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Do you remember the days when dogs ran free, and we weren’t afraid of them? I do. Back in Minnesota in the 70’s and 80’s, when I was a kid, dogs ran after cars and from yard to yard, sniffing and playing and just being themselves. Dogs ran up to me and I wasn’t afraid of them. They might have been places they weren’t supposed to be—like in my family’s yard instead of their owners’ yard, or escaped and hightailing it down the street—but even so, dogs were always friendly interlopers in my days of playing outside.
Then I grew up and moved to Phoenix, where for the first time ever I saw people walking their dogs on leashes and picking up their poop with plastic bags. I was totally repulsed and didn’t understand the situation: Why walk the dog if all he’s going to do is poop and then you have to pick it up!? And carry it with you? Gross. Leash laws and dog parks were also new to me, but after living in Phoenix for awhile, I understood the reasoning behind all of these restrictions: you can’t really have dogs running all over the place, in and out of traffic, in and out of gunplay. I’ve come to admire the owners who diligently walk their dogs and pick up their poop; these are good people, the ones who don’t keep their dogs caged up or restricted to a five by five foot patio, people who kindly let their dogs exercise and explore the neighborhood.
But after living in Phoenix for twenty years and in a country where we hear about dog maulings every day—people losing their faces or even their lives after being attacked—I’ve developed a fear of loose dogs. I walk a lot, and if a dog happens to come barreling towards me from across a park or street, my heart leaps into my throat. Oh my God, today is the day I’m going to die or end up scarred for life. And I’m not talking about dogs who just amble up for a sniff or a pat; I’m talking about dogs of any size who come running straight at me—even with their owners shouting, “Mimi! Come back here!”
With all of this in the back of my mind, I went for my usual walk last night. Not surprisingly, at one point an older couple came towards me on the sidewalk, the woman with two smaller dogs, the man with a larger dog, all on leashes. I had no concerns and even stepped off the sidewalk onto the grass so that this little entourage could easily get by. After we’d passed each other, I stepped back onto the sidewalk and soon noticed a trail of poop. It was small poop, and it was diarrhea poop—very mushy pieces with fluid seeping out. As I kept walking I saw even more plops of poop. They were obviously from one of the smaller dogs that had just passed by.
And I thought to myself, How ballsy of that couple to take a sick dog out for a walk. Even if they didn’t know when they left the house that one of the dogs had diarrhea, you would think that when they noticed the first mushy pile, they would have scraped it into a bag and turned back. They could have taken all three dogs home and the woman could have stayed with the sick one, and the man could have gone back out with the other two. But no: they continued to march down the sidewalk while one of their dogs squirted poop every ten feet, and they didn’t even clean it up. I wanted to turn around and give them a shout: “Hey! Your little dog has diarrhea! You gotta come back here and clean this up!” But I didn’t, because that too is something you don’t do in the city: confront strangers. You just go about your business.
As I continue my daily walks through the neighborhood, I can look forward to watching this diarrhea poop disintegrate in the heat. It will mark the passage of my days and weeks, hardening and cracking and flattening out. In time the diarrhea poop will turn to dust and fly into our city air, where the wind will pick it up, like the owners should have. When I eventually read that Phoenix has regained its status as having the worst air quality in the nation—a title we recently lost to Bakersfield, California—I won’t be surprised. The pollution that floats over our city is called the Brown Cloud, and now I know why: because there’s dog poop in it.