O To Be A Dog In Paris!

When Yves Contassot ran in the Paris municipal elections a few months ago, one especially pungent issue dogged him. Other politicians turned up their noses. But voters sensed this Green Party candidate would be different. "Do you have the courage?" they would ask, emphasizing that last word. "Do you have the courage to take on... dog poop?"

Yes, Contassot replied. And now as deputy mayor of the City of Light, he's set out to prove it. Many Parisians don't realize what's coming, how lives and lifestyles will soon be transformed. But with the new year, a new era dawns for Paris and its famously pampered pooches.

Whether Yorkie, poodle or Shar-Pei, it's out with the old and in with the new. No longer will the city's four-footed friends be permitted to poop wherever they please. Nor will it be enough to "curb" your dog, directing business to the street instead of the sidewalk. Come January, owners will have to clean up after their pets. If they don't, they'll pay fines up to several hundred dollars--just like Londoners and New Yorkers.

A social tempest is expected. Nothing of this sort has ever been done along the banks of the Seine. It goes against tradition. In past decades, whenever the odiferous issue came up, Contassot explains, French politicians deferred to the dogs. Why? Because owners were voters, and why needlessly offend? Besides, picking up poop is so, well, un-French. Brigitte Bardot, the former sex kitten turned animal-rights activist, has fired off an early salvo in the coming doo-doo wars. The new anti-excrement campaign, she complained to city officials, risks "sharpening the hatreds" between man and beast!

Municipal authorities have reason on their side. Each year, they say, more than 600 people slip on the city's doggy-slicked streets and land in the hospital. And as any sole-scraping tourist can tell you, that's just the beginning. Paris's quarter of a million dogs produce 16 metric tons of excrement daily--and the city spends more than 11 million euro a year keeping that load from burying its cafe-lined boulevards.

Once upon a time the solution to this fecal fecundity was shovels. Nowadays the job is done by battalions of street sweepers and a fleet of 70-odd motorcycles with special merde-sucking vacuums. Since 1982 they've scoured hundreds of kilometers of sidewalk a day at a yearly cost of about 7 million euro. According to the investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine, that works out to between 1.5 and 5 euro a kilo. At such rates, you'd think parsimonious Parisians would just pocket the poop and cash it in, like chips at a casino.

Economics aside, there's public relations to consider. Those who would get tough on dogs didn't like it when the Chinese cited the poop problem to argue against Paris's bid for the Olympics. (Undismayed, the Paris Olympic committee riposted that, of course, the Chinese would not have this problem: they eat their dogs.) More to the point, increasing numbers of Parisians appear to have grown sensitive about this particular aspect of their image. They've wearied of parodies like Robert Altman's 1994 film "Pret-a-Porter," where the most memorable running gag was not about high fashion but high stepping. A recent publicity campaign funded by the previous Paris mayor also helped shame the excremental scofflaws. One poster depicts an invalid in a wheelchair rolling over a putrid pile. Another shows a blind man whose white cane looks like a shish-kebab full of skewered whazzits. Still another shows a little kid in a park making mud-pies out of you guessed it. At long last, even the French have begun to say "Yuck."

Contassot discovered as much during the election. Talking to dog owners' associations, veterinarians, people in the street, he believes he tapped into a new zeitgeist. Paris is "ripe for change," he says. Truth be told, Contassot may wish he could go further. He doesn't really like the way many Parisians pamper their canines. He's shocked at seeing dogs in restaurants, seated on comfy chairs no less, at tables next to their owners (a common spectacle, even in three-star establishments). He remembers with special chagrin his first job, as a waiter at the Ritz, where he often served a countess who lived in the hotel and had to serve her dog as well. "I think for people like that, there's a completely perverse rapport with the animal," says Contassot. "It's neurotic, finally. It's a sickness."

Perhaps. But then, in the interests of full disclosure, we should note that Contassot is a cat-fancier.

O To Be A Dog In Paris! | News