Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Mess Manners

Your dog, your yard, your scoop

By Walter Jowers

DECEMBER 7, 1998:  I live across the street from a little church. The church folk have a nice, big, grassy yard. It's a tidy place, suitable for occasional outdoor preaching and picnics. In one corner, there's the biggest linden tree I've ever seen. The churchyard is, as city-planning types say, a real gift to the street.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a woman drive up and park in front of the church. She got out, opened the back door of her car, and let out her big, goofy black dog. She led him to the middle of the churchyard, where he sniffed and squatted, then dropped an impressive pile. Then the woman herded the dog back into the car and drove away. The next day, the same woman came back with the same dog, and they did the very same thing.

When they came back a third day, I walked over to the churchyard. "Excuse me, ma'am," I said as I approached, "but I couldn't help but notice that you've been driving your dog here for the express purpose of leaving a mess in the churchyard."

"Clyde! Clyde!" she called to the goofy black dog. "It's time to go!"

"No need to rush Clyde," I said. "But I just thought I'd tell you: Every Saturday, a group of mostly elderly folks works half the day on this yard. They push lawn mowers, pick up sticks, rake leaves, and pick up dog turds. I just thought you might want to do your part and pick up Clyde's turds yourself."

"I bring him down here," she muttered, "because he likes to run."

"Yes, ma'am. Dogs do like to run. Myself, I like to play softball. But when nature calls, I try not to mess up my little spot around first base. And don't you know if I did, I'd have to clean it up before play could resume."

The woman charged over to Clyde and got hold of his collar. As she wrestled Clyde back toward the car, they snorted and grumbled at each other, like an angry drunk couple leaving a bar. Right about this time, I started to laugh, because I got the feeling that the woman was trying to convince me that the whole thing was Clyde's faultlike he woke the last three mornings, carjacked her, and threatened to chew a hole in the screen door if she resisted.

As far as I know, that was their last trip to the churchyard. I haven't seen them since.

But the whole episode has convinced me that we need a new rule: Your dog should only crap in grass that you cut. And the rule should have this corollary: If any neighbor can smell your dog's crap, you should pick it up every day.

I'm amazed I have to explain this. It's like smokers throwing cigarette butts out of their car windows. It's littering. So stop it. Don't make us pass laws and hire cops. Just pick up after yourself, like your mama told you to do.

Over the last 14 years, I've worked in virtually every neighborhood in this town, and I can tell you this: The quality of a neighborhood is inversely proportional to the amount of dog crap on the ground. You show me a neighborhood where the dogs are louder than the birds, and the smell of dog muck overrides the smell of grass, and I'll show you a neighborhood where I'd want a bulletproof bubble over my riding mower, OK?

If dog owners don't start practicing a little common courtesy, we might just have to copy the Belgian city of Ghent, where authorities recently installed eight curbside dog toilets in a densely populated 19th-century neighborhood. The dog thrones are set into the ground, with a layer of gravel at the top. Each is shielded by a wooden screen.

After 10 days in service, according to Reuters, the dog potties had collected 187 pounds of dog crap. Quick math: That's an average of 24.375 pounds of crap per dog toilet. By any definition, that's a load.

"To our own surprise, we established that 1,160 turds had been taken away," said Jan Roegiers, an assistant at the Ghent Environmental Department. More quick math: The average Ghentian dog turd weighs in around 2.6 ounces.

Ghent has an estimated 20,000 dogs, and the city fathers plan to expand the dog-toilet project. "We are going to tackle the dog turds, together with the inhabitants, per neighborhood," Roegiers said.

I would love to know who got the job of counting and weighing the dog turds. Y'all see what happens when you misbehave and get the government involved? Suddenly your tax money is going to pay for a small army of turd counters and turd weighers. They'll organize, of course, and they'll expect a whopping-big cost-of-living raise every year.

I would also love to know how the Ghentians get their dogs to squat in just the right place. When I last had dogs for pets, I had basset hounds. Aside from the olfactory and vision components, the only functioning part of a basset's brain is the hypothalamus, which commands the dog to eat and sleep. Bassets follow no human commands. If I had basset hounds in Ghent, I'd be dressing 'em up in Depends.

I love dogs, I really do. But I decided some years back that life is just too short to pick up dog turds. So these days, I keep fish for pets. They clean up their own byproducts, if you know what I mean. I recommend 'em highly.

Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nashscene.com>. Or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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