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Real City Matters

Join us for a series of panel discussions about the state of our city, and how we can have more honest, constructive conversations about its future.

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Public Works: A Spanish Town Turns the Tables On Dog Poop Non-Scoopers

If you don't clean up after your dog in Brunete, Spain, you might not want to answer the door for the UPS guy.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

There was a time when dogs defecated willy-nilly in the streets, while owners beamed proudly at the size and consistency of L’il Bandit’s steaming turds and continued walking, confident that the mess would shortly be transported elsewhere on the Louboutins of some inattentive pedestrian.

Today we don’t have dog “owners” or “masters,” we have doggie mommies and daddies. Reflecting this gentrification of the human-canine relationship, we also have poop-and-scoop laws. And while most urban dog…er, guardians are conscientious about bagging the smelly stuff, there remain the few, lazy or sociopathic, who still let their charges befoul the urban scentscape.

Some cities ignore the problem. But when the Spanish town of Brunete was faced with a rising tide of poop, it took action.

City officials contacted advertising agency McCann, whose creative team was for some reason were intrigued by the challenge of keeping Brunete’s streets feces free. The firm agreed to address the problem pro bono.

Their first effort saw offenders chased down the street by a remote controlled piece of (plastic) poop sporting a sign reading, “Don’t leave me! Pick me up!” (The video above is a cross between a Just For Laughs gag and a guilt-flavoured mescaline trip, its surreal quality amplified by the fact that most of those targeted don’t seem to have dogs, which makes you wonder exactly what they did to warrant the treatment in the first place.)

While the campaign had a temporary inhibiting effect, the crap was soon back. McCann, which evidently has a lot of time on its hands, devised sterner measures.

For phase two, malefactors were approached by friendly strangers who asked the names of the dogs. Armed with this information, the city was able to cross-reference names and breeds in its dog-licensing database and come up with an address. Volunteers then boxed up the poop (“Interns Wanted for Prestigious Government Work!”) and couriered it to the home along with a warning. To ensure adequate humiliation, the deliveries were captured on video.

From a total Barete population of 10,000, 147 poops made their way home, and advocates of the program claim a significant reduction in unattended dog waste as a result.

Would such whimsical measures work in Toronto’s more urban environment? It’s doubtful that scofflaws indifferent to both public opinion and City by-laws would be deterred by a rolling poo, however hilarious. And suspicion that the amiable dog lover asking poochie’s name is an informant trying to arrange a very special delivery would only jeopardize the already sensitive state of public human interaction here.

Still, the public shaming of the guilty has a visceral appeal, as anyone who’s failed to evade a gigantic odoriferous sidewalk muffin can attest. And given the current level of political discourse in Toronto, it’s an issue that might resonate with much of the citizenry.

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