Strange Winter Fruit Hanging From Our Trees

Image: Canal & River Trust 

I’m allergic to dogs. When in a confined space with them I get an inflammatory response which ranges from really itchy to phone-an-ambulance. It has been a pretty annoying aspect of my life to be honest. It meant as a kid when we visited relatives and friends who owned dogs I would have to wait outside in the cold and watch through the patio doors as a grinning beagle polished off my dinner. And nowadays, when out in the hills I’m always really jealous of those hikers who have a canine companion in tow, knowing I can’t have one.

That said, being a Turner without a Hooch does come with its advantages. Looking after a dog properly takes a big commitment as well as a lot of your time and money. Too many sacrifices I would find hard to make at this point in my life. Most importantly though, it also means that I will never be legally compelled to stoop over in front of my bemused hound in order to pick up their freshly baked pooch brownie. Don’t get me wrong, I see many people uninhibitedly doing that very thing so I guess it’s something that you quickly get used to. Like a parent changing a child’s nappy or a proctologist inserting a finger into a prolapsed rectum, I would soon become less socially awkward while carrying out the act. Still, I’m glad my allergy means that I don’t have to.

One thing I know is that some dog logs are easier to pick up than others. Recently, I was tagging along with a friend who was walking her newly acquired pup, Charlie. A dog that took such a prolonged interest in my crotch that I booked an appointment with my GP just to make sure I didn’t have testicular cancer. Turns out that Charlie just liked the smell of my nether-regions. Anyway, when out on our walk, Charlie made a quick beeline into a strangers yard and before we could take remedial action it had jettisoned a foul slurry of barely digested Winalot Prime onto a previously glistening patio. The resulting deposit was about as solid as a David Cameron pre-election pledge. We had a few baggies, we had rubber gloves, we just didn’t have a jobby with any definable structure. There was no mention in “The Dummies Guide To Caring For Your Dog”, that a mop and bucket may be required when taking Charlie for a stroll. We stared at the putrid beige puddle in someone else’s drive, we stared at each other in silent, but mortified contemplation and Charlie, oblivious to the crisis, stared longingly at my lap. I was first to flee the odious scene.

Through that experience, I can sympathise with isolated incidents in which people don’t clean up after their dogs. However, in my neck of the woods I see, and sometimes tread on, many inexcusably neglected mutt stools – those of a perfect shape and consistency to enable any civic-minded person ample purchase for extraction. That’s why it is good that the Scottish Government this week announced they will be doubling the fine for not cleaning up after your dog, to £80.

Minister for Community Safety, Paul Wheelhouse, said,

Dog fouling is not only unpleasant, but also can pose potentially significant risks to health, particularly for children, and we’re very clear that dog owners who do not clear up after their pets are breaking the law.

We believe the increased penalty will act as a greater deterrent for people who do not take responsibility for their pets and clean up after them.

Our consultation has shown us that we have public opinion behind us in an effort to get tougher on dog fouling and to tackle an issue that affects all too many communities across the country.

Although most people would probably welcome this, the size of the fine is probably less important than the enforcement of the law. Folk don’t care about how big a fine is when they know that they are highly unlikely to be caught in the first place. It would be great if we could come up with ideas that would make it easier to catch irresponsible owners.

Also, I’m not sure how this will effect what I consider an even worse phenomenon. The strange behaviour or hurling one’s shit filled bag into a nearby tree. What type of Jekyll and Hyde character has the social conscience to pick up a freshly laid turd and seconds later resolves to ornament a Horse Chestnut with it? There must be more to it than meets the eye, perhaps there are well meaning people out there who have a condition which causes them to experience involuntary muscle spasms when handling a receptacle of excretia?

Others have suggested that there is perhaps a ritualistic or spiritual nature to the phenomenon. That maybe some are still connected to the old ways and are following in the ancient tradition of adorning a Wish Tree with dedications. Although it is more common to drape coins or cloth on sacred Scottish Trees, perhaps these packages are in fact votive offering to a supernatural entity in exchange for the fulfilment of the dog owner’s desires? It could be that feculence is in some way appropriate to the goals of those who dangle it from our forestry. Perhaps in the hope that the council will supply more poop bins or in exchange for the relaxation of the symptoms of an inflammatory bowel condition?

Whatever the reason I would rather they left the mess on the ground instead of having it sway dangerously at eye level. Especially in light of the increased frequency of stormy weather combined with the risk of Toxocariasis induced blindness; an affliction that was one of the reasons people were legally required to pick it up in the first place. At the rate things are going, in the near future I wouldn’t be surprised if the weather forecaster was obliged to advise us on the probability of being struck on the coupon by a burst poke of four year manure.

Anyway, I hope the Scottish Government see fit to deal with this issue, not just for public safety, but to save future palaeobotanists months of head-scratching over any weird tree samples they may unearth. My advice is that if you have to do it, and you wish to keep the crime hidden, then please stick to evergreens. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy a good winter walk, deciduous trees don’t lose their fecal matter along with their leaves in Autumn. And every time I see a lonesome jobby suspended from a branch of a barren Sycamore, a little part of me wishes more people were allergic to dogs.

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Paul Robison
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I am a dog owner and, yes, I do clean up after him, but I too am totally bemused by the behaviour you describe. I’ve seen it myself in Dundee along with the closely related filthy habit of dropping or throwing the offending baggie within feet of the bin; they’ve picked it up but can’t make those final few inches to actually deposit the result into the bin. You’re also bang-on about the chances of being caught NOT picking up; in 8 years of dog ownership, I have yet to see any dog-warden actually do anything at all.

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