On Dog Poop Etiquette and Its Discontents

Dog poop: The inevitable by-product of having a dog. It appeared in your lawn, you found some on the bottom of your shoe, and when Divine ate some on film, it made her immortal. If good fences make good neighbors, then certainly following your dog with a bag to pick up the feces and properly dispose of it in the garbage makes even better neighbors. I mean, have you ever had to scrape out poop from the textured sole of your favorite sneaker? Was that something you enjoyed having to do?

Nonetheless, you’ve probably seen the stray poo nestled in the meadow of your favorite park like an Easter egg from Hell. Or maybe you saw it hanging out on the fringes of a flower bed in the meticulous landscaping of your apartment complex, trying desperately to blend in with the mulch, though not quite. 

How does this happen? The reasons may be as varied as the number of people who own pets — a staggering number. A 2015 study by George Mason University’s Center on Regional Analysis found that the US pet industry alone generated $221B in economic activity. Y’all — that’s a lot of pet parents spending money out there.

Certainly my neighborhood, East Lake Commons (ELC), a 20-acre cohousing community with 67 townhomes nestled in East Lake, has its share of pet parents, both cats and dogs. With 20 acres of property that includes a fenced-in dog run, it’s an ideal space to take your dog out for a stroll, as many folks here do. Part of the vision of the community is to “… live together with careful and intentional focus.” Some of the intent that went into its founding included creating “… a community where more psychic energy is generated than drained.” 

Unfortunately, a lot of psychic and physical energy has been spent and lost forever over some recurring problems in the community, what the community’s guidebook, “The Book of Commons” calls “Bad Vibes: Hot Button Items At ELC” which include “Pets.” The Book of Commons gives clear, unequivocal guidance in this regard, and in addition to requiring that your dog always be leashed, (unless in the dog run), you’re commanded to “…always scoop the poop.”

Karen Minvielle is one of the original owners of the community who got involved in the planning stages in 1998 until she moved into her completed house in 2000. She is also mom to her rescued pit bull named Stella. She says that from the beginning, it wasn’t unusual for some individuals to leave the poop where it fell instead of picking it up. More recently, she noticed that “it’s gotten worse in the past three years, and it’s taken a real effort to educate and talk to people face-to-face. It’s certainly better now that it was one year ago.” 

In response to the increase of stray poop, community members took pictures of piles of poop and publicized them on the community’s internet listserv, giving the time and location the pile was discovered. Though Karen was one of the community members to post found poop, she certainly wasn’t the only person. Nonetheless, around Christmas of 2016, an unknown person singled her out, committing an act of vandalism on her car by smearing it with dog poop. The person covered every door handle of the car, as well as the front windshield. 

“It was an intentional, deliberate effort by someone who was really pissed off,” says Karen. “It really does show how pissed off people can get over something that the rest of the world thinks is a fine expectation of what to do.”

The people who live at ELC enjoy the amenities of the community, which include a Common House for use by all residents. Another of the amenities is the four-acre organic farm, Gaia Gardens, that is currently leased to Love is Love Farm, which strives to maintain its status as a certified-organic farm. Luz Borrero, a long-time resident of ELC, lists two elements to the management of dogs in the community: 1) whether dogs should be kept on a leash within the community, and 2) the level of observance of the rule that dog owners are responsible for picking up poop. Luz connects the latter issue to the maintenance of the organic farm, saying that it “… must adhere to the certification requirements, including but not limited to utilizing pesticides or chemical products, and maintaining the gardens free of potential contamination.” 

Dog poop, as it turns out, was listed in 1991 by the US Environmental Protection Agency, as a non-point source pollutant. Fecal coliform bacteria can cause sickness in humans, as well as contaminate a waterway, such as the pond and drainage system that runs through ELC property.

And dog poop is not all that runs through ELC property. The fact is that ELC is situated in a densely populated section of DeKalb County and, on occasion, neighbors from outside the fences do find ways to traverse the property. On a recent occasion when Luz and her partner Catherine were walking around the gardens, they noticed a man with two dogs enter the farm through a hole in the fence created by a fallen tree. Luz informed him that he wasn’t supposed to have the dogs in the community without a leash. Luz says the man responded by saying, “Oh, you are going to be real bitches about it.” They made further inquiries of the man who kept walking, with Luz and Catherine following behind, insisting, “Sir, you need to either put a leash on the dogs or leave.” The man responded by flipping them a bird and kept going, so they asked him again to leave. 

“As he turned around, he called upon his dogs to follow him and pulled his pants down to show us his behind.” Several days subsequent, another attempt by the man to enter the farm was rebuffed, and the fence has since been repaired. Eat that, trespasser!

Certainly, Divine showed us how it was really done. In the film “Pink Flamingos” by The Pope of Trash and openly gay filmmaker John Waters, you can witness (close to the film’s ending) Divine watch a dog poop, pick it up, and eat it. If you’re ever in Baltimore, it happened at the corner of Read and Tyson Streets and has become a part of Baltimore urban lore, so much so that a Kickstarter campaign started in 2016 to place a memorial on the spot, an effort that even picked up the tentative endorsement of Baltimore’s mayor at the time. While the effort fizzled out at the time, a physical tribute to the moment could still emerge.

Perhaps we should build a statue on the mooning man in our neighborhood, to remind everyone that you’re being closely watched in a neighborhood that prefers our furry canine sweetcheeks over furry human buttcheeks.