, giardiasis, salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosi and campylobacteriosis. The right thing to do, of course, is pick up the smelly, toxic doo with a plastic bag and then dispose of it in a trash container.

A great many people, however, won’t carry a bag of poop to a trash container. They’ll remember to bring a plastic bag with them, they’ll lean over and pick up their dog’s mess, and then they’ll drop the trash on the ground and walk away. As unbelievable as this sounds, it’s true.

Of all the options, this is the worst. Even flicking dog poop off the trail into the woods is less onerous because poop deteriorates, whereas plastic bags don’t. A poop-filled bag will remain for a long, long time, intruding on everyone’s enjoyment of a clean, healthful and tidy environment.

I’ve often wondered who these people are, and what they think. Then I had the good fortune to meet a few. One is an extreme right-winger who strongly believes we should pay almost no money in taxes. So, why does he leave his poop-filled bags on the ground? “A ranger will pick it up,” he says, seemingly unaware of the contradiction between philosophy and behavior.

A woman new to my neighborhood seemed to be responsible for new bags left by the road and on lawns, so I complained generically to her about the problem. She asked in complete surprise, “What’s wrong with that?”

“Someone has to pick them up,” I suggested.

“Oh,” she said, “I never thought of that.”

Thereafter, I saw no more of her particular blue bags beside the roads.

And the third is a man who unabashedly leaves his poop-filled bags on the ground. His reason: “So long as nobody’s looking, why not?”

I wish I could change the world with a sentence, such as, “Consideration for others is the basic tenet for a civil society.” Or, “Doing what’s right when nobody’s watching is the definition of ethical.” But I know one sentence in a small, local paper has virtually no chance of affecting real change. So perhaps I should do as people in a town in Spain do: Mail the offenders’ dog-poop back to them ... at their expense!

Now there’s an idea! (If I could just identify the culprits.)

Peter Wright is a resident of Lake Oswego.


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