Dog on the Couch

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Yeah, we’re one of those outfits — we let The Dog get on the furniture. And here he is today, Day Four of the Return of Winter to the Bay Area. It seems that every time we’ve been out since Wednesday evening it’s been wet. He actually seems to enjoy the weather and the process of us toweling him off before we come inside again. But he does a great impression of a sad dog in the too-long intervals between walks. For extra points, he somehow splays his front paws in opposite directions.

Love Me, Love My Suitable Instrument

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Posted on a newish condo-type building on Alabama Street, near 20th, in the Mission. What got my attention is that this looks like a custom-made sign. I’m taken by the stylized figure of the doberman-style dog and the crouching human (is that pose just art, or is it part of the health code).

Section 40 of the San Francisco Health Code, which the sign cites, is here. And also here:

SEC. 40. DOG TO BE CONTROLLED SO AS NOT TO COMMIT NUISANCES.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person owning or having control or custody of any dog to permit the animal to defecate upon the public property of this City or upon the private property of another unless the person immediately remove the feces and properly dispose of it; provided, however, that nothing herein contained authorizes such person to enter upon the private property of another without permission.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to walk a dog on public property of this City or upon the private property of another without carrying at all times a suitable container or other suitable instrument for the removal and disposal of dog feces.

(c) Visually handicapped persons who use Seeing Eye Guide Dogs are exempt from this law. (Amended by Ord. 420s78, App. 9/8/78)

What’s the penalty if you don’t pick up (or fail to carry “a suitable container”)?

SEC. 41.13. PENALTIES.

… Any person violating the provisions of Sections 40,41.11(c) and 41.12(a) of this Article shall be deemed to be guilty of an infraction and upon conviction thereof shall be punished for the first offense by a fine not to exceed $10; for the second offense by a fine not to exceed $25; for a third and each additional offense by a fine not to exceed $50.

The requirements are pretty much the same under Berkeley’s Municipal Code (10.04.091): If you walk a dog, carry a “suitable instrument” for picking up dog leavings, and use it. The penalty is more expensive, though: $100 for a first offense, $200 for the second, $500 for the third.

All the dog-crap lawmaking has some effect: in Berkeley, most trash receptacles are full of “suitable instruments” (usually plastic newspaper bags) that are themselves full of dog waste. It’s still a little surprising to me how much people just leave, though.

Canine Excrement: Ethical and Psychosocial Considerations

We have a dog. No, wait: The Dog. We live in a town that has decreed that if your dog does what it’s going to do while you’re out on a walk–take a dump on the sidewalk, in the park, or on someone’s lawn–you’ve got to pick it up and dispose of it. I’ve got no problems with the law. Really, it’s only civilized to make sure you don’t leave a pile of crap where someone else is going to step in it or play in it and curse you and your kind for it. The only thing I wonder about on a practical level is whether we’ve figured out the right long-term regime for disposal. The method I see employed almost universally–picking up the crap using a plastic bag for a glove, then dumping the bagged crap in the garbage somewhere–means that there’s lots and lots of well-preserved canine excrement headed to landfills. Lest you think I’m overthinking the issue, here’s evidence from Ithaca, New York, and Toronto, Ontario, about ways people are trying to deal with it.

But that’s just one dimension of dog waste handling and disposal. There are dimensions that cross from the pragmatic to the social to the psychic that I wrestle with almost every time I’m out with The Dog. For instance?

A simple one: Say The Dog decides a certain lawn has the perfect balance of situation, smell, and texture that he decides to grace it with a deposit. Of course it’s no harder to pick up a dump from a private lawn that from a public lawn in the park But I always find myself thinking, “Is someone watching from inside? Are they upset at the sight of a dog profaning their personal greensward? Gee, I hope not. And here I am to pick it up!

Other sample poop-scooping thoughts:

Someone else approaches as I bend over to pick up a dump: “Oh, boy–I bet I look like a doofus. Picking up a dog shit. I’m subservient to a dog! I’m picking up its crap!”

I’m carrying a plastic bag with a dog crap in it and someone else walks by: “Oh, boy–I bet this looks cool. Carrying a dog crap.” (In point of fact, I met a neighbor once who saw me carrying such a bag. She asked how long I’d carry it before throwing it out. I think she was concerned about the sanitary aspects of the operation, which is something I don’t worry about much.)

I’m carrying a plastic bag with a dog crap in it and I pass a residential garbage can: Big dilemma. I really want to get rid of this. Should I dump it in here? Would the people mind? If they see me do it, will they come out and yell at me? If that sounds ridiculous, let me say I have seen one or two household garbage cans with signs on them saying something like, “Please, no dog poop.” I know why. It stinks after a day or two. In practice, what I do depends on where I happen to be. Since I’ve gotten to know where all the public garbage receptacles are, I’ll use one of those if I’m close by. If not, I might use a residential one or bring the thing home to throw it away. I’ve imagined having someone in full entitled, proprietary Berkeley dudgeon come out and challenge my use of their can. I’ve further imagined complying with a demand to remove any illicit leavings by emptying the entire contents on the sidewalk, removing my share, and walking away. Let us hope it never comes to that.

