Do people think there is a dog poop fairy in the woods?
October 31, 2016 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I take my dog [sorry no picture, I'm at work, can't get to Instagram for a link] to run or walk in our lovely regional parks 2-3 times every week. I keep her on leash, I always carry at least one dog bag, and I carry out her poop or deposit it in the garbage bins conveniently located at every trailhead. And every week I end up picking up at least a few other people's (full) poop bags from the trail, some of them within 40 yards of the garbage bin!

What's the deal? Why do people go to the trouble of obtaining a poop bag, scooping the poop, and then leaving the bag on the trail?

OK, fine, some people leave the bag with the intention of picking it back up on the way out, and they don't want to carry it because eww poop. But there are far too many bags on the trail for them all to have been forgotten accidentally. Some of them are carefully tucked into a branch of a tree, or even thrown into the woods.

Google gives me the possibility that people think it's the park staff's job to pick up the bags, but why would anyone think that when there are clearly labeled signs about what to do with the poop at every trailhead?

Color me enraged and baffled. Will a sociologist please explain this for me? Thank you!
posted by suelac to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I see this all the time on my local trails in the DC area. I'm convinced the only explanation is that some people get their rocks off on being assholes.
posted by raztaj at 1:28 PM on October 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

People litter too - everywhere -- throw trash out of cars, toss their cigarettes on the ground, etc. It's baffling! I think it's that they're dicks, who don't care about areas that aren't "theirs".
posted by brainmouse at 1:30 PM on October 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Will a sociologist please explain this for me?

It's a well-known thing. The Tragedy of the Commons.
posted by LionIndex at 1:34 PM on October 31, 2016 [14 favorites]

I think the article you linked to covers at least some of the reasons. It may also be due to people forgetting them/misplacing them (walking two dogs, one goes, you bag it and carry it along, a mile later dog 2 goes, you put down bag 1 to use bag 2). Or, people modeling behaviors: I am new to this area and don't know how it works, oh look, you just leave the bags. Or, people thinking that there is already a poop bag here, it won't matter if mine is too.
posted by holyrood at 1:35 PM on October 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

My brother does this both at his house/family's houses and at his apartment complex back when he lived in an apartment complex. I've asked him why.

A few jobs back he used to work maintenance for an apartment complex. Doing his regular maintenance work takes him in and out of communal trash bins all day, and there's nothing worse than opening the lid of an enclosed trash can full of poop that's been marinating in the hot sun. Much better from his perspective to leave the poop bags out in a ventilated location until trash collection day, when it'll all be whisked away in a few hours' time. So he leaves his poop bags sitting out and waits until collection day to actually put them in the bin.

Now, whether this is what's going through the heads of all the individual poop leavers, I can't possibly tell you. Probably most of them are just lazy and some of them are assholes. But my brother has his reasons. (My brother is also the kind of person who would walk through and throw everyone's poop bags away himself on trash day, which it sounds like these people are not.)
posted by phunniemee at 1:37 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

They are afraid someone will see them not scoop the poop. They do it to avoid that moment, but don't really care about being a good citizen.

Also, they may have forgot it. Put it down to tie shoes, fix dog leash, grab their water out of a pack, etc.

I'm the jerk that left a Dunkins Donut coffee cup on the shelf at the grocery store. I wasn't trying to leave it there, I forgot it. Now I really want it! But I am not backtracking because I have no idea where I left it. No one is backtracking to find bag of shit, either.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:39 PM on October 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think these are the same people who leave shopping carts strewn around the parking lot when there's a cart return thing 20 feet away. I ones got into an ill-advised heated argument about this in a neighborhood Facebook group. Their argument was that they are busy people, they have kids, they have a job, and they don't have time to deal with it, and they know someone else will take care of it for them....
posted by primethyme at 1:42 PM on October 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

This happens on Forbidden Drive in Philly all the time. It drives me nuts. Our theory is that people pick up their dog poop when people are watching, but don't want to actually go to the effort of carrying it around with them and so leave the poop bag to the sides of the trail and go along their merry way, which is even more obnoxious because if you are on a hiking trail, poop left off the main trail will follow the natural way of things, while poop filled plastic bags just add more waste.

