Just when you thought our tough economic times couldn't get grimmer comes this news for the dog-loving populace of St. Petersburg.
On your daily walks to the park, it's BYOB time.
That's right: Bring your own bag to pick up after Max when he's done doing his business, because the city is no longer stocking free ones in dispensers around town.
Now wait. (In dog parlance: Sit. Stay.)
Before you accuse me of being another overindulgent dog owner who thinks my mutt deserves to dine alongside humans at the Vinoy with San Pellegrino in her water bowl and a nice rare steak on her plate, please know I see the wisdom in this cut. (Which, by the way, does not apply to the city's dog parks.)
For the record, I am avowedly, maybe even rabidly, if you'll pardon the expression, pro-scoop.
This is a little like saying you're for stopping at red lights, or against piling your garbage in your neighbor's yard. It's a matter of courtesy, decency, health and safety. It's the least we can do.
In fact, here's an idea.
Forget a city fine for non-scoopage. How about we get up a petition pushing a maximum sentence for scofflaws who pretend they have no earthly idea what Lucy's up to on the end of that leash, and then saunter away from the all-too-obvious evidence?
Hard time, I'm talking. Like graffiti artists forced to wash down the same walls they have spray-painted, these miscreants should be sentenced to scooping the city, one bag at a time.
You know who you are.
Okay, maybe we allow one mulligan. Even your best citizen gets caught bagless now and again.
Anyway, providing those free scoop bags was a great amenity, one of those nice intangibles that make a city more walkable, livable and resident-friendly. Cool, even.
But St. Petersburg paid for 1.7-million — million! — bags last year at more than 100 dispensers in parks and neighborhoods.
Bags were disappearing at a rate that didn't seem to match the number of dogs available to use them.
And — this is a biggie — it cost $48,000 last year.
"That is probably an employee and a half," says parks director Cliff Footlick.
He's right. It's an expensive amenity and a big savings. Sure, for dog people who have come to enjoy the convenience, it's no fun to lose a luxury. But a luxury is what it was.
(Dog people across the pond in Tampa need not worry, at least for now. The city has no plans to cut its 25 "comfort stations," which cost a more modest $4,500 a year.)
So fellow dog people, let's rally. Let's come together in the way of Victory Gardens in hard times. Let's make a commitment to scoop.
We already know there are haters out there who don't want our dogs in their parks, much less on the outdoor patios of restaurants (but that's another column for another day). Why prove their point by leaving them something stinky to step in?
There is talk of neighborhood associations buying bags to put in the existing dispensers. The rest of us need to leave the house fully equipped — leash, keys, bag. Save them from Publix and Sweetbay.
Also, come to think of it, subscribing to the daily newspaper can get you a bag a day.
Hey, in these tough times, I'm all about solutions.