Sunday, April 19, 2015
Am I my neighbor's dog keeper?
Almost every evening, weather permitting, a couple goes for a long walk in their neighborhood. They regularly stroll past several areas where neighbors walk their dogs -- a city park and a boardwalk along a harbor among them.
The city parks department has posted signs indicating that there are fines for not cleaning up after dogs. To assist with the latter, the city has provided free plastic bags that are attached to posts in both the park and along the boardwalk.
Increasingly, the couple has noticed that dog walkers are not always mindful of cleaning up. Most recently, the couple came upon a dog owner who standing by her pet along the boardwalk. They acknowledged one another by saying hello. Then the dog owner asked, "You wouldn't have any plastic bags on you, would you?"
The couple, who were not walking a dog and don't own a dog, were not in the habit of carrying plastic bags with them. They did point out to the dog owner that there were free plastic bags attached to a post about 100 yards down the boardwalk. They indicated exactly where the bags were located, then continued on their way, leaving the dog owner to retrieve her own bag.
When they circled back, they noticed that the dog owner was gone, but her pet's waste remained.
"What should we have done?" asks one member of the couple. "Should we have offered to go get her a bag?"
Knowing that the owner didn't clean up after her pet, they no wonder if they should report her to the city parks department at the address listed on the sign about fines for those who don't clean up. The challenge is they'd never seen the owner or her pet before, have no idea where the woman lives, and wouldn't know where to begin to find her in their densely-populated city neighborhood.
Some people living in apartment complexes have grown so tired of similar situations that they've begun to require that dog owners submit samples of their pets' DNA on file so culprits can be caught. But the strolling couple's neighborhood keeps no such records. As near as they can tell, no effort is made to enforce the city parks department's regulation about cleaning up pet waste. So what's the right thing to do?
It's certainly not the strolling couple's obligation to pick up after someone else's dog. They also should not be expected to carry a stash of plastic bags in their pockets to supply dog owners who forgot to bring their own.
The right thing is for dog owners to clean up after their own pets. The strollers were correct to point out where the city-supplied free bags were located. If they want to go a step further, they could notify the parks department and ask if it's possible to provide the bags at more locations.
Ultimately, though, the right thing is for the dog owners to be responsible and for the city to enforce its posted laws. Regardless of it not being their responsibility, from here on out, the couple plans to take a few plastic bags along on future walks, just in case!
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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