TAMPA — The situation on Willowdale Road has turned as nasty as, well, dog poop.
That, in fact, is what it's all about, and remaining silent in the center of the mess is a 10-pound miniature schnauzer.
The conflict erupted late last month after Bruce Michaud got home from walking little Ember. Michaud says he always carries a bag and cleans up after Ember and his standard schnauzer Max.
Some neighbors beg to differ. They say Michaud merely pretends to pick up after his dogs — which is why Toni Llauger knocked on his door that day and handed him a bag of dog feces.
"This belongs to you," he says she told him.
Further complicating the matter: Llauger is a postal carrier who "delivered" the package while still in uniform.
The whole thing led to a round of e-mails between Michaud and the Postal Service, an analysis of federal code, and some frosty relations in Citrus Park.
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The street sign says Willowdale, but it could be any thoroughfare in America where abandoned dog piles raise hackles.
Neighbors handle the issue differently. Some just let it go, while the more indignant contact higher authorities, such as Hillsborough County Animal Services, which issues citations to repeat offenders.
"We've got kind of a steady flow of complaints," says Tom Green, communications supervisor for animal services. Some cases wind up in Hillsborough County Judge Nick Nazaretian's animal court.
Llauger, who lives across the street from Michaud, took matters into her own hands.
"He did not pick it up," she insists. She saw him bend down and act like he picked it up, she says. "He does it all the time."
Another neighbor, Karen Marrero, backs Llauger. "I've seen him wave the bag over (the poop) and then continue on."
Not true, Michaud says. "Why would I go through the motion and not pick it up?" he asks. "I bend down, I pick it up, and they know that."
The 49-year-old pest control worker banged out an e-mail to postal authorities. The only reason he answered the door, he wrote, was because he saw a uniformed postal worker through the glass. "This employee used her position to gain entrance into my home."
But Vicki Plummer of the Postal Service's consumer affairs division concluded that since Llauger was not working at the time, the poop handoff was a personal issue.
"Ms. Llauger has been instructed not to wear her uniform when conducting this type of personal business," Plummer stated in an e-mail exchange Michaud forwarded to the St. Petersburg Times.
Unsatisfied, Michaud brought up the section of federal code that makes it illegal to mail or deliver any "obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile article, matter, thing, device, or substance."
The key word in the passage Michaud cited is "mail," according to Gary Sawtelle, spokesman for the postal service.
"This is not mail. It is not in any way, shape or form mail. It does not have postage. It's not addressed. It was never in our system," he says.
Though Llauger did not use good judgment by wearing her uniform at the time, Sawtelle says, she did not break the law.
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While this may not rise to the level of a federal case, dog piles apparently are a global issue.
According to a report in 2008, a city outside Tel Aviv was collecting DNA from untended dog droppings to match against a dog DNA register, which would be used to identify owners who didn't pick up.
Closer to home, the city of Tampa sent in the code enforcement troops last spring to stamp out droppings as more people moved into condos and apartments downtown. Uniformed and undercover code enforcers issued verbal warnings to offenders caught in the act. The city fine for a first offense is $150, but no tickets have yet been issued.
City code enforcement officials say they can't really do much about the offense unless they see it happen.
Animal services, however, sends letters to dog owners who draw complaints from neighbors. If the problem persists the matter could wind up in court. It helps if complaining neighbors bring evidence, such as a photo or video of the dog using the lawn, Green says.
Judge Nazaretian handles animal cases four or five days a month and each time, he says, he usually sees a dog poop case or two on the docket. They may not seem like a big deal, he notes — until it happens to you.
As for Michaud and Llauger, they never were what you'd call friends. Michaud often sees her in the neighborhood.
But these days, he says, she barely looks his way.
Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Philip Morgan can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.