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Dog mines: Weapons of mess distraction

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 11, 2003


Of course everyone knows I am not the type to slam the French for the mere fact of disagreeing with American warmongering. In fact, I spent American Independence day in southern France reveling in the local cuisine. The French are kind, well dressed, highly educated, and very protective of their natural history and heritage. As an American, not once did I experience anything close to anti-American ideology. In other words, France rocks.

After Amsterdam, which is as clean as most big cities get, we headed to Paris, which is not. From Paris we traveled to St. Milo, Mont St. Michel, Bordeaux, Sarlat, and Lille. All of which had their own special ambiance, some more than others. I found the street people of Lille rather refreshing in their complete lack of regard.

With that disclaimer out of the way I do have one complaint in need of venting. And this should be seen as a thumbs-up for their American counterparts, as opposed to French bashing. Hopefully such a distinction is still possible in the world shaped by the Bush Administration's "prism of experience."

My complaint? As a rule the French do not pick up after their dogs. No matter where I went in France, I was forced to watch my step. And not your usual "watch where you're going," tripping over cobblestone sort of thing. We're talking steaming masses of poodle poo everywhere. Paris was the most appalling. Here you have a major metropolis, complete with crowded sidewalks and one was forced to step into the street to avoid one pile after another. There were even dog piles underground in the Metro.

Don't get me wrong the French love their dogs so much it borders on pathological. It was obvious canines are well regarded in French society and are valued members of the community. At one point I saw an English sheepdog, sans human, bounding through the Mountparnasse train station as if he owned the place. Dogs in cafes, dogs in the subway, dogs in arms, handbags, and prams, we even experienced an incredibly old lab on the train to Sarlat sprawled across the aisle that would not be moved by the comings and goings of travelers. The general consensus was that the dog was their first.

Fair enough.

Sadly dogs and their humans have yet to recognize the charm of feces free sidewalks. Feel like frolicking in the park? Not before doing a complete mine sweep of your recreational target. Quite literally, the crap is everywhere.

The proliferation of dog mines makes it difficult to gawk at architecture more than a thousand years old, unless you're walking in the middle of the street, which is frowned upon by motorists. It also made me wary of putting anything on the floor, knowing that people were tracking dog droppings all over the city, into shops and restaurants, museums and such.

Now before anyone accuses me of singling out the French in their unwillingness, or lack of concern, in regards to the mess left by dogs, I should also note that Belgians are also lax when it comes to responsible pet maintenance.

In Brugge, I noticed that whereas the sidewalks were relatively feces free, the parks were not. While visiting the windmills lining one of the canals I was literally dodging piles of poo. The fact that these parks were immaculately maintained speaks to a competent staff. Yet it was obvious picking up after dogs is not in anyone's job description.

Picking up poo may seem like a small gesture, but collectively it is a huge favor that should not go unacknowledged. And believe me nothing spoils old world charm faster than a recently planted dog mine.

Let's face it, there is a lot I could write about while visiting Europe, most of which has already been published by accomplished travel writers such as the Bill Bryson or Rick Steves. Instead I choose to give a very public "thank you" to the considerate canine companions who understand that since dogs can't pick up after themselves, some has to.

So from me, and my expensive hiking boots, Thank you.

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