Twenty-three piles of dog shit.
Twenty-three separate, individual piles of poo, in various states of rain-softened slurry, in a one-and-a-half block section of one Budapest street (Wesselenyi utca). A 190-meter stretch of road. That’s a turd every eight meters or so. I try to steer my two year-old on his plastic motorcycle through the mine-field of canine fecal matter, but inevitably he rolls through a poo-puddle or two, slides his tiny shoe through some doggy diarrhea.
According to city officials, approximately 400,000 dogs are kept in Budapest. Vienna, which has a population comparable to Budapest’s, has around 60,000. By any accounting, 400,000 is a lot of dogs. They dump an estimated 14,600 metric tons of waste on the city a year (that’s 40,000 kilos – 88,200 pounds – a day), more than the weight of the London Eye and the Eiffel Tower combined. (Those landmarks, however, are generally thought to be more aesthetically pleasing, generate a lot more income, and are unlikely to adhere in an unhealthy and malodorous paste to your new shoes.)
In 2005 the city launched a 200-million-forint (about $1,000,000 at the time) campaign to address the dire situation. Television spots encouraged people to curb their dogs. Admonishing posters popped up around the city. Special doggy play areas were set aside in public parks, and dog waste disposal bins appeared in strategic sites. Expensive sidewalk cleaning machines were purchased. (Again proving that treatment is more costly that prevention.) There was only one problem. A lot of dog owners didn’t seem to give a poodle’s ass. And still don’t. How else, in 2012, to explain twenty-three dookies in less than a 200-meter span?
Oddly enough, I’ve seldom seen an owner not clean up their dog’s poop on the street. (Although I did see a dog owner allowing his boxer to piss – presumably with a deeply satisfying sense of irony – on a ‘NO DOGS’ sign posted on the sweet green grass of a newly-renovated public park. And just last week I shouted at a man who allowed his wolfhound to befoul a swathe of grass very near where my youngest son was playing. Well, I shouted “Hey!” once – it was a very large and grizzly-looking wolfhound.)
So although I very rarely see it, clearly folks are engaging in drive-by pooings, perhaps mostly at night. Shit-and-runs under cover of darkness. The evidence is certainly there on the side of the road; a few years ago my oldest son stumbled on a sidewalk and fell face-first into the leavings of what must have been a pooch of prodigious size, throwing me into a near-maniacal fit of canicidal fury.
I used to be something of a dog lover. I once owned two lovely mixed-breed border collies, and grew up with a feisty little West Highland white terrier named Angus Mactavish Macauley Treadwell that I found fairly tolerable, even agreeable at times. But a son who has an unreasonable fear of dogs and ten years of dodging doggy dung have seriously dampened their attraction.
Now let me be clear, because I know, in the words of David Quammen, that “dogs are a sensitive subject; some dog owners, like some tobacco smokers and most members of the Ku Klux Klan, tend to be passionately defensive about what they are pleased to think of as their own rights.” I have no wish to offend, so I’ll say that I strongly feel that some dogs are just fine some of the time. Good companions for older people and shut-ins. Useful for the visually impaired. Gratifyingly enthusiastic welcomers of homecomers. That’s all dandy. But there are three main points at play here.
One, we’ve simply got too many dogs, people. Four hundred thousand in Budapest alone, many of them large dogs living in small flats, is too many. In the US, there are approximately 78 million pet dogs, and an unknown number of strays. Strays are impossible to count, but Detroit alone has an estimated 30,000 – 50,000, leading the city to consider abandoning mail delivery to some parts of the city after 59 postal workers were attacked by dogs in 2010. American animal shelters are forced to euthanize around 2-3 million dogs a year. All of these numbers suggest that preventing your dog from reproducing might be a good idea.
Two, since first coming into permanent contact with humans (the “greased chute to degradation,” in Quammen’s words) about 10,000 years ago, we’ve bred dogs to “our own sick tastes and mad purposes; we gave them squashed faces and curly tails and sawed-off legs, brain damage and hip dysplasia and hemophilia, permanent psychological infantilism; we generally brought out the worst in them.” We’ve also, particularly in the US since the 1980s, frequently breed dogs for fighting and increased aggressiveness. There are around 4.7 million reported dog attacks each year in the US – 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms every day – and on average 35 people are killed. Most victims are children. Perhaps my son’s fear of dogs is not so unfounded.
Three, – and this brings me back to 88,200 pounds of ejectamenta per day – common decency requires you to clean up after your dog, no matter where it decides to discharge its dung. Consider the city’s (and the world’s) parks, sidewalks and streets extensions of your own home. If Fido dumps his muck on your living room floor, you’re going to clean it up, right? Right? So why leave it on our living room floor?
So what’s to be done? Some friends and I briefly flirted with the idea of buying hundreds of mini Hungarian flags and sticking them in each and every mound of manure we came across. Then we decided that we didn’t have a death wish.
Shame. Shame and social ostracism work. It worked for smoking in the US. Let it work for clearing the streets of dog droppings here. Don’t turn a blind eye. Scream and shout and make it plain that polluting the places we live is not acceptable. And come to think of it, that’s pretty sound policy for dealing with any polluter. Scream and shout. Call them out. Shame them into cleaning up their dog shit, whatever it may be.