Walking my small dog this morning, I came across a woman I've seen before, walking her very large and unruly dog. She's not unusual for South Jersey -- large, not neatly dressed, and multi-tasking a set of mismatched tasks. Walking her big dog and talking on her cell phone just aren't compatible tasks.
My dog loves big dogs and always wants to go over and meet and greet. This woman has told me before, in a friendly enough way, that her dog is not good with small dogs, or any dogs. That's fine -- Buddy will have to get over it.
But today, as she's cell-yelling away with her voice roughened by a hard life, while being walked by what apparently is a dangerous animal, she found herself pulled up the hill into someone's yard. This is someone on my street -- I don't know the people, but I know it's not her yard. Her dog proceeds to poop a whole lot of poop, not far from the household's children's big plastic toys, left out in the rain.
She sees I'm watching all this, and she deflects. "I had to move away from you and your small dog!" she announces while I'm across the street. She doesn't seem to remember having seen me before, but I'm much less memorable than she.
I don't appreciate deflection -- in this case, telling me I've somehow caused the situation she finds herself in. And I don't appreciate anyone's choice to let their dog poop in someone else's yard.
In my business, I'm never looking for a conflict. Conflict takes time, costs money, and keeps me from happiness. Yet I'm blankly looking over her way, in my mind encouraging her to do the right thing. Dogs poop. Your dog is difficult for you to control. At least clean up the mess.
I see no sign this is going to happen.
I follow her deflection with a refreshing reminder of the facts: "That's someone's yard, you have to clean that up. Do you need a bag?"
"No! I have a bag!" she says. "Good," I say plainly -- no sarcasm. I'm hoping that I can now proceed on my way without further engagement.
"I'm trying to avoid a catastrophe!" she adds, still defending herself from what was basically nothing more, originally, than my witnessing of her crime. The catastrophe she foresees is perhaps a vicious attack of my dog by hers, which would be unprovoked, but which she may know better than I could happen, from experience.
I glance backward at her and nod. I continue to watch casually as I move on my way. She has no bag. There will be no clean-up. And the children of neighbors I don't know will play near the dog-do of what may be a killer beast.
When you live in a neighborhood that includes some lower-class individuals (I don't mean their socio-economic status -- I mean their values, and where they rank being neighborly among their priorities, i.e. above or below their own self-interest), you're going to encounter situations like this.
But what I find myself asking is whether I, as a male, would have instructed a non-female on poop-scooping etiquette. I'm troubled by the fact that I'm contacted often by single women suffering with bad neighbors, who happen to be men. Our dominance in physical stature can boost our self-confidence in dealing harshly with women. It shouldn't be this way, but I see it a lot.
So in questioning myself, I go back in time to another neighborhood, and recall I did have a similar situation with a guy, a guy bigger than myself. My neighbors and I in Philadelphia had found a lot of dog-do in recent days on our sidewalks, and now I was coming into contact with the guilty party. He looked at me, I looked at him. We continued to watch each other, each waiting for the other's move. "Need a bag?" I asked.
Knowing he was wrong, despite being larger than me, he capitulated, in the manner of body language we can observe. "Yea," he said. And for what may have been the first time in his life, he bagged his dog's do. He probably just dropped the bag once he turned the corner and was out of sight; the optimist in me says he didn't drop it until he came across an appropriate public trash bin.
The point in all this is that the person who should prevail in any neighbor dispute -- or any dispute -- isn't the larger one or the richer one. It's the right one.
Be right. Be neighborly and socially responsible. Good Neighbors Rule.