Got to Scrape the Shit Right Off Your Shoes


It was cold in Louisville last week with morning lows near zero and daytime temperatures struggling to reach the 20s. Rufus had to do his business a half-dozen times each day. That meant I bundled up in four or five layers of clothing to go outside.

Allen, cold morning Salvisa 010715

There’s plenty in the garden to interest us both, even if we have different pursuits.

These walks have gotten me into the garden and around the neighborhood a lot more this January than in years past. Rufus, who is one-half Jack Russell and the other half miniature schnauzer, likes to roam. So do I.  And I never know what to expect. One day he got tangled in my favorite bamboo, Sasa veitchii. I wonder if he sniffed a mole?

And he didn’t seem the least bit interested in the bright red fruit on the shade-loving, Chinese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica. They’re hidden deep in the leathery, evergreen foliage.  I find the berries charming, but Rufus could care less.

Dogs and kids roamed free when I was a boy. Back then, dog owners never picked up any mess. My neighborhood was a minefield. It was hard to avoid stepping in it. My mother, a fussbudget homemaker, made sure we scraped anything that stuck to our shoes before we came inside.

Sasa veitchii
Sasa veitchii

A stubborn streak overcame me when we first got Rufus, three months ago: “Don’t tell me what to do!” Not on my life, I thought, am I going to pick up a pile of dog crap. Certainly not in my garden, or, I thought at first—anywhere else.

“Have at it, boy!” I said when Rufus fancied a curbside ivy patch. Why should I be kind to a weed so vicious that I’ve spent nearly 20 years trying to rip it out of my own garden?

Chinese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica
Chinese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica

And we know where the neighborhood groundcovers of wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei, are, too. What a nasty invasive plant. It doesn’t begin flowering until it starts climbing into Kentucky’s trees. And then it only gets worse. Seeds are spread hither and yon. The vining plant chokes the woodland floor and climbs as far as it can and strangles trees to death.

I’ve tried to tell a few neighbors that they’d be wise to get rid of their wintercreeper but they think it looks nice. I lapsed into Libertarian and never made a big deal about their invasive weeds. On the other hand, it didn’t bother me, at all, that Rufus chose their strips as his precious depositories.

On these first few outings, even if Rufus was doing everyone a favor by leaving his mess, I looked both ways to be sure no one was looking. We walked away from each steaming pile and didn’t look back.

Rufus on a bed of fallen leaves from the China fir, Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca'.
Rufus on a bed of fallen leaves from the China fir, Cunninghamia lanceolata ‘Glauca’

After a few weeks, I became conflicted but found support from a neighbor with a beautiful Labrador. I told him that I hadn’t warmed up to cleaning up my dog’s pile. He said, “Don’t worry, we’ve been dropping bombs in your front yard for years.”

Figuring there was more neighborhood solidarity for wayward dog owners than I’d thought, I boldly confessed to one of my more evolved neighbors. He turned me around and said, “You’ll be sorry.”

Before readers get ready to fire off excoriating responses: I promise that I’ve somehow evolved.

Now I carry a few cleanup bags. Really, I do.

Here’s to you, Sweet Virginia!


  1. You have the perfect dog. More pics anytime with Rufus.

    Discovered much better shit in suburbia.

    Chickens. I toss my chicken shit a new place in the garden, every day. Have only had them 3 years, my loss at lost time.

    After a giving a lecture last year, I realized I had chicken shit on my skirt. Knew then I was the cool chic in the room.

    Thank you for sharing your Rufus.

    And his shit.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  2. Thanks so much for a post that made me laugh out loud on this dark morning in the middle of January!
    That Rufus is a cutie.

  3. Read as with Burma Shave billboards:
    “There is only one sin
    that I cannot pardon
    Here lies the pooch
    that pooped in my garden”

  4. Allen, Pleased to see that you like Sasa veitchii. It’s one of the faves of the 30 + species & cultivars that I grow here in north central TN. Last year’s cold winter has caused me to remove some species that weren’t cold hardy here. The November 2014 cold snap has once again tested the garden here. My Rohdea collection did not seem pleased by it but Spring will tell the real story. I enjoy your articles.

  5. Ah Allen, I remember those “good ole days” of dodging piles! I also remember the early days of picking up after our pooches–we actually “re-purposed” our plastic bread bags to do the deed.

    Now there’s a new, disheartening trend in my neck of the woods. People will dutifully bag the poop–and then leave it by the side of the walk/road/path/trail, presumably to be disappeared by the Poop Fairies. So now, instead of a natural, biodegradable, somewhat camouflaged un-bagged pile, you see bright purple/orange/neon green etc bags of tightly-sealed you-know-what sitting by the side of wherever you’re walking, like some kind of modern-day guidepost.

  6. As a garden designer who spends a lot of time keeping my clients’ gardens looking good, what raises my ire into the stratosphere are dog owners who let their pets pee & poop on lovely plants. Really!!?? W#XFFU&nc!!! C’mon, that’s what street signs & lamposts are for, NOT the plants!!!

  7. Little dogs make little shit! I too sometimes have our pouch Tessa poop in the invasives. Less plastic in the landfill. At times I wonder if the content of our soil is being populated by ever smaller pieces of plastic. Our newspaper comes in plastic and I pick up a present, tie a knot, then pick up another….sometimes three or four times. Reuse at its best! Write on, Allen.

  8. Here in central Texas the dung beetles seem to haul the solid stuff away pretty quickly, but I must confess to not wanting to dig in my streetside flower beds after seeing the neighbor’s dogs lift their legs on the compost!

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