Let’s establish a few things up front:
1) We have different standards for pet care than many people.
I was raised out in the country, where it was not wholly uncommon to see people chain a dog in the yard, perhaps tethered to a wire run between two trees, giving it a single “run,” where the ground was worn down from the back and forth pacing of the dog. We, on the other hand, have pet insurance for our dog and frequently pay hundreds of dollars in hotel pet deposits so that she can travel with us around the country. This observation alone could be productive fodder for a discussion about how class privilege shapes ethics, but that’s not why we’re here today.
2) We are sensitive to people who are poverty voyeurs, including those who visit Alabama’s Black Belt and bemoan the rural living conditions for various self-aggrandizing purposes. This kind of “visiting the wrong side of the tracks” by people who don’t have to spend the night in those areas, well, there’s a long and unsavory history there.
Those things said, this blog has a history of grappling with the ongoing collapse of this city, starting the year we moved to town and saw a corpse at what we forever thereafter called the Murder Exxon. We traced the economic decay of the East-South Boulevard and talked about what it’s like to constantly hear gunshots from the comfort of our bedroom.
Talking about this kind of crushing poverty isn’t easy. Most of the time, when people do talk about it, it’s with cringeworthy stereotypes and, judging from the comments posted in Facebook forums and on Nextdoor.com, programmatic solutions that (usually) stop short of ethnic cleansing.
This week, I wasn’t looking for a large-scale government program, but just something as simple as a functioning 311 city service working with an active sanitation department.
The Rotting Dog
I have been trying to ride my bike more often, just to get off the couch and away from the laptop screen. In service of this goal, I have found myself regularly peddling the flat and generally uncrowded streets of the neighborhoods adjoining my own. These neighborhoods have fancy-sounding names like Ridgecrest and Edgewood, but I’m not sure if anyone really uses those names. I don’t know anyone who lives in these neighborhoods, but I always nod or wave as I peddle by, politely acknowledging that I’m just passing through.
There are houses in these neighborhoods that look like they need to be torn down. Some houses only have plywood boards over all the windows. A few houses look like they may have been constructed out of found materials, like the kind of thing you might see in Central America. A decent number of the houses have something illegible spray-painted on the front.
But a number of these houses are modest ranch homes built in the 1950s. Some have owners who are lovingly maintaining the yards. Some people are sitting outside, just watching the world go by. If the weather is half-decent, there are usually kids everywhere.
A week ago I saw this dead dog lying in front of one of the houses, pretty close to the curb. As noted above, we love our dog, and seeing any dead dog makes me sad. Was this big dog someone’s pet? Was it a stray? Did it die, well-loved, and the family didn’t know how to dispose of it? Did a would-be burglar shoot it? Did someone leave it in front of the house to send a message to the occupants?
I called 311 to report the dead dog, and without diverting this post into a whole “Why is it so hard to use 311” type of post, let me just say that it’s not easy to report an issue. After longer than I would have liked, the person on the other end agreed to dispatch some kind of sanitation team.
A week later, I went by the house. It’s on Princeton Road, between Patton Avenue and Lynnwood Drive. The dog corpse was still there, flies gathering around it.
How could this be? It’s not just amazing that the city hadn’t gone by and none of the sanitation workers on the street had dealt with it. Even giving the home owners the benefit of the doubt (maybe they were out of town), did none of the neighbors call to report this mouldering corpse? At this point there was a cloud of flies around the dog. It was a public health issue. Imagine if this had been June and not February.
Our national political scene is a cesspool, each atrocity leading us to believe that our republic’s best days are long behind it. Our state is marching aggressively into the past, focused on abortion and pornography as the schools fail. Only our local government gives a tiny modicum of hope that decentralized control might represent a glimmer of potentially functional government that meets the needs of its citizens.
Instead, we have a neighborhood where the names of streets call to mind America’s great institutions of higher education: Cambridge Road, running parallel to Berkley Drive. And there, behind the collapsing empty eyesore of the Normandale Mall, a dog still is rotting in the front yard of a house on Princeton Road.