Lessons from the Dog Park: or, You Pick Up Your Poop and I’ll Pick Up Mine, and Maybe a Few Others

Posted on December 2, 2018


While walking my dogs in the dog walk at Sokol Park a few days ago, I of course carried a few plastic bags to pick up my dog’s poop. Now, just stay with me on this one. This is not about dog poop, but that’s simply a crafty beginning to get you interested. Has this author really run out of ideas and finally turning to dog poop? No, but the lessons one learns in the Dog Park are quite useful for life these days.

I not only pick up my dog’s poop, but occasionally pick up some poop left by other dogs whose owners did not see the act, simply missing it as they chatted with other owners and their doggies ran here and there, mingling with other pooches, and pooping here and there. Or the owners saw the transgression and chose to ignore it, leaving their dog’s poop for someone else to pick up.

The world, as I saw it that morning—while picking up someone else’s dog poop–is organized in somewhat the same fashion. Most of us pick up our own dog’s poop, some chose to ignore the offending offal, and a third category will pick up other’s poop.

A responsible and free society must recognize that your dog’s poop is your dog’s poop, and no matter how many excuses you may offer not to accept the responsibility associated with this task—which we will extrapolate a bit below—you are responsible for your actions, all the way from the first lesson you learn as a small child to every moment in your life until old age, and even into old age, although we oldsters have a few of God’s and nature’s excuses built in. Our dotage can include a bit of forgetfulness (given its scientific name, dementia), some loss of dexterity associated for example with putting on shoes, etc., and a few other I need not identify for my fellow peers.

Now, I know many of you will find or remember excuses for not accepting personal responsibility for your actions, for your successes and for your failures, all the way from your DNA to your upbringing in a fatherless home to an alcoholic stepmother, something along those lines. These all can be valid in given circumstances, but we are focusing on poop picker uppers who do what is right and responsible.

Then there are those who simply run the red light, avoid paying taxes, and you can add your own multitudinous set of large and small civil and criminal infractions of law, and straying from the larger morality that governs us all, and you leave poop for others to take care of. And, here too, we can run the gamut of excuses from the one percenters who own most of the wealth in the country to the disenfranchised and poor in some rural county of Alabama (it could be any state, BTW), all of whom have excuses, from “I earned it by George!,” to “I am entitled to it by…” and you fill in by law, custom, need, race, etc.

And there are those who will pick up poop that isn’t theirs. Those are the ones I truly admire, not because I occasionally do it—and invariably do not think kind thoughts of the perpetrators–, but because they are exercising a responsibility that transcends themselves. They are behaving, let’s be upfront, as members of our society, our country, where we are not single atoms zipping through space, but part of a larger whole that needs care and tending to keep in flourishing and well.

Let me use service as one example of those who pick up someone else’s poop. Those who are either drawn into military service by the draft or general conscription during wartime, or, like today, elect to go into the service of their own free will, contribute not only to making our world safe in a very dangerous world indeed but also to learning to live and work and sometimes even fight with other Americans, from other lifestyles, other parts of the country, other colors and races, of both sexes, and by doing so learn to respect and uplift their country. That’s a long and rather unwieldy sentence. I think President John F. Kennedy summarized this thought in his Inaugural address in 1961 by framing it this way: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Now, we have gone a long way from dog poop to President Kennedy, and some of you may smirk and make a funny; that’s ok. A sense of humor is important, and think Jack Kennedy would have been a good poop picker upper, his own or those of his fellow countryman’s doggies, or certainly asked Jackie or one of his interns in the White House to please help him keep the dog park clean since he had a pretty tough battle injury to his back from his days commanding a PT boat in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Published as “A certain dog park etiquette defines us” in The Tuscaloosa News, Oct. 28, 2018.