Forget about red state vs. blue state. If you really want to raise a hot-button issue that polarizes neighborhoods, pits resident against resident, has pundits pontificating and even divides households, ask this: Is it OK to drop your dog’s poop in a neighbor’s garbage can?
It’s a conflict you can expect to flare up with the return of warmer weather — and smellier garbage.
In St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway area, for example, debate about whose garbage can should be left holding the dog poop bag hits the neighborhood’s Facebook page “like a seasonal tornado every summer,” said resident Vetnita Anderson. “People are very passionate about dog poop.”
Last summer, the issue got so heated that people posting on the Hamline-Midway page began referring to it as the “Great Dog Poop War of 2016.”
“To the guy who put dog poop in my can: I saw you, called after you, for no acknowledgment,” read one posting. “I do not desire my trash can to smell like yours. Put it in yours, carry it with you.”
“All are welcome to throw their canine’s smelly bags in our trash can!” wrote another poster, who added, “I’m going to continue to refrain from doing it to others. I’d rather not have someone chase me down or plot some sort of neighborly revenge. …”
Comments on the Facebook page were eventually shut off by an administrator and there were pleas for civility: “I am declaring today Positive Post Friday. Please, no stadium or dog poop talk. The only poop talk will be from a unicorn pooping rainbows.”
Still, some Hamline anthropology students got a whiff of the tiff and made a mini-documentary titled “The Politics of Dog Poop in the Midway,” which includes a resident saying: “I think it’s just one of those things that you feel that you should be able to control in your life: whether you have poop in it or not. And you can’t.”
The video, which earned students Cory Quirk, Eric Mathews and Ian Minchow an A, was screened for the neighborhood at the Turf Club. You can see it on YouTube. (Be sure to catch the chicken standing on a dog’s back.)
Dog poop also raised online hackles in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, where commenters on the E-Democracy.org forum quoted city ordinances and schooled one another on the mechanics of garbage collection.
“I don’t want to have to touch it and smell it and clean it out of my garbage can. How in the world is my not wanting to deal with other people’s dog poop elitist???” read one posting.
“I’d rather have people put poop in my can than having it sitting on the street,” said Seward resident Peter DeLong.
DeLong said he has dropped poop bags from his dog into other people’s garbage cans. “It all goes to the same place,” he argued. But DeLong, who also has two cats and five chickens, admitted that his “tolerance for poop is probably higher than other people’s.”
Seward resident Michael Farnsworth said he has a small garbage can where the hauler will only pull out trash that is contained in a large plastic bag. That means any small bags of dog poop that are also tossed in his bin get left behind.
“The etiquette should be you look for a public garbage can or bring it home to your house,” Farnsworth said. “There’s no God-given right that I get to throw my trash in your can.”
And he’s right. At least as far as the cities are concerned.
According to Minneapolis ordinances, you can’t put “substances or materials of any kind” in a residential garbage can “when the substances or materials were generated at a location other than the residence.”
In St. Paul, ordinances say when a dog poops on someone else’s property, the dog owner has to remove the poop “to a proper receptacle located on property owned or possessed” by the dog owner.
But that’s not the standard operating procedure in many neighborhoods.
Anderson said she has two malamutes: “Big dogs. Huge dog poops.” Like a dog poop Sherpa, Anderson said she hauls the waste home to her Hamline-Midway garbage can.
“I tip the garbage man every Christmas very highly,” she said.
She admits that her husband will deposit their dogs’ poop in a neighbor’s garbage can if it’s waiting for pickup on the curb, arguing that it will soon be hauled away anyway.
LaRayne Kuehl, another Hamline-Midway resident, begs to differ. “If you’re too squeamish to carry it until you’re done with your walk, maybe you shouldn’t have a dog,” she said.
Signs of peace?
The controversy isn’t limited to Minnesota neighbors. Even nationally syndicated advice columnists are split about where to deposit a dog’s deposits.
Dear Abby ruled: “As long as the bag was securely sealed, I don’t think adding it to someone’s trash bin was a social no-no.”
Dear Prudence wrote: “in the interest of my guiding principle of never getting yelled at, I generally hold out until I find a public waste bin.”
Ask Amy said you can sneak a candy wrapper into a stranger’s trash bin, but dog do is a don’t.
Writing in “Washington Monthly” on “The Ethics of Dog Crap Disposal,” Timothy Noah opined that residential trash bins are typically owned by a city, and if it’s sitting on the curb or a public alley, “then there’s no moral or legal difference between tossing the turd there or tossing it into a municipal waste can cemented to the sidewalk.”
Controversy over an improperly tossed dog poop bag led a small-town California mayor to resign. And in a 2015 dog poop rage case, a man in Fargo was arrested after allegedly pointing a gun at another man.
It’s a hot issue overseas, as well.
Journalists at the Manly Daily, a suburban Sydney newspaper, once went point-counterpoint on whether it’s OK to drop dog poop into a neighbor’s bin when it’s parked on the “nature strip” (what Australians call their boulevards).
In the Hamline-Midway area, there’s hope that stickers will bring peace to the dog poop wars.
After she saw the issue hit the fan on the neighborhood Facebook page last year, Jessica Kooiman designed and began selling rainbow-colored stickers. The $4 stickers, sold on Etsy.com, identify your garbage can as a “bagged dog poo friendly container.”
And this February, the PTO for the Galtier Community Elementary School in St. Paul began selling garbage can stickers at the nearby Ginkgo Coffeehouse as part of its fundraising efforts. There are both dog-poop-welcome and dog-poop-not-welcome stickers.
PTO president Clayton Howatt said so far they’ve only sold a handful of stickers, which cost $5 for four. But he expects sales to pick up as the weather gets warmer.
“It’s mostly been [dog poop] OK stickers that have been sold, which was kind of surprising for me,” Howatt said.