It is an unmistakable sound.
It was just shy of midnight on Thursday night. I was returning to our flat after watching a Euro 2012 football match (England v Sweden) at a pizza joint in the city. It been raining all evening and pools of water had collected on the poorly lit stretch of sidewalk between the metro station and our building. I looked up as I walked through the shadow of a parked car. Squish. I didn’t have enough Belgian beer in my system to deaden the gravity of the moment; my two week record since arriving in Paris was now broken in an instant. Yup, I just stepped in dog shit. Merde.
For many, this may seem like an unremarkable moment in one’s life. But Paris is the City of Canine Landmines. And I have a terrible gag reflex. Cow pies? No problem. Horse piles? I can handle it. Elephant dung? I stepped near ankle-deep into a mound with nary a tickle in my throat. But if said excrement comes out of the business end of a cat, dog, or fellow human, you better watch out.
Close friends who knew of Paris Poochie Poo Problem warned me, “you’ll never make it.” Through diligent observation of the ground wherever I walked—it’s difficult for a birdwatcher to look down—I had avoided all incidences. This is no small feat considering the tremendous odds stacked against any pedestrian walking through Paris; few city blocks escape the digested releases of 300,000 Parisienne pooches.
“Crottes de chien” is the official name, and it’s a contentious issue in the metropolis. Mayors have attempted to do everything to clean up the streets, except chastising the irresponsible owners who leave the piles. The offenders are also voters and, judging by the number of piles scattered through the city, it’s a plump constituency. Perhaps civic leaders don’t want to step into a political pile themselves.
I’ve read estimates that two people per day are hospitalized due to crap-slip injuries. And 20 tons of doggy droppings is deposited in the streets of Paris every year. In the land of Christian Louboutin and Chanel, soiling $1,000+ designer footwear is a risk the fashionable face daily.
So what does a city do with all this “doo”? Jacques Chirac – when he was mayor of Paris – employed a battalion of mopeds armed with vacuum cleaners. Motorized pooper-scoopers moth-balled, most sidewalks are washed daily either by shop owners or city employees, and all contents go down the storm drain. Gives one reason to question the rich brown coloration of the River Seine.
I surprisingly escaped my first encounter while retaining the contents of my stomach, aided in part by the darkness, beer, and odor-suppressing rain. No designer footwear soiled: boat shoes with no tread allowed for easy scraping and a quick wash in the next rain puddle.
Things may improve. Technically, it’s against the law; you can be fined and new laws have put enforcers in the streets to catch owners in the act. There are also signs reminding owners to pick up after their pooches, stating “I love my neighborhood. I pick up.” And blue-bag toting leash-bearers can be found throughout the city.
But I’m still keeping my eyes down.
[Note: no images of les crottes will accompany this post; the FlockingSomewhere Staff Photographer’s camera was rendered inoperable after being doused with the contents of his stomach]
- The Independent: “Liberte vs Fraternite: a dispatch from the French dog-poo wars” (December 6, 1997)
- NPR: “In Paris, A Hunt for those who Dodge Dog Duties” (January 26, 2013)