How would we behave differently if we believed that every place was sacred – if not to us, then to someone?

I have a special relationship with Theodore Roosevelt Island. It’s my “home” park, here in the urban hinterland. It’s sad that to get to a place where plants and wildlife are left relatively to their own devices and there are more than a handful of trees, I have to get in the car, but it’s the nature of my situation. TRI is deeply important to me as a place where I can go to breathe a little easier, nourish my soul with the rhythms of the Wheel of the Year playing out more exuberantly, and get in touch with the spirits of my landbase and watershed.

There’s nothing quite like it, walking around the trails, deeper into the woods to the very shore of the river where the rocks thrust up through the thin skin of the land to create a natural henge, feeling myself connect to the place and begin to ground and center in a much stronger way…only to be met with a cheerfully purple little plastic bag of dog poop.

On my last two visits to the island, over the space of just a few days, I have picked up no fewer than twelve bags of dog poop.

I used to think these were just accidents, that maybe an owner busy jogging with an active pet simply didn’t notice when the baggie slipped from her grip. But no: many of these are deliberately placed. Several were under the sign that greets visitors when they come onto the island. One had cute little pawprints printed on the bag in case I was confused about the source of the spoor. Others had been left by the end of the railings on the footbridge, which leads back to the parking lot and trash bins.

Two more were neatly bagged, tied, and placed prominently atop a fallen log directly beside the path, and there was the one in the midst of my little out-of-the-way spot. There’s no way these are accidents.

Think about that: on at least a dozen occasions, a dog owner deliberately decided that “picking up after their pet” meant merely containing the poop in a plastic bag and then leaving that bag there for someone else to clean up. They clearly thought ahead enough to bring bags, but not enough to plan to take those bags to a trash bin.

Do they think there’s a magical Poop Fairy who cleans up after them? Apparently so, and I’m getting damn tired of filling the role.

I realize that for most people, especially dog owners, TRI isn’t a sacred space. It’s just a convenient place for a good run and a chance to let their dogs experience something other than concrete and manicured grass. I get that, I really do. But even if that’s all it is, wouldn’t simple decency indicate that others ought to be able to enjoy it without having to literally clean up your shit? Apparently not.

This is something between a rant and a plea. It’s also a lesson I’m trying to take to heart. I believe, as the poet wrote, that there are no unsacred places. I know, though, that some places are more sacred than others to me. This is reminding me that although I may not see a certain place as sacred to me, it might be – probably is! – a sacred space to someone else. That’s a humbling idea, and one worth learning, so I’m trying to be grateful. But it’s hard, because I don’t want to be the Poop Fairy.

Now how do I go about communicating that to the dog owners who visit TRI?

14 thoughts on “No unsacred place, or, I do not want to be the Poop Fairy

  1. Clearly, the only response is hidden video cameras, facial recognition, a friend at the DMV, and ding-dong-ditching all of the poop at owners’ houses. I think I just made the plot of the worst action thriller ever.

  2. You have my complete sympathies. As a dog owner, this kind of thing makes me crazy. I know it’s no fun to carry around a stinky bag of poo as you (general) take your walk or run around the park, but it’s no fun for anyone else to pick it up, either. I carry bags, and when I find that I don’t have them on me — I’ve run out and forgotten to put more in the little purse I keep attached to my dog’s leash, or I’ve left them in the car — I find some way to deal with it anyway, whether it’s marking the spot, going and getting a bag and coming back for it, or asking someone else if they have a spare (which I had to do just yesterday; I was quite embarrassed, but there was another person with dogs nearby, and she was happy to hand me one). But I cannot stand this behavior. I have been known to go running after someone who does this, and hand them back their poo.

    I do wish, though, that the parks I frequent had more trash cans, so I didn’t have to carry the stinky things so far.

    Also, “spoor” is a good word. So is “fewmets,” should you find yourself in need of more entertaining synonyms.

    1. I understand about wanting more trash bins, but what really gets me is that everyone who comes to this place has to drive, so you’re going to be leaving in the car, and the bins are in the parking lot. Right over the bridge from where people are leaving them. Sigh.

      Fewmets. I forgot that one. “Hey, you forgot your fewmets!” Yup, that’d work.

      1. That’s utterly ridiculous, and there’s no excuse for it. I just mean more of them along the trail, so I don’t have to carry the fewmets quite so far. I’ll do it, and they should, too, and they’re jackasses for not doing so, especially if they’ve carried them that far already.

  3. I have never been to that park. The only thing I can think of is that the people doing this think there is a maintenance person coming through who picks them up, and the offender is purposefully leaving the bags in plain sight. However, they really should be ditching it in the trashcan themselves. I wouldn’t want someone leaving bags of poopie in my sacred space either. At least I could cover it up with a little extra incense on high holy days. Lol!

  4. I empathize — oh, boy, do I ever. I go to my local park by the lake at least once a week to clean up other people’s garbage (like they can’t quite manage to walk the FIVE FEET to the garbage can to throw their empty pop can in, but just toss it in that general area), and there, too, I end up picking far too many bags of discarded dog crap. (And used condoms, and broken glass, and cigarette butts, and candy bar wrappers, and empty chip bags, and styrofoam fishing coolers that got broken).

    I have, in the past, gotten so angry over it that *I* think the only way to deal with it is to pass a law allowing folks to shoot litterbugs on sight. Fortunately, cooler heads than I prevail…but folks here just completely ignore the “$50 fine for littering” signs. So I have no idea what might be done to prevent it.


    1. I take a spare trash bag with me every time I go to the beach, for that exact reason. It’s so awful the way people treat parks and beaches. (Salt-water beaches are particularly sacred spaces for me.)

  5. Sounds like a good special interest story for the local media. Maybe even a special community service project. Is there any agency in charge of cleaning that park?

    1. It’s under the aegis of the National Park Service. I’ve actually organized a community service clean-up of that park before. Maybe we can do that again.

  6. I had a dog-loving walking pal who did this exact maneuver. She brought bags and dutifully filled them with doggie deposits, but then she would leave the bags on the side of the hiking trail du jour. I cringed every time she did this. Each time, she assured me that she would get the bag on the way back. About 70% of the time, the bag remained where we left it. Not only did this behavior cultivate a distaste for the oblivious denial of dog owners, it ended my desire to hike with this person. What really got me was her self-centered (as in centered on herself) conviction that she’d done her duty by placing the poop in the bag and that it was A-okay to leave the bag by the trail with the unfulfilled intent to pick it up on the way back.

    1. Wow. That’s just….wow.

      I suppose it doesn’t help in my situation that the trails form a loop. On the other hand, with people leaving them right at the end of the footbridge, I don’t know that anything would really help.

  7. Honestly, in that situation, just letting the dog poop off the trail is probably a better ecological solution. Don’t get me started on the dog owners in my neighborhood who are Shocked! Shocked! that I don’t consider my garden their own personal dog park. I love dogs. Some owners, not so much.

    1. That has occurred to me too. I don’t know how much worse it would be in terms of disturbing native wildlife (which is why dogs are not supposed to be off-leash there either…) and given the apparent disregard of some (not all, but some) dog owners, I bet I’d find some places on the trails simply unusable for meditation and such because of poop, but I do worry about the environmental impact too.

      OT: I love that Casablanca reference. It’s entered the language as a phrase on its own, I think, but remembering the context when it gets used makes me laugh a little more.

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