Of all the things that annoy people about dogs -- or, more precisely, about dog owners -- "the pile" has to be near the top of the list.
On the lawn. In the park. On the beach. In the gutter. "The pile" is the reason people don't want to share public space with dogs, the reason many public places are off-limits to dogs, and the reason for many "No Dog" signs at hotels and inns.
Picking up after your dog is one of the most important things you can do as a dog owner, and yet it's something too many ignore.
If you're among those who look the other way while "the pile" is being deposited, it's time you thought seriously about changing your ways. The good news: It's not hard at all. All you need is a pocket and some plastic bags.
It's cheap, too. You can use the plastic bags they pack your groceries in -- better for big dogs -- or you can get dozens of sandwich-sized ones -- perfect for small dogs -- for less than a dollar.
The plastic bag is the world's easiest pooper-scooper. Here's how it works:
Before heading out the door with your dog, pop a couple of plastic bags in your pocket. If the need arises, push your hand into the bottom of a bag, turning it inside out and forming a mitten that completely covers your hand. Then pick up the poop with that plastic-covered hand, pulling it into the bag as the "mitten" turns inside out again, this time with the poop in the pocket and hand outside. Flip the bag's sealer edges inward, closing the bag, or tie the handles if you're using the bigger size.
Pop the package into the nearest trash bin and you've done your civic duty, without any fuss or bother. The pile is no more.
Why bother at all if it's not required by law that you scoop? Because you owe it to your neighbors, to the people who share the park and the sidewalks, to your dog -- and to all the dogs you'd like to share your life with in the future and won't be able to if dog-haters ever get the edge. And they're certainly not without ammunition.
There are those who believe dogs and cats don't belong anywhere but in the country on a large piece of privately owned property, and a park full of poop certainly doesn't help to argue otherwise. You know the people I mean: the ones who always insist they're thinking only of the animals when they argue that pets should be banned from developed areas. The animals will be happier in the country, such people insist, where they can run free, unbothered by leash or fence. It's not "fair" to keep them in the city.
People who insist that pets don't belong in the city and suburbs fail to take into account the exciting findings that reveal just how important pets are to the mental health of the people who share lives with them. Animals are good with us, and they're good for us. But for most of us they remain a privilege, not a right.
Protect your future with companion animals by looking out for those people who would never want one. Cleaning up after your pets is one of the best ways to accomplish both.
Pets on the Web: A great many people these days are interested in therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy, and herbal and vitamin supplements. It's not surprising that interest in these topics has grown in veterinary medicine as well, with more than a couple hundred veterinarians practicing what the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association calls "alternative, complementary and holistic veterinary medicine." The association offers a listing of its member veterinarians on its AltVetMed Web site (http://www.altvetmed.com/ahvmadir.html). You've got the best chance of finding such a veterinarian if you live in California, but don't despair if you don't -- there's even a member listed at the North Pole.
For help in locating more traditional veterinary care, the Veterinary Information Network's free VetQuest service (http://www.vetquest.com) provides listings for more than 25,000 veterinary clinics and hospitals, along with maps to help you find them.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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