#askingforme is an advice column featuring Grace Sanders, a psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience helping people improve their “human-in-process” stuff. Send questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org (or use the anonymous form below).
I love how open our neighborhood is towards dogs, and greeting my neighbors out walking them is one of my favorite parts of NoDa. However, it’s clear that not everyone cleans up after their pet. On almost every walk, I find a pile of poop next to or even on the sidewalk. How can I encourage my neighbors (I never catch anyone “in the act.”) to clean up their crap?
– Really Crapped-out
Dear Really Crapped-out,
Thank you for asking this question. I actually think about it a great deal as I walk around the neighborhood with my four-legged love.
Your question presents a sort of backdoor entry into my work as a therapist and the kinds of issues I can address in this column. I often get questions that follow this same structure from my clients, and they all go a little something like this: “How can I get someone else to do something I want?”
It’s likely that you also recognize this structure in questions you and your friends and family may share with each other: How can I get my partner to be more considerate of my feelings? How can I get my boss to recognize my accomplishments? How can I get my ex to stop drunk-texting me?
The short, perhaps uncomfortable, but crucial-to-your-sanity answer is: You can’t.
The only thing you can control is your behavior, your response, your actions and reactions. The reality is that you have no control over what people think, say, do, or don’t do.
Which is not to say that you don’t have influence, and which brings me back to your question and the issue at hand: Why don’t people pick up their dog’s poop?
Since I can’t control other people’s behavior any more than you can, there is no simple “just do X, and people will pick up their poop” answer to this question for you.
Maybe they don’t know it is a serious health hazard? (Dog poop is full of bacteria, parasites, and other diseases that other dogs and humans, especially children, can catch. This includes worms, which are common in dogs, and can remain alive in the soil for years. Dog poop can also carry E.coli, parvovirus, and salmonella. In urban areas like ours, dog poop is often a primary food source for rats and other rodents, whose urine and feces have been linked to a number of diseases, including leptospirosis, typhus, and salmonellosis, easily passed to humans.) Or worse, maybe they don’t care?
You and I have no way of knowing why people do not pick up their dog’s poop. I do know that if we spend our time speculating about why people do or don’t do things that we can’t control, we usually just end up frustrated and judging them.
I also know that we are all connected, and that it is important that we demonstrate empathy and consideration for others. Part of that comes from accepting responsibility for our behavior and understanding that our behavior impacts others – picking up the poop. Another part comes from not assuming we know why people do the things they do and trying to develop compassion and curiosity for one another, as opposed to judgement.
This is not supposed to be a platform for me to preach, but what your question inspires is the opportunity to facilitate a dialogue on how to be a good person and a good neighbor. As a therapist, I help people understand what motivates the behaviors they would like to change as an effective way to help change them.
So to that end, I’m flipping the script and asking those readers that don’t pick up their dog’s poop (you know who you are) to please send in a short, anonymous, explanation of WHY you don’t pick up your dog’s poop. You can submit your answers anonymously here:
I’ll update NoDa news readers next month as to the answers I get, and maybe, just maybe, we can develop some compassion and some solutions for getting all those piles of poop picked up.
In the meantime, send your questions about life, love, and the pursuit of whatever you’re pursuing to me at email@example.com or use the form below.
With light and love,