Cheeky, I know. My apologies if the formatting is all strange: I copied and pasted it over. Anyway, without further delay here is my letter.
Pick Up or Pack Up
In light of recent events, I’ve come to realise that the issue of pooh needs to be addressed. As a guide dog handler working with my third dog, I’ve always had a strict policy about cleaning up after my dog; a policy that was instilled in me by the guide dog school where I received my first two dogs from. In fact, it’s a policy I’m proud of and feel gratitude towards the school for teaching me the importance of being a responsible citizen. Not that I wasn’t before, but it was made clear to me that if I was not willing to pick up my dog’s pooh then I was not responsible enough to have one. It was said more than once to many students that if they did not pick up then they would be leaving the campus without a dog. As someone who recognised the social importance of picking up, I whole heartedly agreed with their stand. If your only disability is blindness or visual impairment then there is no reason for you not to clean up after your dog in public places. This sentiment was reinforced just the other day. The perception of the public towards guide dog handlers in this country is not a positive one, especially wen it comes to pooh.
“Oh God! Her dog just sh** on the pavement!” A disgruntled passer by exclaimed as my new guide dog gutter relieved. The dog had just begun her business and I had not had time to get the bag out and so my fellow pedestrian was not aware that I had full intentions of cleaning up the mess. My partner, who was standing a few paces away, later told me about how the woman and her companions continued to exclaim loudly about how guide dog owners let their dogs make messes all over the streets of Edinburgh and don’t bother to clean up. Apparently, she continued to glare at me as well, but once I managed to wrestle a green, bio-degradable pooh bag free from my purse, her exclamations fell silent and a look of complete shock and pleasure replaced the disapproving frowns. I have always felt that guide dog handlers should be given the tools to look after their dogs and picking up pooh is one of them, but after such a strong reaction from a complete stranger, my convictions have only grown stronger.
As a part of our guide dog training, we are taught how to feed our dogs, what foot positions to use, the hand signals and the verbal cues. If your Guide Dog Mobility Instructor tells you to:
“tell your dog forward,”
you don’t change the command to:
If pooh pick up was a part of the curriculum, guide dog handlers would at least be given the opportunity to be a responsible citizen if they should choose to be. Perhaps some will refuse, but the majority won’t and sooner or later, guide dog owners may not have such bad reputations. Not only does it save their image as a contributing participant of society, but it may even save a pair of their own shoes when they don’t walk out and step in their dog’s business.
My point was further reiterated when I was out spending my dog in her usual relieving area, leash extended, me singing “busy, busy.” As I stood digging one of my ever handy pooh bags out of my pocket, a person hurrying off to work stopped to thank me for cleaning up after my dog. He said, as he slammed his car door shut,
“you should give some sighted people lessons.”
Maybe I should and maybe, this letter is my way of giving that lesson. Whether you are fully sighted or not, if you are responsible for a dog in any capacity, picking up pooh should not be an option. The guide dog schools in North America make that very clear. The same law that dictates guide dog owners don’t have to clean up after their dogs in the UK also exists in those countries as well, but the guide dog schools, and most of their graduates, feel that it’s the principle of the matter. If we are always clamoring about equality then we need to accept the responsibility that comes with it. We cannot accept equality and just discard the aspects of it that are inconvenient. And, let me tell you, pooh is inconvenient, and not being able to pick it up is even more so. However, refusing to pick it up, or even too learn how to do it, spits on equality and the people who fight for it.