You step out of your home for a walk. The temperature around dawn is just perfect, especially in the suburbs and residential areas. The greenery has a revitalizing effect on the eyes and the mood alike.The breathing in of a lung full of fresh air and exhaling it out consciously seem refreshing. The birds have just started waking up, you can hear them yawn. You find your fellow early-risers jogging, sitting in parks and trying to assimilate the beauty of the surroundings, walking their cute, little, lovely dogs. Friendship has no better definition. Life seems good. All seem to be gearing up for a challenging every day. Then you find poop.
Most often you find it beneath the step that you were about to take or have already taken. If you are a regular, you catch them in the act quite frustratingly often. Those little furry fellows that you were adoring moments ago, peeing against some unlucky chap’s car tyre or taking a dump, in full public view. And then you get to see what is truly bizarre but seems ridiculously normal. The pet lovers, most of whom have their pets on leash, walk right ahead and without feeling the need to do anything about the nuisance their pets have created. This normalization of risk is so tragic that it is almost comical. Well, almost, because a single gram of dog faeces contains 20 million E. Coli bacteria known to cause diarrhoea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans. It also carries parasites like hookworms, ring worms, salmonella and tapeworms. That should be enough data to wake you up from your lazy slumber.
Your invigorating early morning walks suddenly aren’t so invigorating anymore, are they?
Evenings are worse.
The solution to most human-related problems is always binary – either the carrot or the stick. Of course, exceptions exist to this rule. There is Kashmir issue for example, purely man-made, where neither of the two approaches seems to be working right now. But let us not digress and come back to the poop.
To solve every problem that we face, we look for inspiration from outside. Innovation is just not our thing. So let us have a look at our more western counterparts. In Ireland, one can complain to the court against any owner who allows a dog to foul public places. In the UK, local councils can levy penalty ranging from £75 to £1,000. If New York dog owners fail to clean up after their pets have done their shit, and a city agent sees the ‘crime’ taking place, they are issued a ticket (challan) under Pooper Scooper Law. Authorities in Italy, Spain etc. have introduced DNA testing of the poop and matching with the database that they have compiled while registering dogs. Of course, we can not expect such rigorous rules in India where we don’t even remember when the last dog census was held and where there is no working database or registry of pets. Not that it hasn’t been tried before but imposing fines in India usually doesn’t work. If you penalize spitting or smoking at public places, people find places where ‘no one is looking’. A fine of a meagre Rs. 500 was imposed on owners who let their dogs relieve themselves on the Marine Drive stretch without cleaning up after them. Within a week there was a decline of 99% in dog owners taking out their dogs for a ‘walk’ in the aforementioned stretch. So, what did people do? They just started taking their pets elsewhere.
So what do we do? We can spread awareness, inspire people, and most importantly lead by example. Be the change. In fact, it is not very difficult. We just have to carry a pair of hand gloves, a scoop, and a disposable bag. One can find all the three items online. When the dogs are done with their business, just put on your hand gloves, scoop the poop and bag it. We can take it back to our toilets and flush them. That’s what the toilets are for, aren’t they? I have seen some really nice people carrying a bottle of water with them to pour it over the soiled area. Such people give hope. Let us give each other a little more of that, shall we? At the community level, a number of designated poop disposal facilities need to be constructed, especially in parks. People need to be encouraged to use them because it’s the people who need to be made aware.
Of course, not all dog poops that you find on the streets and pavements are from domesticated pets. There are stray dogs which are almost exponentially more dangerous than their better-off vaccinated counterparts but just because the municipal corporation is not doing their job, does it absolve us from our duties as responsible citizens?
We have to start at an individual level, inspire, spread awareness and help each other out in the community. What we seek, more than anything else, is a clean India. More than 67 million toilets have been constructed to that effect since 2nd October 2014 when Government of India started its most ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. But are we as urban citizens doing our bit to achieve the goal of an Open Defecation Free India? If we are not, shouldn’t we? India is a vast country with every demographic entity having different problems but whether it is a rural area or an urban one, quite obviously open defecation is a problem that affects all of us. It is an extreme health hazard and needs to be tackled with awareness, infrastructure and a change in mindset. So, wherever we live, let us join hands with our fellow citizens and strive to achieve the goal of a clean nation by making our locality open defecation free. Dogs cannot do that, humans can.
About the Author : Ambikesh Kumar Jha is a social writer and a sailor, presently ashore.