The stool rule

Asheville has something to be proud of at the onset of the millennium: On Jan. 1, our fair city began enforcing the new pooper-scooper ordinance decreed by City Council on Oct. 27.

Although I understand the argument for adopting the new law, I take issue with our city leaders for enacting it. Like, there aren’t more important things Council could be doing with its time, other than jawing about organic waste products (“organic” being the operative word here)?

In the lofty chambers of city government, surrounded by all the accouterments of bureaucracy, our elected officials took God knows how many hours to flesh out Civil Ordinance Number 2631. I imagine it could have unfolded something like this:

One Council member chimed up to request, “On tonight’s agenda, I propose devising a concrete solution to our area’s abhorrent air-pollution problem.” Another countered, “What about nailing down the Interstate-26 connector conflict?” But a bigger voice eclipsed them all with, “No, I insist that we deal with the city’s most serious problem: steaming dog feces on Asheville’s downtown walkways.” Well, of course: Doo-doo is definitely the most pressing of these topics.

In my neighborhood alone, it would be nice if we occasionally saw a police officer patrolling the Sand Hill “speedway” during morning rush hour (or any hour, for that matter). Or, if it’s corrective measures they’re after, why not create a public park where all the hounds could happily get down and wallow in it? I’m sure dog owners would love to have a safe, enclosed place where their furry comrades could romp, leash-free.

In congested metropolitan areas, excrement must be removed, lest the entire city become one stinking, fresh-air cesspool. But Asheville’s populace is spread out enough so that there are still lots of woodsy detours close to our urban center, where dogs can discretely unburden themselves. Besides, the city has already made at least a token attempt to promote this desired behavior. At the French Broad River Park, for instance, wooden stands filled with plastic bags intermittently pepper the paved trail, for the pooper-scooping convenience of dog walkers. But, half the time, either there are no bags in these receptacles, or else the empty bags blow around the park, causing as much contamination as the problem they attempt to solve.

I’ve also been wondering whether Council has forgotten a most conspicuous detail: Dog dooky is biodegradable! God’s natural fertilizer. A little rain, and poof! the stuff melts away, as quickly as the Wicked Witch of the West.

OK, OK: I’m sure we’ve all had that same disgusting experience — discovering, too late, that you’ve tracked some vile-smelling, brown yuck through the entire house, via the bottom of your shoes. The result is a frantic, unplanned cleaning frenzy in the middle of an already-too-busy day. But, given the choice, would you rather clean your shoes or breathe clean air?

And how, I want to know, is the new law going to be enforced? Who’s going to skulk around in the bushes, looking for those evil, four-legged culprits? When I first heard about this law, I pictured policemen seated at morning roll call, blanching as they received the dreaded pooper-scooper assignment. But, it turns out, the city has contracted with Friends For Animals to issue these civil citations. They will be in charge of combing the area to flush out these despicable defilers (not to be confused with X-filers).

Curious about the penalty for such an egregious transgression against humanity, I called the Asheville city clerk’s office and talked to Maggie Burleson. According to her, the fine for the crime will be a puny $10, levied immediately after the first violation. And, for a second infraction within a year of the first one — I think I’ve got this right — there will be a $20 assessment, and so on, ad nauseam. (Whew: An investigative reporter I’m not!) But, since the city’s gone to all the trouble of writing the law, enacting it, hiring an enforcement agency, and notifying local residents about the law’s existence, why not demand substantial remuneration? I propose slapping a $100 fine on offenders. What is the incentive to comply, if there’s no punch to the penalty? Considering that responsible pet owners probably have been cleaning up after Rover all along, the slackers — those whom this law is intended to rein in — will laugh in the face of a $10 ticket. When Asheville implements the law, its sole effect may be to create a new job for some back-office employee, who will be in charge of a mountain of paperwork. Great use of taxpayers’ money!

Also worth considering is the perhaps-unintended, yet unquestionably divisive, nature of this statute. Although Friends For Animals will be sending out its minions to supervise the situation, Number 2631’s successful enforcement will depend, in part, on neighbors ratting on each other — something I equate with kindergarten conduct. In an attempt to identify these scatological violators, nosey citizens who spend their lives spying on unsuspecting neighbors will begin dismantling whatever may remain in the way of suburban harmony. As you stumble out of bed each morning to walk your pooch before going to work, the loving chore will no longer be a no-brainer: Mrs. Smith is lurking behind those lace curtains, just waiting to turn you in.

Too bad dogs can’t be granted judicial representation in the face of Ordinance 2631, because — if we could anthropomorphize just for a moment here — this edict constitutes doggie discrimination to the max. How is it that, out of all the creatures on the planet, only dogs are lucky enough to have their bodily debris regulated by the government? And imagine, if you will, how embarrassed the native mutts will feel after being caught in such shameful acts directed against our fair city. If it weren’t so fundamentally ludicrous, this law would rate an episode on Ally McBeal.

Dogs doing what comes naturally is a pressing problem, and Asheville residents should definitely embrace this fundamental solution to it.

THE END (no pun intended)

[Allison Frank is a free-lance writer living in Asheville.]

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