‘Inside of a Dog’

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My friend Pete pointed me to the New York Times review of “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know.” It’s a nicely written piece, and a lot of it resonates with what we’ve seen in the nearly three and a half years since we became unintentional dog “owners.” I like this bit from the review, for instance:

“The idea that a dog owner must become the dominant member by using jerks or harsh words or other kinds of punishment, she writes, ‘is farther from what we know of the reality of wolf packs and closer to the timeworn fiction of the animal kingdom with humans at the pinnacle, exerting dominion over the rest. Wolves seem to learn from each other not by punishing each other but by observing each other. Dogs, too, are keen observers — of our reactions.’

“In one enormously important variation from wolf behavior, dogs will look into our eyes. ‘Though they have inherited some aversion to staring too long at eyes, dogs seem to be predisposed to inspect our faces for information, for reassurance, for guidance.’ They are staring, soulfully, into our umwelts. It seems only right that we try a little harder to reciprocate, and Horowitz’s book is a good step in that direction. “

Kate points out there’s a comic reference in the title, an old Grouch Marx line: “Outside of a dog, a book’s a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Bravo, Kate!

Long Berkeley Dog Walk

The Dog’s main person is away this week. He is very aware of that fact and can be sort of moody and preoccupied about it. Yes, there’s some anthropomorphizing going on here. But there’s also this: The other day, at the schoolyard where we occasionally take The Dog to run around, he sat staring back out to the street and didn’t budge for a good 15 or 20 minutes. I was talking to another guy who had brought his dog out there–his dog was chasing a tennis ball around–when it suddenly dawned on me why the dog was so focused on the schoolyard gate. If his main person were around, that’s where she’d appear.

My strategy to get his mind on other things, at least for a little while, is long walks. He gets plenty of walks in the normal course of the day. Four, usually. But the longest we’ll have him out is an hour or so, and most of our strolls are shorter. But the past few days, we’ve been going far up into the hills from our place in the flatlands. A couple hours or a little more, five or six miles, with long uphill stretches, maybe including a couple of the old paths between blocks that I haven’t seen or walked before. I chart a route that will take us past water at least once, because The Dog works up a thirst. Then long downhill stretches back home, with more unknown paths (two tonight) and maybe a couple of deer loping along the street in front of us (happened tonight, and The Dog wanted to chase; it occurred to me that I might not see him again for awhile if I let him run after them).

I think this URL will work to show tonight’s stroll, which started about an hour before sunset and end about an hour after: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3068855 .

Aftermath: dog is tuckered out. So am I.

Modern Marketing Notes

A weekend morning ritual has evolved since The Dog’s arrival in 2006: On Saturdays, we walk up to Fatapple’s, a restaurant with a take-out shop, and pick up coffee and a pastry, walk over to the local school garden for the four-legged family member to scope out the chicken coop and the squirrels, then sit in the little amphitheater next to the playground (it’s got a view out to the bay) and eat. Sunday, we’ve started walking the other direction, to a place called Fellini, on University Avenue, that has a take-out window. We buy coffee and skip the pastries, then walk down to the old Santa Fe right -of-way and circle back home. All of the above is habit-forming. ledgers030809.jpg

Across the street from Fellini is Ledger’s Liquor, one of the few remaining liquor stores on University. In olden times, city ordinances forbade alcohol sales within a mile of the Berkeley campus. You know the reason: the pernicious effect of drink on youth and so forth. Those laws were scrapped long ago, but their legacy — a dearth of taverns and liquor outlets and a subdued night life — remains. The big liquor market on the street, Jay-Vee, closed about a decade ago and is now a synagogue. Another place a few blocks away, B&W, which was attached to a bar and seemed to have a corner on the down-and-outer crowd, has been a vacant lot for two or three years. The stores have gone out of business mostly because surrounding neighborhoods, and the city, have become unfriendly: University Avenue liquor stores are seen as magnets for crime and trash.

Ledger’s had been around awhile when I got here in the ’70s. It was known for stocking exotic beers, which back then only meant brews free of the taint of St. Louis, Milwaukee, or Golden, Colorado. I can’t remember the last time I was in there; I’ll bet it was in the ’80s. But it’s still kicking along, though what draws my attention now is the assortment of goods advertised and the slick way they’re presented.

The message on the marquee is semi-permanent and perhaps immortal. Anyone know a source for that?

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Berkeley Rain

Standing water in the off-leash dog area at Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park.

It started raining about midnight last night and kept up nearly straight through until 10 this evening. I’ve found lots and lots of weather sites online with scads of data to waste my time on, but I’ve never found the “official” Berkeley weather statistics online on a day to day basis; what I see from looking at local home weather stations and several other measurements around town is that we had about 2 inches of rain in the storm. Around the state, I’ve seen numbers over 5 inches along the northern coast and in some parts of the Coast Ranges. Three weeks ago, the universal description of this season was “California’s third dry winter in a row.” It could still turn out that way, but February has been a rainy month nearly everywhere in the state.  

