Ocean State of Mind, Vol 1: Poop Happens

When my family and I moved to Barrington, Rhode Island from Scarsdale, New York, I asked my husband, Brett, for two things: a puppy, and grass cloth wallpaper for my new living room.

Done and done. Our wallpaper is Phillip Jeffries Extra Fine Arrowroot in Khaki and I love it. Our dog's name is Sammi and she is a Bichon Frise Shih Tzu Poodle, the regal Shichon Poo. I love her too. Sammi is one of those petite, designer mixed breeds with a name that sounds like a sneeze. She is the color of a caramel macchiato and has the disposition of a sleeping toddler. Just perfect.

But still, there is much more work to be done taking care of a dog than in looking after a bit of decorative wallpaper.

For instance, I have to walk the dog at 6:45 every morning, rain or shine. In rain, I walk right out of the driveway, away from the blustery winds off Narragansett Bay. For shine, I guide her left, down towards the expansive view and briny scent of the beach.

I have only one complaint about my dog. This complaint is actually a complaint about other dogs in the neighborhood and their owners. It is, in that way, a complaint about Barrington, and since I love generalized exaggeration, it's actually a complaint about the entire state of Rhode Island.

My dog likes to eat the poop of other dogs.

And yes, I blame Rhode Island for this.

Why?

Because in Rhode Island, everyone is just a bit freer and more relaxed than they are in New York. For the most part, that's great. I dig it. Kids ride their bikes all over town, there is less helicopter parenting, and far less pressure and homework and tutoring and grandstanding and show-offing and perfecting and polishing. Phew. What a relief.

But is it too much to ask people to pick up their pooch's poop?

Really, people?

In New York, if your dog squatted to do her business, and you didn't squat down immediately after to scoop it up, someone would sue you. They would fine your ass a gazillion dollars and take your home away from you and then haul you off to jail as an example to the community. It would be a just and fair sentence, according to New Yorkers.

Remember I am prone to exaggeration. But I kid you not.

Except for a cover story in The Barrington Times -- my local town's newspaper -- a few weeks back ("Poop bags on a pole? Not too classy, Barrington," from April 27 -- best article title ever, perhaps), that sort of neighborhood watch doesn't seem to be the case here in RI. I started noticing the "free poop problem" when my dog picked up a chunk of something alluring along our morning walk about a year ago and gaily went about chomping on it. Worried for her safety, I reached into her open mouth and grabbed the offending morsel. It was shiiiiit.

"Oh, shit!" I said, dropping it and, for some unexplicable reason, smelling my fingers. Yup. Still shit.

Sammi and I had a very serious, heart-to-heart talk when we got home, but it didn't stick. Trainers, treats, tranquilizers (for me): none of it has worked. She still eats poop whenever she gets the chance and I still get skeeved out by her behavior.

Unfortunately, because of my neighbors, there are many opportunities for her to enjoy this grotesque predilection. Why, just last night, Sammi and I came across a pile of dark brown dung curled on our corner like a question. The answer was No, Sammi. No.

And so I have taken to the streets, asking every dog owner I pass to please pick up after his or her pooch. (I used to interrogate, and now I cajole. Oh won't you pleeeease? It can make my cute puppy so sick! As opposed to, Have you no common decency? Were you raised by wolves?)

Leaving your dog's feces to rot on the grass is a giant middle finger to your neighbors. Eff. You.

The poop does not act as fertilizer. It is not good for the environment. It does not, in any way, make the world a better place.

So clean up after your dog.

Done.

Except. The other day, Sammi and I ambled on one of our usual walks, taking a right out of the driveway and looping the 'hood in a complete circle. I made it halfway around when a car slowed. I assumed the couple needed directions, so I slowed too. The passenger got out, an elderly woman. "This is my house," she said, pointing to where Sammi and I stood perched on the edge of her grass. "I see you walking your dog here frequently, and I'd like you to stop. Please take her to the other side of the street."

I protested. I explained, "I always pick up after my dog! I am starting an anti-poop campaign in our neighborhood! I'm one of the good guys!"

She shook her head sadly. "Your dog's urine is ruining my lawn," she said.

"My dog's urine?" I asked, feigning innocence. Truth is, my dog loves to urinate right there, where we were standing, on her lawn. It is one of Sammi's go-to favorite pee spots.

Not today, I guessed, or tomorrow, depending on how accommodating I decided to be, coupled with how litigious she felt like being. Agitated, Sammi and I turned and stomped off without letting her finish her sentence. Down the block we trotted, me careful not to let Sammi pee, poop, walk, dance, step, sing, or spit on anyone's property but my own.

When Sammi and I returned home, I promptly sat in my living room and admired my pretty wallpaper from the safety of my own couch.

And Sammi? She stared at me through the dog gate, whining softly, eyes begging me to let her in. I shook my head regretfully her way. After all, the last thing I needed was for her to pee or poop in my pristine, newly decorated living room here in Rhode Island.