Walking and the pedestrian environment
March 5, 2006
Dog Streets (Tokyo)

Neighborhoods versus apartment-dwelling dog owners.

This article is part of the special feature series Dog Doo Signs of Tokyo.

The below signs come from an inner suburban neighborhood on the west side of Tokyo. The area is overflowing with dogs. From sunrise to sunset, you can't walk within a half kilometer of the central park without seeing a dog being walked. Sunny days in the park create scenes of dozens of dogs, with many owners chatting briefly. Commuters on packed sidewalks are used to stopping mid-step or dismounting from their bike if an owner obviously doesn't have control of their dog. So understand that although the balance of regulation isn't in dog-owners' favor, dog ownership in Tokyo suburbs is a reality that activists and bureaucrats can't ignore. With the flat economy more buildings allow dogs in them. Posh neighborhoods in central Tokyo have buildings with dog-friendly amenities and cafes and restaurants you can take your dog to. The influence several kilometers away is slow but steady.

Scroll down for a longer discussion of urban dogs.

No Dogs in the ParkLocated at the entrances to almost all parks. "To all dog owners: Do not bring dogs into the park. The dog poo is very bothersome."

Wait! Poo Before Your WalkPart of a series of signs posted on the wall of a single family home. "Wait! This is not a toilet. Make your dog use the toilet before going on a walk. Strictly obey good manners on your dog's walk. [Be sure to license and inoculate your dogs. 2003 Suginami-ku]"

Take Responsibility for Your PooPart of a series of signs posted on the wall of a single family home. "Cleaning up dog poo is the responsibility of the dog's owner. You absolutely must clean up the poo and take it home with you. For a livable, clean neighborhood for both people and pets. [Be sure to license and inoculate your dogs. 2003 Suginami-ku]"

Japanese Dog LicenseLicenses for three dogs. In Tokyo, dogs don't wear license tags, and microchips are still a rarity. When you license a dog you receive a sticker which you must put on your home entrance as a warning to the public that you have a dog. When you renew the license you do not get further stickers. Licenses on this home are dated from Year Heisei 2 (1990), Year Heisei 3 (1991) and Year Heisei 7 (1995). The oldest would have to be 16 years old at this point - there's an outside possibility that none of these dogs are still alive, and the stickers are left up as good memories.

Take Your Poo Home With YouFound in the garden of a single-family home. This is an official issue of Suginami-ku and says "[Keep your dog leashed while walking!] Dog owners, take your dog's poo home with you."

Vicious DogThis cute sign says "Beware of Vicious Dog". Is this tounge-in-cheek??

No Dogs on the Field"You can't bring your dog on the school field." Straight, direct, no soft words (unlike the other signs which have soft, polite, uncompromising requests).

Park Rules for DogsPosted at the central park, the only one in which dogs are allowed. "Cautionary Points for Bringing Dogs into the Park. 1. Keep your dog on a lead short enough to keep it under control. 2. If you let your dog poo, you must take it home with you. 3. Do not let your dog pee or poo on the gardens. 4. Do not brush or groom your dog here. 5. Do not let them drink straight from faucets. 6. Do not let them into the water play area or pond. 7. Be very careful not to allow accidents or fights be caused by your dog. If an accident occurs, you must take responsibility for your dog's actions. [Suginami-ku Park Authority]"

No Poo in the GarbagePark garbage can - posted on every can. "Please do not throw dog poo into the garbage can. [Suginami-ku Park Authority]"

No Offleash DogsPosted above benches at one entrance to the central park. "Be sure to use a lead on your dog. Offleash dogs are not allowed in this park. If offleash running continues, we may be forced to ban dogs from entering the park. (Do not throw your poo away here, take it home with you) [Park Authority]"

No Pee HereFound at the entrance to a dirt-covered parking lot. "Do not let your dog pee here."

Pee RejectedFound at the entrance to a dirt-covered parking lot. "Pee Rejected."

Urban dog owners pose challenges to landscape architects, neighborhood activists and government regulators in cities world-wide. Hopefully I've planted the seed of idea in landscape architecture undergrads that I've met, because it's a widely ignored issue in that profession. As a result, it's a problem for regulators and activists to solve on their own, left with a list of problems and arguments and no objectivity or big ideas. (San Francisco is considering converting dog poo to usable methane gas and freeing up 4% of their waste - that's the only big idea I know of, and probably came from the freak landscape architect thinking about this topic, or maybe it really was a kooky activist.)

So what are the issues? From the dog owners' stand-point the needs are reasonable. Dense, urbanized neighborhoods often lack pocket parks and sidewalk buffers that allow a dog to simply pee and poo without developing a disorder. There are side benefits. Making a dog-friendly neighborhood means creating a green, 'livable' place for everyone. Dog walkers may also be the only 'eyes on the street' in urban neighborhoods who come to recognize problem vagrants or drug dealers, and make the calls to police that keep the neighborhood safe. Dog ownership is a common factor that creates many friendships on the street. That's great, but from the stand-point of everyone else, the snarls, bites, off-leash running, and left-behind poo from even a small percentage of dogs is unbearable. When a new golden retriever moves into your neighborhood and suddenly you get two huge piles of poo in your favorite park each day, you get turned off real fast. Beyond that, Muslims view dogs as dirty animals and avoid touching them with the fear of god. Even non-Muslim Africans may view dogs as wild animals that live off scraps in garbage dumps.

Depending on what continent you live on and the make up of your city's population, the reactions of activists and regulators will be totally different. In Seattle for example dog ownership is normal, meaning many neighborhood activists have been life-long dog owners. Families are treasured in Seattle and young, educated people are all the rage among city planners country-wide, so regulators aren't going to unnecessarily scare off dog owners. Dogs can be taken on Metro buses. Activists have created a series of off-leash dog parks. Recent victories include the conversion of a small urban park controlled by drug pushers and prostitutes into a dog run. Residents who speak out against dog owners who don't pick up poo are treated with disdain in public. Park workers who fine for off-leash dogs on beaches are despised. Hardly anyone realizes that there are people with legitimate reasons to dislike dogs. City legislators and bureaucrats view it as a victory every time they do something for dogs. It's an easy way to get good press.

Dog ownership in Tokyo's inner suburbs is quite different. Owning a dog is a luxury, and the image of a dog owner is a family in a detached home with a small yard. Dog walking is just exercise. Dog owners in apartments or condos (it's fairly difficult to find a building that will allow even a small dog) are expected to train their dogs to use a litter box, or at least take the poo home with them and dispose of it there. Dog walkers can be seen quickly sliding a piece of paper under a squatting dog to easily pick it up. Back home, some dog owners (and cat owners for that matter) put the poo in the freezer during the summer until the weekly raw/burnable garbage pick up. Others flush it down the toilet. Allowing dogs in some parks at all is a recent and significant compromise. Activities are regulated significantly, but interestingly there are no monetary fines posted, and it's unclear if neighborhood activists and business owners are expected to enforce on their own.

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at March 5, 2006 9:00 PM
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