Friday, September 23, 2011

Doggone Shame

In my shellshocked state after getting the puppy this spring, I confessed to my mother that I wasn't a dog person. I was a cat person and this wiggly, demanding ball of fur had invaded my space far more than I had ever expected. At that point, sleep-deprived, I wasn't sure I liked it. Her reply was that there were no dog people or cat people, just animal lovers, and that I could learn to be one. Which I have.

But there are definitely people who are not dog people.

It has surprised me, my inability to predict who will bend down and kiss my dog and who will grimace if the dog shares the same sidewalk square. I've had homeless people, yuppies, tidy toddlers and tottering old people all embrace my little wiggler. And I've had a bony finger waggled in my face, accusing me of cruelty for letting my dog escape my grasp.

This week, the school newsletter came home. On page three was a little note telling families that because of the excess of dog excrement in the school yard, the principal would be calling in the Humane Society to ticket any off-leash dogs.

We live about a hundred steps from the schoolyard. Over the past four months, our nightly routine has shifted to include a walk to the school after supper where our dog roams in a pack of dogs while the owners stand and talk in a circle, throwing toys and sticks to the dogs, pointing out squatting dogs so their owners can clean up after them.

We've met some delightful people this way. There's an tiny eager girl with her tiny eager puppy, some older couples and singles, a university student with her big boxer, a couple with kids a few years older than ours, a retired professor, some work-at-home professionals. It's an enormous leveling ground for people and dogs. There are some dog combinations that work better than others -- the old dogs roll their eyes and bare their teeth at our annoying little puppy, but there are two or three puppies that play at exactly his speed. The little dogs tend to congregate near the soccer posts.

One night he played for almost an hour and a half.

We have commented that getting the puppy is the best thing for our family for previsely this time of day. Laughing at tumbling dogs is the best antidote for a long day of high school. It's more active than sitting in front of the computer or the television and yet doesn't require much more vigilance. Our kids have gotten to know the other owners and dogs too, and we all share milestones of life together, even if we know each other mostly by our dog's names.

Toward the end of the summer, several things started piling up in the schoolyard: garbage, beer bottles and poop piles. Several of us decided we would make a point of cleaning up any of these leftovers. I even gingerly scooped up a condom one day from the yard.

There have been many occasions on which a dog has pooped and the owner goes to find it and can't and so several of us triangulate the area in a way that reminds me of sweeping the lake as a lifeguard. No poop gets left behind.

So, when the letter came home this week, I wasn't sure how to proceed or what to say to my kids. Should we defy the letter and persist in breaking the by-laws? Should we simply take away the delight of our dog's day? I decided I needed to talk to the school a bit more.

Yesterday morning, I ran into the school custodian while walking Lucky and he turned out to be a dog lover, snuggling into him. I mentioned that dogs had become public enemy number one, and he said that nearly every day since school had started, a child had come into the office with dog poop on him or her.

Last evening, I found myself walking beside the principal at the school open house and talked with her about it, wondering how we might work together. Apparently there is no working together on this.

This is where I get torn: a schoolyard is for the school children. School children should not have to dodge dog patties or the illnesses associated with them. And yet, the only solution the principal had to offer was for us to drive across the city to a dog park. We have one car and three children in programs: this isn't always feasible. Nor do I want to be a 'pet parent' who takes my pet child to activities. I have to think that there are more creative solutions: one school parent friend who has a dog (and who probably lives forty steps from the school) suggests that the school ask the pet owners to help weed the overgrown gardens, five minutes each day. I love that idea. I also love the idea of encouraging community between people who might never talk otherwise, and encouraging fresh air and physical activity.

The principal and I found one point of agreement: a few bad apples had spoiled the bunch. I know that there are people who walk their dogs in the yard after dark -- I've heard them -- and I am quite certain that these are the culprits, simply because the schoolyard is completely unlit: how could you ever see to stoop and scoop? But that's not when the Humane Society will come, the principal said.

When the Humane Society comes at dusk, though, they'll see a responsible group of laughing people, talking about their day, their dogs, their lives, stooping and scooping. And they'll ticket them anyhow.


  1. Ugh. I don't like this. I think your solutions are good ... and that the school's solutions are sadly not going to solve the problem anyway. And the gardens need help! Seems like a fair exchange.

    One question, though, as it gets darker earlier what will happen to your dusk-group? Will you still be able to see-and-scoop?

  2. Apparently, the pack shifts to the golf course once the snow flies, but until then, the dogs just come a few minutes earlier each week.

  3. I agree with you Susan - once snow flies its rare to see someone in the park. AND poop is much easier for owners to find on snow, even in the dark! The school's solution seems like hot air with a bit of stick - if I thought it would actually work I would feel more supportive. I definately (as a parent and dog owner right next to the school) would happily weed away my dog play time. Would it be too bold to reverse the approach - i.e., organize a weed pull for the obvious weeds (i.e. thistles) from the learning circle and just do it, to generate some good will. I expect the answer is 'yes, too bold', but maybe doing something in between (approach the VP first)?