Dog Poop and Neighborly Relations
For the second time in a week, a neighbor’s large dog strayed into our yard today. Max is a friendly enough dog, but he’s much larger than our small Sheltie, is not neutered (and therefore more aggressive), and is not invited. (Remember: Americans value privacy, so even though American yards are often unfenced, neighbors are culturally expected to respect lot boundaries and not enter others’ yards without being invited.)
Max’s owners have a small business on the corner of our street and a busy thoroughfare, just two lots away from our house. The neighborhood is borderline rural. The first dozen lots are one-acre parcels; further to the north lie corn fields, turkey farms, and dirt roads. Very few of our neighbors have fences. We don’t have a fence, but our dog is trained to stay on our property. (He even stops at the lot line when chasing rabbits or squirrels off the property.)
One of the employees working in the neighbor’s garage forgot to chain Max up again, and roaming Max found his way into our yard, this time leaving a big brown “deposit” on the lawn. For my wife and me, there are two things here which are culturally unacceptable: 1) a stray dog on our property and 2) that dog pooping on the grass.
Now, let’s assess my goals. 1) I want to keep stray pets off our property. 2) I want to maintain a good relationship with my neighbors. Below is what happened.
I walked down to the neighbor’s with Max good-naturedly following me. I went into the office and found the employee, a young man we’ll call “John.”
AGH: Hi. How ya doin’? Max [who is right behind me] found his way into our yard again.
John: Oh, Bob [a co-worker] must have left him off the leash when he went out to the garage.
AGH: I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name from last time. [extending my hand]
John: I’m John. [takes my hand]
AGH: I’m Alan.
We walk Max outside and back to the garage, where a long leash is tethered. I continue talking as we walk.
AGH: I’m concerned about his safety. The college students on this road come whipping down [driving] pretty fast, and Max could easily get run over.
John: Yeah, we have to keep him tied up better.
AGH: And while Max was “visiting,” he took a dump on our lawn.
John: [while fastening Max to the leash] Would you like me to come clean it up?
AGH: If you could, thanks.
John finds some paper towels in the garage and we begin walking to our house. I keep up a friendly conversation, asking if he’s heard the fox who lives in the woods behind our house, talking about the scary noises it makes, about how the neighbors to the north need to keep their chickens locked up safely. Keeping the tone friendly and light, I switch to the weather. It takes a half a minute to locate the pile of fresh dog poop in the back yard. John scoops it up with the paper towels.
AGH: Thanks a lot.
He heads towards the street, and I turn towards the house.
AGH: Have a good afternoon.
John: See ya.
What happened here could have gone very badly. Some neighbors—especially those raised in the country—feel their animals have freer roaming rights than in the city. John could have been angry at me for “making” him come pick up the dog poop. He could have decided that the roaming dog was not his problem, thinking that dogs will sometimes do that. Still, as the employee of a small business, John probably wants to keep peace with the neighbors. My job was to appear friendly, give information about what happened, and then request that the situation be remedied. Suburbanites who don’t take care of their pets need to be gently reminded of that responsibility. Having to take ten minutes out of his day to fix Max’s mistake will likely make the whole staff more conscious of the need to monitor the owner’s dog.
In the end, the mess got cleaned out of our lawn, John and I had a very cordial exchange (no angry words were traded), and the message was communicated that while we don’t hate Max, we don’t want him roaming our lawn (and relieving himself there). My wife reminded me that angry people may do unkind things to their neighbors’ pets, so it’s a good idea to keep harmony in the neighborhood for the safety of the animals.
Let me know if you’d like to talk more about the cultural rules at play here or the specific language I chose while interacting with “John.”
leave a deposit
take a dump
do his business