Picking up after your dog – whose trash can should you throw it away in?

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Social media gets talked about as if it were one thing. But “media” is plural, and each social medium has different customs and tone.

Facebook is familial, for instance. You can show unruly guests the gate. On Facebook I mark personal occasions: my wife’s birthday, a son home from school, in a way I never would on Twitter. Twitter is far more public and contentious, a mad free-for-all, like that tomato festival in a small Italian town where everyone is covered in red goo, flinging fruit as fast they can.

Then there’s blogging. I maintain a blog whose name, alas, can’t be printed in the paper. Blogging seemed edgy when I began, six years ago, ignoring the unavoidable truth that, if I’m doing something, then it ain’t edgy.

Now blogging seems a quaint and obscure time-wasting pastime, like embroidery. A place for smaller, more trivial thoughts that have no business gobbling up the scarce real estate of a printed newspaper. Two weeks ago, one blog post began this way:

“Tuesday is garbage day in the old leafy suburban paradise. Which makes Tuesday a better day to walk the dog, because people roll their big sturdy green garbage cans to the curb, affording me a range of disposal options after Kitty has done her business. No need for carrying the blue New York Times bag with its load of doo, not for long, not on Tuesdays. Detour a few steps over to a can, a tad guiltily, lift the top and flip the bag inside.

“I don’t know why I feel guilty—it isn’t as if the homeowner will mind, me using their can for such a purpose. Or maybe they would. Of course they would. We can be very jealous of our prerogatives, we suburbanites, and I can imagine some homemaker gazing worriedly out her window. ‘That disheveled man, the one with the limp who is always walking that ratty little dog. He just came by and used our garbage can!’”

This was meant as a joke. Turns out I bumbled into an ongoing national controversy, the summertime version of the dibs debate that breaks out every winter. Comments focused on the morality of tossing dog waste into strangers’ trash cans. Some disapprove:

“It simmers in the summer and festers in the fall—and really stinks up the can. I move my cans closer to the back porch in the snowy months… My driveway is short, so it’s easy for passersby to deposit the poop in my trash can.”

The legality of disposing your garbage in somebody else’s bin is a murky area, though laws seem designed to prevent bulk disposal rather than thwart throwing away a plastic bag containing a small but significant load.

My pal at the Washington Post, Gene Weingarten, whose Twitter profile is the pile of poo emoji, and identifies him as an “enthusiast of excreta-related humor” ran a Twitter poll on this very notion last month. He asked, “Is it rude/unacceptable to put your dog’s poopy, in a sealed plastic bag, into someone else’s trash container that is going to be picked up the same day?”

I myself would not use the word “poopy” unless speaking to a 2-year-old. But Gene has two Pulitzer Prizes, so who am I to question his word choice?

Of 568 respondents to his poll, 17 percent said “Yes it is quite rude;” 34 percent said “It’s a little rude.” And 49 percent—almost half, for Trump supporters—agree with me that “It’s not rude.”

That’s a relief. The caveat that the deed must be done before the cans are emptied seems flexible. If somebody leaves their can out after garbage collection day, well, I would argue this makes the can fair game, from an ethical point of view, a public utility, punishment for their failure to follow social norms.

You see the kind of things we think about in the suburbs? Believe me, I know, with a new mayor sworn in Monday, this is not the most pressing Chicago concern. In the city, few care what goes into a dumpster in the alley, so long as it’s not a baby. But outside the city, we monitor each other. What else is there to do? In passing this controversy along, I hope I am doing my part to keep Chicagoans from fleeing the city.

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