Editor’s note: This column originally ran in The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Aug. 31, 2015.
The Town of Hilton Head Island spends $30,000 each year on black biodegradable bags so guests of the island’s beaches and parks don’t have to watch where they step.
So that the No. 3 polluter of water doesn’t make it into our supply.
So that our public areas don’t reek like the devil’s own backyard.
Throughout the island, there are 45 dog-waste stations set up.
Town employees keep these stations stocked daily with 450 cases of bags annually.
All to make life more convenient for dog owners. All to eliminate the “I don’t have a bag” excuse that lamely gets used by some of the 40 percent of Americans who admit to not picking up after their dogs regularly.
And yet there’s no hope.
I’m serious. There’s no hope. I have the proof.
This past Saturday morning at the entrance of Folly Field Beach on Hilton Head, my friend and I were stopped by a woman who demanded to know if we had any bags for our dogs’ future downloads.
“Yes,” I said. “Do you need one?”
She did not.
No, she was taking an angry one-person poll, the kind fed-up bystanders take just to express their dismay and loudly prove a point to no one in particular but everyone within earshot. Usually these polls are taken when food hasn’t been served promptly at a restaurant or when the cashier at the grocery store lets the person in front of the poll-taker hold up the line by leaving to get the right kind of juice.
“There are black bags, but people aren’t picking up after their dogs out there,” the woman grumbled.
Then she walked away, which left me no choice but to take my own angry one-person poll.
“Do I look like the kind of person who doesn’t pick up after her dog?” I asked no one in particular but everyone within earshot.
Then I stomped down to the beach and thought about who this woman might be.
She’s a dog hater. Clearly.
Or an exaggerator, at the very least.
Maybe she’s sad about something else.
No, no. She’s just a nosy Nellie who’s going to complain to the town and get our dogs’ beach privileges taken away, all based on the one pile she saw.
I just know it.
What a ... dear old observant woman.
She was right.
Every few feet, it seemed, there was a new situation, a spot where a dog owner had ignored a dog’s broken stride and morning expression.
A place where a human had walked away from his responsibility, possibly with a casual know-nothing whistle. (I say “his,” because according to a 1999 study of the Chesapeake Bay area, which is still much-cited by current anti-dog-poo literature, most dog-poo scofflaws are, indeed, men.)
Dogs’ deposits dotted the areas to the left and right of the blue mat to the waterline.
They were nestled against stray sea grass on the sand.
They were posted at the foot of dunes, like tributes to the unborn sea turtles nearby.
One dog owner was polite enough to bag his dog’s landmines, but impolite enough to leave the sack in the sand, in a no man’s land far from a public entrance, where it sat as if it had fallen from the sky, right off a miniature Bad Santa’s miniature sleigh of rejected toys.
The scene was troubling for a few reasons.
First, the selfish one: My dog loves the beach. Moreover, I love the beach most especially when I’m with my dog. We walk until we can’t walk anymore. Then we go to Whole Foods to get some bacon.
I am not alone. In the mornings and evenings, the beaches are full of people having a good time with their dogs. That we are allowed to share the beach with our dogs is a great joy.
I worry that one day a single inconsiderate dog owner is going to ruin it for all of us.
Second, people walk barefoot at the beach. I cry for the person who has stepped in an abandoned pile of dog food’s past.
Dog excrement is toxic. It is disgusting. Beyond that, Hilton Head has made it quite easy for everyone to pick up.
“I think the town is very fair in supplying (the bags) as a service,” town facilities manager Julian Walls told me Monday when he gave me the expenditure information.
He acknowledged that it’s tough to get full compliance, though.
“We sort of have to go by the honor code,” he said. “We provide (the bags), and you hope that people will pick up after their dogs. If a lifeguard sees someone who doesn’t, they’ll say something. And if the person still doesn’t do it, the lifeguard will call the sheriff’s office.”
Sounds like a really efficient use of our deputies’ time.
What kind of world do you want to live in?, I have to ask the people who don’t pick up after their dogs in yet another angry one-person poll.
When I got home Saturday, I checked online to see if anyone had complained about our beaches. Sure enough, I came across this disturbing review of Coligny Beach from earlier this summer on TripAdvisor: “The beach is FILTHY! Trash everywhere, dirty diapers, and dog poop. We witnessed dogs pooping in the waves where children play, and the owner did not pick it up.”
Dogs pooping in the waves.
What a nice impression we’ve made.