Michael Moynihan: Some dog owners showing utter disregard and making a mess of my city 

Michael Moynihan: Some dog owners showing utter disregard and making a mess of my city 

A dog fouling on the spot fine sign in Cork. Ensuring people don’t let dog poo after them is tricky, and different jurisdictions take different approaches to this problem. Picture: Denis Minihane.

SPRING is in the air and blossoms can be found on every footpath in the city.

They appear in varied forms: yellow conch shells and densely packed brown curls. Liquefied spatters and solitary blobs. Abstract piles of two or three mini-logs. Weathered smears. Near-black and crusted or fresh and greenish, at times they seem a rising, steaming tide ready to overwhelm us. If you’re particularly unlucky you may see the perpetrator in action or just after the fact, heading off into the distance, tail wagging happily.

The waste I am referring to comes from dogs, of course.

As we all stroll our routes it seems that every second person we encounter has a dog of some description accompanying them.

(Item: as an aside, why are so many of them greyhounds which are obviously pets and not being groomed for professional action in Shelbourne Park and elsewhere? A few years ago you rarely saw a greyhound in that context and now they seem to be the necessary accessory. Answers on a postcard.)

In my daily walk I not only find that many of the other pedestrians ‘coming against me’ have a dog in tow, but there seems to be an accompanying rise in dog fouling, one which looks consistent with the increased number of dogs on the streets.

A big problem

I’m not imagining this, by the way. A report in this newspaper late last month showed just how big a problem this is.

“A walkway recently opened in Midleton was described as a ‘no-go area’ because of the massive level of dog excrement left of the paths,” wrote Sean O’Riordan of this parish.

“Mayor of County Cork, Independent councillor Mary Linehan-Foley, said she was ‘appalled’ at the state of walkways in her hometown of Youghal, even though the council provides free disposable bags to pet owners and designated bins in which to dispose of them.

“She said she wondered what size dogs some people owned, as some of the droppings ‘looked like they were left by horses’.”

If so, then quite a few of those horse-dogs are heading west to relieve themselves in the city as well.

In the same piece Sean revealed some extraordinary facts about dog fouling within the city limits: “Cork City Labour councillor John Maher has called for a change in national legislation to tackle dog fouling after his officials confirmed to him that only four fines have been issued in the past three years.

“These occurred over a four-week period in 2017. Only three of the €150 fines were paid.”

Reading this information, I’m torn. On one hand I applaud the fact that people are being held to account for their dog’s expulsions.

On the other hand, four fines? In three years?

Where you have more dogs you have more ... dog byproducts, but the visibility of those products isn’t acceptable. 

A dog running amok in daffodils. 
A dog running amok in daffodils. 

There was a time you’d see someone let their dog run amok with cheery insouciance, letting organic reminders of its visit everywhere, but every dog owner surely knows now that that day is long gone. Ignorance is no excuse.

Cleaning up this mess

Still, ensuring people don’t let dog poo after them is tricky, and different jurisdictions take different approaches to this problem, as reflected in their street signs.

In Chicago responsibility is shifted to the owner: “There is no poop fairy here, please clean up after your dog,” while Bellevue in Washington goes for a dual approach: “Attention dog guardians: please pick up after your dogs. Thank you. Attention dogs: Grr, bark, woof. Good dog.”

As with everything, the business just sounds better in French — “Déjections canine interdit” — but the message is a serious one no matter the location.

Dog poo is notoriously dangerous: a quick run-down of potential hazards includes campylobacteriosis, E. Coli, salmonellosis, yersiniosis, roundworm, tapeworm and toxoplasmosis, enough to give anybody pause, and to give parents nightmares given how many small kids are wombling around the streets in lockdown.

Add in the inconvenience for those kids’ parents and other adults trying to pick their way through the minefield, while also stirring into the mix the depression caused by this failsafe indicator of an utter disregard for the wellbeing of one’s fellow citizens.

This last is the most damning indictment on the charge sheet because living in a city — or any kind of human settlement — involves all kinds of accommodations and alterations. Despite the fond pretenses of the unhinged among us, we all have to change our behaviour to make allowances for those we live alongside.

Selfish dog owners

Because we all know this, it makes the self-centred dog owner all the more objectionable. His or her message is a clear one: whatever you may think, whatever social obligations you adhere to in order to make this hellscape fractionally more bearable, well, tough: I’m going to suit myself and allow my dog to just create an unhygienic, repulsive mess wherever it suits us. Let someone else worry about the pungent aftermath.

This is bad enough, but I have now encountered an even worse offender, perhaps because of the sheer amount of dog traffic.

This is the person who goes to the trouble of bringing that little bag with him or her while out for the walk, duly gathering the deposit from the footpath when it’s made, collecting it while still warm to the hand - and then dumping the bag before getting to a bin/home.

Seriously?

You’ve done all the hard work. Picking dog waste up off the footpath is the toughest part of the gig. Where’s the logic in firing the little bag of poo into someone’s garden? Or just dropping it by the traffic lights, or in a hedge, or — my favourite — place it right next to a rubbish bin? This is the ultimate in statement politics, surely: I could put this in the bin but I choose not to.

I find this miscreant more objectionable than someone who merely sails on, oblivious to their responsibilities because at some level the bag-carrier knows better

Still, salvation may be at hand. I recently noted an item about an apartment complex in New Hampshire, where pet owners must submit a sample of their pet’s DNA (by taking a swab from the animal’s mouth, usually) when they move in.

That swab is then sent to a laboratory in Tennessee, where it’s stored in a database.

Can you see where this is going?

If a pile of excrement is then found on the grounds of that complex, a sample is sent to the laboratory and checked against the samples stored there to see if it’s from a resident’s pet.

The best part of this story may be the revelation that the overall system is called PooPrints but if not, it must be the fact that that New Hampshire complex is just one of thousands of properties in the US which has signed up to PooPrints. The company has now started operating in the UK as well, meaning it won’t be long before it’s here.

Collecting samples for an Irish database will be easy. They’re everywhere, after all.

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