In short, because people suck.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 1:42 PM on October 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Just a gentle nudge here to keep it Ask-ish in here and focus on the explanation/sociology side of things here and stay away from the tempting griping-about-poop-droppers aspect.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:45 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

A goodly number of them are meaning to pick it up on the way back. I offer myself as Exhibit A as I do this to my very own single family home. I head out on a walk with a dog and a bag, dog poops on next-door neighbor's lawn, I turn around and place it neatly on the stone wall in front of my house meaning to bin it on our return and . . . well, there's one sitting there right now. People are just distractible. I don't want a bag of shit in front of my house any more than you want one at your trailhead but somehow I often simply don't see it on my way home.
posted by HotToddy at 1:45 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

don't know how it works, oh look, you just leave the bags.

Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by cluelessness.

Yes, people can be lazy and venal, but really, most people want to do the right thing. Consider the sheer number of people going through the park, and then realize that a lot of them are first-time dog owners, first-time park walkers, etc. Then add the number of people who _were_ first-timers, saw the bags of others, and copied them, but _nobody_ has ever been a) walking with them and their dog when the dog pooped; b) observed the poop-leaving behavior, c) known better from their own particular life experience, and d) felt it was "their place" to inform the person that, yes, there are a bunch of bags there, but you should do something different because my personal standards are right and yours are wrong.

Consider the number of "do not engage" answers to this kind of thing that you read on MeFi. Consider that people come from different, totally different, backgrounds -- some places, dogs just run around outside, so the idea of taking a dog for a walk in a park, or keeping it on a leash all the time, is odd to them.

I'm faced with this all the time when college students move into my neighborhood with no clue that they should be recycling stuff in a separate location from the trash collection, or that they shouldn't leave old mattresses leaning on the dumpster. I lived it myself when I moved away from the small Georgia town where I grew up; people get mad when you don't magically know "how things are done". Also see: a lot of English society novels.
posted by amtho at 1:48 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK so there was a story in our local paper. It was about an 'assault' on one woman by another in some local parking lot. Of course people were horrified and then more details emerged.

The assaulter stated that she had been walking behind this other woman and her dog. At one point she saw her do this. She saw her put her dogs poop in a bag and then proceed to hang the bag on a branch.

So she stayed behind the woman and watched her walk back to the parking lot to her car. There she confronted her and words broke out. And someone was pushed.

In any case, the assaulted woman stated that she had left it there because she didn't want to carry the poop around for her entire walk. So she put it down and intended to pick it up on her way back but forgot.

So there is at least one reason. I can't vouch for whether she is telling the truth but I can vouch for the fact that this problem spans continents, as I live in the UK.
posted by vacapinta at 1:49 PM on October 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've seen this a lot. I think that people want to scoop the poop but don't want to carry it around, so they leave in on the trail to pick up (and pack out) on their way back. But I imagine people then forget it, it rolls away, or they end up getting lost or taking a different way you end up with neatly scooped poop right on the side of the trail. [As HotToddy said above!]
posted by stillmoving at 2:00 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Runners are likely to leave a bag for pick up when they return. Running makes the poop bag bounce. I'm not a poop expert but I will state as a fact that a bouncing bag of poop is worse than a non-bouncing bag of poop.

Source: I was complaining about exactly this to a friend. Friend explained that they do this when they run. Friend picks up their poop bags. Friend will return to a spot where their dog pooped to pick it up of no bag was available at the time of pooping. Friend is a good friend. Who's a good friend? You're a good friend, yes you are!
posted by ellenaim at 2:10 PM on October 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

As someone who can't take her goofy-ass dogs anywhere, I would be confused about the conventions if I went to a place and saw bagged, knotted, not-thrown-away poop at the side of the trail. I would end up going to find a trash can and see if there's a sign telling me not to bin the poop because I'm a Good Girl Rule Follower and then I would fret about it and might, eventually, decide to leave bagged poop out since that seems to be a thing.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:14 PM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

The answer is to loop the poop bag around your dog's collar. This performs the double service of transporting the poop and humiliating your dog, which we can all get behind, as it were.

Why do people not do it. Look within your heart and you will find the answer. People are the worst.
posted by Kafkaesque at 2:15 PM on October 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am afraid I'm going to get mauled here, but... I used to do this when trail running an out and back, intending to pick it up on the way back. I did, in fact, pick it up on the way back every time. Is there any chance you're seeing this?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:27 PM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

What's the deal? Why do people go to the trouble of obtaining a poop bag, scooping the poop, and then leaving the bag on the trail?

There is a particular park near me where, depending on the precise location that Bishop has chosen to make his deposit, I will find a reasonably visible place to leave the poop until we loop back around and pick it up again. I'm 90% sure I've never forgotten a bag, though someone did good samaritan the bag up for me once. (Maybe they cursed me while they did it).

