In an act of almost unprecedented civic virtue (at least for me) I pulled a plastic bag from my pocket Tuesday afternoon and handed it to a young woman standing on Park Avenue.
If you happen to be a dog owner chances are you also have these conveniences at the ready in the pockets of every coat, ski parka, windbreaker, and the occasional pair of slacks.
I probably also instantly made myself a hero to the doorman at 955 Park Ave.—the building in front of which one of the woman’s two dogs, either the lab or the shih tzu, had done his or her business. (Judging by the generosity of the deposit, I suspect the former.)
In this dog walker’s defense, I believe she was unaware that her pooch had performed his duty. She was simultaneously juggling a load of files, plus her dogs, while speaking on the phone.
And when I first asked whether I could donate a baggie to the cause, she said no, until I pointed out the severity of the situation. Her back turned to it, she seemed genuinely surprised, accepted the offer, and quickly employed the receptacle.
On the other hand, she obviously wasn’t carrying her own stock, and unless she suffered from some shocking condition that robbed her of all sense of smell, she could not have failed to detect the olfactory indications. I had from half a block away.
While I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, I won’t the thousands who appear to have decided that this winter’s surly weather has given them license to cease cleaning up after their pets.
It’s hard to avoid noticing that decorating the blackened permafrost rising from every curb—in addition to a postmodern canvas of discarded cigarette butts, parking tickets, gum wrappers and bagged garbage—are knots of abandoned canine caca.
My interest is less to draw attention to this urban crisis than to attempt to understand why otherwise theoretically responsible adults feel that snow gives them permission to break the social contract. Don’t they realize it eventually melts?
Perhaps a personal history of this ritual exercise, the sharing of my own trajectory as a native New Yorker from chronic scofflaw to clean-streets champion, might shed some light on motivation, or its absence.
When I was a child, I didn’t clean up after our family’s Boston Terriers. There were several reasons why, including that I was walking Skippy under protest, and also that my parents had a rather lax attitude about letting him go indoors.
But the main excuse is that there were no laws on the books regarding canine refuse collection. Or if there were they went ignored. At least until Ed Koch , our fearless former mayor, came along, enforced the pooper-scooper laws, and even erected street signs featuring generic humans diligently cleaning up after their animals.
In more recent years I’ve taken pride in my fastidiousness, considering it a small but significant contribution to the commonweal. On the rare occasion when I find myself without a bag, I’ll promptly return to the scene of the crime as soon as I secure one and perform due diligence.
Not always, of course. Show me someone who claims never ever to have let a hangover, flu, or pressing social commitments prevent him or her from doing the right thing and I’ll show you a stinking liar.
But what’s happening on New York City streets this winter feels unprecedented. The social order, poop-wise, seems to have crumbled completely.
Trying to fathom the motives of the miscreants responsible, I have to assume they must consider snow some sort of hazard that, should they follow their pet onto one of these icy promontories, would put their own safety at risk.
Or that frostbite might ensue if their pet went midblock and they had to walk the baggie all the way to the corner.
Or perhaps they feel that the frigid weather we’ve been experiencing lately has some sort of preservative, or sealant, effect (judging by the amount of poop dating back to the holiday season they’re probably right) that does the job just as well as depositing it in the nearest trash receptacle.
In short, the soot-caked glaciers serve as the urban equivalent of a crushed ice caviar bowl.
Of course, all of this is simply an excuse to do the wrong thing. It proves that civilization is but a thin skein, a membrane, glazing over the roiling chaos, disorder and incivility that lurks just below society’s surface.
Cleaning up after your dog isn’t natural but learned behavior, nurture not nature. The inclination is to disown the smelly mess as fast as possible.
The fact that we don’t is almost as eloquent testimony to this city’s greatness as any of its cultural achievements or the plummeting crime rate.
We shouldn’t let a little weather allow us to revert to outlaw status. Remember, it’s never too late to clean up after your dog.
You know who you are.