Several months ago, I wrote about a reader who wondered what her responsibility was when she and her partner were out for a walk when they came upon a woman walking her dog. The dog owner asked the couple if they happened to have any plastic bags on them, presumably to help her clean up after her dog. The reader told the woman they didn't have any bags, but that there were some city-provided waste bags about 100 yards away.
When the couple made a loop around their neighborhood and came upon the same spot where they encountered the dog owner, they noted she was gone but the waste was not. I had argued that it was not the couple's responsibility to clean up after the dog and the right thing was for the dog owner to have carried her own plastic bags or made the effort to get one the couple pointed out to her.
R.N. of Chillicothe, Ohio, believes the couple should have done more. When they "circled back and saw the owner's dog deposit," he writes, "they should have gotten a plastic bag and picked up the mess."
The incident reminded R.N. of a bicycle ride he made with a cycling group in a nearby state park. At the top of a hill, at a dead end in the road, R.N. writes that there were remnants of a fire with associated trash, empty beer cans, cigarette pack, cigarette butts, and an empty deodorant stick.
"Several people lamented the trash," he writes "but no one picked it up or mentioned picking it up even though several riders had large saddle bags."
R.N. did not think he had room in his jersey pocket and he said nothing to the other riders. "I should have picked up something and said something," he writes, citing a saying from his backpacking days that you should always come out of the woods with more than you brought in. "It is the right thing to do."
R.N.'s point is well taken. I'm sure I'm not the only person to spend time picking up litter (empty bottles, paper bags, assorted items tossed from car windows) from the street in my neighborhood and tossing it into a waste can on my walk to work. Indeed, on other bicycle rides, R.N. has taken the time to slow down his ride and remove trash from the road.
It is the right thing to want to take pride in your environment, but on a more practical note, when you live in the city like I do, to remove anything that might attract unwanted vermin.
When it comes to a pet dog's waste, however, the responsibility for tidying up is still the dog's owner responsibility. There should be no expectation that neighbors will be or should be willing to pick it up.
The right thing is for dog owners to be responsible and clean up after their own pets. If they forget to bring a plastic bag with them on their walks, then they should take the time to return to the scene to clean up.
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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(c) 2014 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.