We had to get out for a walk this afternoon and decided to go down to the dog park near the Berkeley Marina. The rain chased almost everyone else away, and we got to slosh around by ourselves for half an hour or 45 minutes. The dog highlight of the day came when Scout spotted a jackrabbit on a knoll about 50 yards away. I saw him go after a rabbit once before, and it was a startling transformation from pet to hare-seeking missile. The same thing happened today: he turned into 55 pounds of flat-out speed and actually closed a good bit of the distance on the rabbit before it vanished into some brush and over a hilltop. Scout disappeared, too. He’s usually very controlled but from my earlier experience I knew he’d keep running as long as he had any sign that the rabbit was nearby. We ran after him and spotted him a couple hundred yards away in a meadow, looking around for us.

(Picture above: Standing water in the dog park; below: dog standing over ground squirrel burrow, with clouds moving along the top of the Berkeley Hills; you can see UC Berkeley’s Campanile in the distance.)

In re: Your Biting Dog

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Posted on a telephone pole near what we used to call “the experimental dog park” (for experimental dogs) at Grant and Hearst in Berkeley. As befits a dog park, dogs are almost always there. We’ve taken Scout there a few times, but there’s a little bit of a weird, frenetic feeling to the place and he never seems to want to stay. Somebody in the neighborhood went to the trouble of having a professionally designed banner printed up for the dog run; it says something like, “Please consider the neighbors and stop incessant barking.”

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Dogs, Wolves, Us

The New Scientist site is carrying a story headlined, “Dogs aren’t stupid wolves; they are much smarter.” Sadly, the oddly headlined story (“much smarter” than what? stupid wolves? whoa!) is just a come-on for a feature in the print edition of the magazine and only the first paragraphs appear online. But people aren’t stupid subscriber-sheep, and someone somewhere has seen fit to post the entire text of the article in a Usenet group.

The gist of the article is that dogs’ close association with humans over the last 100 centuries or so has endowed them with some “remarkable mental skills.”

“Domestic dogs evolved from grey wolves as recently as 10,000 years ago. Since

then their brains have shrunk, so that a wolf-sized dog has a brain around 10

per cent smaller than its wild ancestor. That was one

reason why animal behaviourists felt dogs were merely simple-minded wolves. It

has become clear, though, that despite the loss of brain volume, thousands of

years spent evolving alongside humans have had a striking effect on dog

cognition.

“For one thing, researchers are increasingly convinced that dogs must possess

some sense of right and wrong in order to negotiate the complex social world of

people. A pioneer in this area is Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado at

Boulder, who has spent decades watching animals at play. He has championed the

idea that in many social species, including dogs, one of the functions of

rough-and-tumble play is to develop a rudimentary sense of morality.

“The fact that play rarely escalates into full-blown fighting shows that animals

abide by rules and expect others to do the same. In other words, they know right

from wrong. Bekoff argues that this is a survival adaptation that allows animals

to smoothly navigate other social interactions.

“Friederike Range from the University of Vienna, Austria, takes the concept of

dog morality even further. In a series of experiments, her team rewarded dogs

with a food treat if they held up a paw. They found that when a lone dog was

asked to give its paw but received no treat, it would persevere for the entire

experiment, which lasted 30 repetitions. However, if they tested two dogs

together but only rewarded one, the dog who missed out would make a big show of

being denied its treat and stop cooperating after just a few rounds. ‘Dogs show

a strong aversion to inequity,’ says Range. ‘I prefer not to call it a sense of

fairness, but others might.’ ”

Fascinating. I don’t know how the resident dog in these parts comes down on the fairness question. But he has shown a strong disapproval of profanity, which he no doubt has observed is associated with human emotional states he has no desire to be around.

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More Advice from the Neighbors

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We do “pick up after” our dog. But if I were to somehow not see The Dog take a dump after dark, or forget to bring a plastic bag with me, or suffer some other lapse of responsibility, I sure hope the pile would happen right under this sign. My antagonism toward this precious advisory isn’t rational, and I can’t really explain it. I suspect, though, that part of my feeling arises from the belief that the sort of people who put up notes like this wouldn’t give you the time of day if you passed on the street–unless it was to tell you that if you want the time, you should be careful enough to own and wear a watch.

The other day, I was walking The Dog when we approached a woman sitting in a lawnchair alongside the sidewalk. Her back was to us. The Dog was about 40 or 50 feet ahead of us. He passed Lawnchair Woman, and I approached. I got ready to say, “Hi, there,” which is my normal greeting to someone I meet in such circumstances. But as I approached, I heard her croak, “Six feet.”

Me: “What?” “Six feet. The city ordinance says you have to be within six feet of your dog.”

Discussing this later, I agreed with someone who has a much calmer demeanor than my own that the proper response to such an utterance is a simple, “Thank you.” After offering thanks, the proper course of action is to continue on your way and count yourself lucky that this person does not live next door.

I won’t recount what I actually said or what Lawnchair Woman said by way of retort. But it wasn’t “thank you.”

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