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Opinion: I love Ireland and I love dogs – but this country has to sort out its poop problem

Another beautiful morning, another pair of running shoes ruined.

Sophie B Watson

ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL MORNING jogging on Dún Laoghaire pier thwarted; another pair of running shoes smeared in poop. Welcome to Ireland, watch out for the dog s**t!

Don’t get me wrong I love Ireland and I love dogs. I lived for a few sweet years with an oversized beautiful redheaded retriever named Bear back home in Alberta; I was pals with a runt named Sid from Vegas who had a bullet in his spine and nervous legs; and my mom in Mexico had an adorable mini Lassie lookalike named Coco who was a dream.

But I loathe the renegade dog owners in Ireland who don’t clean up their dog’s poop, infecting my otherwise lovely walks and runs in the great stunning Irish outdoors. Not only are they wrecking the spectacular landscape and creating a public health hazard, my headspace is also getting wrecked.

Out on my run, when I should be meditating on the beauty of the sailboats and the way wind moves the water in Zen ripples, my thoughts are instead hijacked with imaginary arguments with dog owners. (In fairness, I don’t think it’s just Ireland – it’s Europe, I’ve been on many a crappy street in England and France.) How many useless and stinky minutes have been spent washing poop out of shoe soles, scooter wheels and bike tyres? Talk about getting stuck in a rut.

From my experience living here, people are not compelled by etiquette to take off their shoes when visiting other people’s houses, like they are in western Canada and Japan. So the poop is getting all over everyone’s floors. Let’s not even talk about dropping food on the floor and the 2-second rule!

Enforcement is key

Not to brag but if there’s one thing Canadians do well, it’s picking up their dog poop, and if they don’t they are shamed by all passersby as well as by fellow dog owners. I don’t think the righteousness is innate, it was brought about with tough fines and enforcement.

In British Columbia, where smoking is practically illegal outdoors as well as indoors, dog owners are advised to bring their dog poop back to their backyards to compost. I can already hear the shock horror in living rooms here over such draconian measures. Let’s not even talk about the brainiacs here who put the poop in little baggies and leave them in a pile at the entrance to the park. Presents? For whom? The poop fairy?

There is, it would seem, no enforcement in Ireland. On my beloved Dún Laoghaire piers (either one) where we often go walking, it’s a huge exercise in avoiding the mess. I guess I could be grateful that it keeps me sharp doing impromptu figure eights—my dodging skills are definitely honed. The kids are used to me screeching from a great distance: “For God’s sake, watch the poop!” There’s a sign saying dogs must be on leashes. Everyone ignores it. I’ve even seen new signs that have severe dog fouling messages, warning there are cameras. Everyone knows the council is just bluffing, I haven’t seen any cameras. Until one person gets a huge fine and tells all their friends who tell their friends, nothing will change.

There are exceptions though. I did see a woman the other day who not only cleaned up the poop in a bag, but went on to scrape the pavement with some leaves that she pinched from a bordering shrub. (Probably a North American, I’m guessing…)

I’m no fan of privatisation generally, quite the opposite. Except for dog poop. Clearly Ireland’s dog wardens are fighting an impossible battle. Presumably the argument is: there’s no money in council’s budgets to increase their vigilance on the issue. Well, here’s a solution; create a Poop Squad of freelancers, like bounty hunters or car-clampers, who will earn their salary by fining the offenders. It’s simple and perfect. Put a few people on the piers, in the parks, and on every block and I’m pretty sure the pavements would be clean in no time.

Together standing strong we can do this. Let’s hear it for a new Irish Poop Squad!

(I dedicate this piece to my sisters in outrage, my French pals living in Dublin.)

Sophie B Watson is a writer, editor and swimmer. Cadillac Couches is her first novel. www.sophiebwatson.com

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Sophie B Watson

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