I have no pets. I have thought long and hard about getting one. I vowed never to have a pet because I have cleaned up so much excrement in my lifetime both as a mom and a nurse that unless it’s Zachary that needs help that’s a hard pass for me.
I never saw myself as someone who walks a dog and then carries around a baggie with stool in it. As an infant, there were so many stool studies done on Zach in an effort to properly diagnose his pancreatic insufficiency and resulting steattorhea (a medical term describing explosive, fatty and uncontrollable stools that stained clothes like engine grease.)
At times, we would keep a “stool receptacle” in the freezer where we had to collect stool samples in a paint can, for an extended period of time, like a a week or ten days. At the end of that time period, I had to deliver the paint can with frozen specimens to the lab where it could be analyzed. If you have not had to carry a paint can with your son or daughter’s frozen poop in it, you may not be able to fully grasp the ridiculous nature of the the doctor’s orders. But we complied, as always. Mercifully we don’t do much of this anymore, but I still feel like I have slung more shit in my life than I care to think about.
Yet, what we have learned from reading books like “What Happened to You” by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey, that one of the major levers we can pull, to allay traumatic experiences, is to seek and build connection with others. Yes, our personal relationships can actually repair our body’s reaction to trauma, but as I understand it, simply connecting with a pet can have the same, meritorious effects on our healing. Sounds like a no brainer, but I am still dissuaded by the idea of cleaning feces up for anyone but Zachary.
In the meantime, I continue to observe good citizens with filled doggie bags (not the yummy take home restaurant kind) walking around in the community looking for a place to dispose, of the disposed. It’s encouraging to know that so many folks are willing to act in compliance with the “don’t let your dog crap on my lawn” statute. I guess we can make a habit of just about anything. It is a commitment to scoop of excrement in a plastic bag, and carry it as far as needed, so it can be disposed of.
Enter horses. Zach has the incredible good fortune of having horses in his community. One of his neighbors has several horses and teaches riding classes. This neighbor walks her horses like a lot of people walk their dogs. She rides and walks them down the street Zach lives on. Horses are incredibly powerful and dignified animals. They are strong and lean and have personalities all their own.
But every so often when I am driving or walking down that one mile country road that leads to Zach’s house, there is a massive pile of horseshit just sitting there. If on foot, of course I make sure not to step in it. If driving I try to avoid it also, since I don’t want it in my tires or under my car. Mostly I am successful at staying free of it.
When I think about people and the doggie bags of stool, the diligence and commitment it takes to manage their dogs’ output, and the willingness of people to comply, is quite impressive. But seeing a pile of steaming horseshit in the middle of the road, kind of makes me think the small deposits from a smaller four legged animal are non-material, while these horse piles take over the road. What is the sense of removing excrement from dogs, in small packages, off the neighbor’s lawn if, when those same neighbors back their cars out for work they drive right into and over a massive pile of horseshit? Where are the baggies for this larger scale removal effort?
Well it’s simple. There are none. And for the moment, I maintain my personal commitment of not having anyone or anything to clean up often other than Zach. But I have to wonder, if there is horse excrement piled in the middle of the road, does what peoples dogs are doing on this same road really matter?
It’s like a metaphor to describe a situation where there is an elephant in the room, but we pretend we don’t see it because we don’t have a doggy bag big enough for the pile of excrement in front of us. So we ignore it, and pretend its not there. We instead focus on the rituals of these smaller efforts, while the big looming pile of horseshit steams in the open road. It doesn’t help the big piles, but it does make us feel like we are controlling something.
Controlling what we can, and letting the rest be as it is, may be one of the most important choices we can make. It’s the choice of the Stoics. It’s the mantra for 12 step programs. The serenity prayer leads us into a space where we manage what is in our purview and let the rest go.
Are there any piles of crap on your proverbial street? If so, let’s control what we can, in the little redundant ways we routinely choose to do the right thing and clean up our own little messes. It won’t keep the streets clean. But doing what we can, where we can, however we can, to contribute to the greater good and leave less of a mess when we do, will be enough. Just as it is with dogs and horses.