The reason why I choose to do this is because there aren't enough garbage cans in this particular park, and I like to minimize the poop holding that I have to do*. I'm ok with the wilderness trails not having pickups, but I think that the parks department of my city has screwed up by not at least having a garbage can near where the paved trail intersects with the road.

So, if you'd like to stop people doing this -- can you agitate for more trash receptacles in this particular park? I get that there are "garbage bins conveniently located at every trailhead," but could they be better spaced?

*giving the dog the duty of bearing the doody he does is highly tempting though I worry that given his flexibility it could get messy if he thinks I have granted him a new friend/toy/enemy.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:38 PM on October 31, 2016

I always assumed people just didn't want to carry bags of poop with them on their walks and planned on picking it up on the return trip to the car.
posted by teamnap at 2:47 PM on October 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

Why do people go to the trouble of obtaining a poop bag, scooping the poop, and then leaving the bag on the trail?

Some of it is resentment - some people don't like being told what to do, but also don't like getting into trouble, so they will do the thing that they're "supposed" to do and then not throw it in the bin to get back at "the man".

why would anyone think that when there are clearly labeled signs about what to do with the poop at every trailhead?

And some of this is cluelessness/laziness - because you would be surprised at the number of people who pay very little attention to anything going on around them, in particular, signs.

A lot of people know they're supposed to put the poop in the bag - and then they don't know what comes next, because they definitely don't want to carry it with them - if I leave it here/chuck it there, it's all good, I've done what I'm supposed to do and I'm not doing any more than that.

As well, where I live, we have birds that will rummage through the bins, pulling out all kinds of stuff, which inevitably means some poop bags wind up scattered around the place, particularly just outside the bin.
posted by heyjude at 3:35 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do this. Two black labs can mean 4 bags of poo on a good day. I stash the bags off trail, and fully intend to pack out on our return loop. Sometimes I forget/misplace one, or miscount how many bags were used, I'm sure. I do not suck, I am not assuming the rules don't apply to me. I am just now and then not perfect.
posted by donnagirl at 3:39 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

My neighbor constantly forgot his poop bag on the sidewalk in front of my lawn or driveway. Since his dog's inner clockwork was finely calibrated, it pooped at more or less the same place on their walk each day, which happened to be my yard more often than not. I knew who was leaving it first, because they used a distinctive kind of bag and second, because I saw him from my window more than once.
One day I just decided to be neighborly, and returned his forgotten poop bag onto his own driveway. He never forgot again. Which -- as a dog owner myself -- confirms for me that this is one of the many convenient "forgettings" we can remember if we really want to. My neighbor wasn't a bad guy. But he was easy on himself until whistling oblivion wasn't possible anymore.
posted by flourpot at 4:10 PM on October 31, 2016 [10 favorites]

Oh, I wonder the same thing every morning on my walks with my dogs. I am one of those people who leave the bag pn the trail until i pass by again on my way home (so i dont have to carry poo for 3 miles). Every once in a great while I miss a bag, but I always get it the next day. Id rather people just leave the poop for the little janitorial beetles and things rather than add a plastic poop bag to the stuff they have no intention of cleaning up!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:53 PM on October 31, 2016

I always leave mine and pick them up on the way back if I'm running. If you leave them on the ground other dogs pee on them so I put them in a tree. I would say I forget maybe 5% of the time and I go back and get them the next day if I do. But sometimes the poop fairy does pick them up. In our case the "fairy" is an older woman with a weird obsessions with gathering poop bags. She's kinda odd so I just let her do it now or I have to talk to her about microwaves and government conspiracies for half an hour.
posted by fshgrl at 8:32 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a thing everywhere. Here it is a local political issue that always gets blamed on "commercial dogwalkers" and so there are permits and such for pro dogwalkers and supposedly fines for not disposing of poop, and yet the poop bags are everywhere.

I do think a lot of people intend to come back for them. But it is baffling when you see them within sight of a disposal container with a sign.
posted by bradbane at 9:05 PM on October 31, 2016

Having dated someone who owned a dog and did this regularly, they most certainly did it purposefully and said so, usually because they didn't feel like carrying it.

I am sure not all dog owners are like this.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:59 PM on October 31, 2016

Any chance wild animals are involved?
posted by unknowncommand at 7:48 AM on November 1, 2016

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