The ethics of poop shaming

Some residents had the idea of catching these irresponsible dog owners with photos or video and posting them on public websites.

By now many of you will be familiar with dog shaming websites where people place signs on their dogs announcing their transgressions – chewing the left feet only of pairs of shoes, vomiting on the bed pillow, peeing on their owner’s leg.

It’s become somewhat of a phenomenon with even a coffee table book making its way into publication.

But the concept is now evolving into a new, and undoubtedly controversial, area – owner shaming.

Or, more specifically, poop shaming.

The idea was introduced to me from a Facebook conversation that included a number of Canoe-area residents who were justifiably complaining about the number of dog owners who permit their canines to defecate all over the place without cleaning up after them.

While some irresponsible dog owners seem to believe that a covering of snow somehow magically dissolves pet poo, or that they are somehow above the need to take responsibility for what a pet naturally produces and deposits on lawns, parks or street corners, the end result, especially in the spring, is pretty darn disgusting. I share these residents’ frustration, as I am a dog-lover, who as much as I find poo pick-ups a little yucky, finds stepping in someone else’s pet’s feces 10,000 times worse.

Some of these residents, who like many of us are now armed with cell phone cameras that accompany us nearly everywhere, had the idea of catching these irresponsible dog owners in the act with photos or video and then posting them on public websites or Facebook pages in an effort to publicly identify offenders and shame them into better behaviour.

Controversial, yes. Embarrassing, certainly.

Effective, maybe.

We live in a world of surveillance cameras and camera phones. And this has offered a whole new level of accountability in our society. There can be no doubt, video or photographic evidence has helped solve crimes that perpetrators might previously have gotten away with.

But how far is too far? It has left us grappling with questions of privacy versus the public good. And what transgression is worthy of public shaming? I think most people would be in favour of video or photographic evidence in a case of a serious crime like murder or assault. But where does poop shaming fall on the scale? Not picking up after your dog is technically illegal, certainly a bit morally questionable, but does a citizen deserve to be publicly humiliated in front of their community for it?

There are those who say, do the deed and face the consequences. And when it comes to dog poop, I have a hot button myself. I have previously caught the neighbours’ pet repeatedly pooping on my own lawn after they let it out to do its business with no supervision. I picked up the poop in a bag and returned it to them personally at their front door. But I’m not sure I’m comfortable with posting a fellow citizen’s picture to humiliate them for the world’s consumption on the Internet.

Salmon Arm Observer