Dogs: Good for Irving Street and D.C.


My puppy on 14th Street, last spring. Note the prominent poop bags. We scoop!

First I blogged about dogs, then I pointed you towards some controversy over a Greater Greater Washington post…funnily enough, this post is about dogs and GGW. A few days ago, Lynda Laughlin wrote a post there called, “Irving Street becomes unofficial dog latrine“. In it, she asks, “how much dog urine is just too much for such a public space?”. That question hit home for me, literally.

For those of you who are familiar with this stretch of sidewalk, there is very little green space and the sidewalks are particularly crowded in the morning with commuters going to the Metro or waiting for one of the many buses.

With so little green space, dogs pee on the large planters in front of the apartment building, leaving behind noticeable puddles of dog urine. For the dogs that do make it to the tree boxes, they are not the first for the ground is already fairly saturated by 8 am…If you plan to own a dog in a city, shouldn’t you at least consider taking your dog further then just the nearest tree box?

I am going to dispute this respectfully, and then I’m going to present a different view, because lost in all the judgment of animals and their owners is one potent fact; dogs can make a neighborhood.

First, the disputing: while some dogs do mark the planters directly in front of the building (as male dogs are wont to do), the majority don’t. Most dogs make a beeline for the tree boxes Laughlin mentioned. When the weather was warmer, those boxes were rarely saturated, even at 10am. So what is the issue, then? Do people make a point of walking through tree boxes? Or is this a way to criticize dog owners, for whom there are few alternatives? As Laughlin acknowledges, there is almost no green space on this block. It’s not practical to tell my puppy to hold it until we reach whatever ideal place that people on the internet think we should use.

As for concern over dog waste (raised in GGW’s comments section), I, too, am appalled at people who are too lazy to clean up after their pets. I pick up after my dog and often, I pick up after other dogs, too. I hate that the selfishness of a few makes all of us (and especially our blameless animals) look bad. Last week’s snow only encouraged such scofflaws. There was a noticeable increase in abandoned dog waste and I was just as disgusted by it as anyone else.

But much like how the vast majority of bike riders are not guilty of the sins of those who blow through red lights, responsible dog owners in D.C. shouldn’t be besmirched with the filth of a few. It’s not fair, and the focus on pet urine and feces leaves little room for considering why it’s great to have dogs in this city.

I hated Columbia Heights when I moved here fourteen months ago. Compared to my old neighborhood, everyone here was rude, entitled and anti-social. I was used to greeting my neighbors and chatting with them whenever I saw them, whether on the sidewalk or in a store. Here, no one returned my greetings and I rarely heard an “excuse me” if someone knocked me out of the way. All of that changed dramatically when I got my puppy.

Suddenly, people were friendly. They wanted to know all about her. They smiled as she wagged her tail so hard, her entire body wiggled. They asked if they could pet her. They told me how much she reminded them of the dogs they had grown up with. In a city where most of us don’t talk to each other, especially if we don’t have race or social class in common, people of all hues and bank account balances were chatting with me, offering me advice and forging connections.

Because my puppy uses the tree in front of Commonwealth, by the end of spring, the gastropub’s regulars who sat outside started to recognize her. By the end of summer, they’d call out her name, like she was Norm, walking in to Cheers. People would get up from their meals to talk to me about her, and they’d shoo away my embarrassment at distracting them from their food and friends. That was kind enough, but the most stunning change occurred right around the Metro, where gangs of defiant teenagers often gathered to skate, eat or shove each other playfully.

The first time I walked my puppy, these teens rushed towards me, asking me for her name, breed and age. They bent down and cooed at her while scratching behind her ears. I was shocked. A week before that, while leaving Potbelly, the same kids had screamed epithets at me and told me to do vile things to myself because I had quietly asked them to stop harassing an elderly woman who was trying to make her way to the Metro elevator. My blood had boiled then, now it drained from my face as I recognized the teen who had been the most volatile. I had nothing to worry about, though. He petted my dog, looked up at me and smiled, and then walked away with his friends, talking about his childhood pet.

Are tree boxes the ideal spot for my puppy to eliminate in? No, they aren’t. But they’re all I have, and while some people think I should not have a dog in this city, because it affects the quality of their lives, I humbly feel grateful for how this pet has improved the quality of mine. My dog stitched me in to the social fabric of my neighborhood. She isn’t a nuisance, she’s an icebreaker. And I can’t help but feel that if more of us smiled at and talked to each other, this city would be a much better place. Dogs help us focus on what we have in common; it would be a shame if that gift were forgotten, in the rush to judgment.

  • Hrking6

    Nice piece.

  • Morganado

    Dog owners make better neighbors — I never knew my neighbors, or, they, me, until my dogs and I found each other. And, as proven in our Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, add a great deal of security and safety to our neighborhood — lots of eyes and ears, and communication.

    Some people, who write about the negatives, of anything, are not capable of seeing the positive. Some call it “indulged”.

    Thanks for the positive side.

  • suicide_blond

    i agree… dogs definately add to a neighborhood… and agree that its a minority of dog owners that sometimes make us all look bad… thanks for the positive post!