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It’s not an exact science. There is no formal certification. But I can tell you that the path to my current status as duly recognized poopologist was long and arduous, requiring years of study, an abundance of patience, and also a hard-earned tolerance for all-out grossness that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to dog ownership. And please let me take a well-deserved bow. Because when it comes to walking, pooping, and otherwise maintaining the gastrointestinal fortitude of our family’s 28-pound purebred beagle, the job falls entirely to me.

I wish it weren’t so, but the rest of the family learned long ago to run the other way every time this particular chore needed doing. And I suppose I started to believe in the old adage that if you want a job done right, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

Listen kids, if you want Phoebe to poop properly, you have to get her legs moving and her haunches churning. As I have learned from being pulled along the streets of our neighborhood, there is no substitute for brisk trotting – and a fair amount of sweet-talking – to facilitate the regular production and elimination of poop. You can’t just walk three feet outside the porch door and expect her to handle her daily constitutionals standing in one spot at the end of a 5-foot leash.

So rain or shine, hot or cold, I get out there and walk her. And you would be surprised at how much poopology you can learn from countless hours spent looking at the rear end of a hound.

I am now on intimate terms with every note and chord of Phoebe’s toileting harmonics. I know I can count on her to pause, hunch over, and let loose exactly twice per walk, and almost always in the same two grassy plots that are her favorites along our route. Do I spy poop irregularly shaped or oddly colored? It’s clear she’s gotten into a bowl of foil-wrapped candy; chewed the fringe off a decorative throw rug; stolen lunchmeat off the kitchen counter; or gladly accepted other people-food from someone who refuses to fess up to the crime. And don’t even think you can give her two dinners instead of one just to be nice. Remember: I know all. I see all. Poop density, volume, and viscosity will tip me off immediately.

There was a time when I knew nothing of these matters. Back in our honeymoon era, my wife and I got the idea that buying a dog would be excellent preparation for having a child. And we were right. Thanks to several years of dog-poop duty, by the time our daughter was born, diaper changing didn’t faze me a bit. Also, I was no longer put off by vomit. Then our son came along, and our poop universe just continued to expand. And like every self-centered American man prone to oversharing, I would be happy to recall the circumstances of my own intestinal health. But perhaps another time.

In any case, for a while there, I can safely and honestly tell you that my entire life had turned to sh—.

The kids have long since aged out of Diaper Genie days, but a dog remains a baby forever, of course. And while a beagle’s baleful eyes and unconditional affections certainly have their charms, the finer points of poopology continue to reveal themselves and dominate the warp and woof of my daily life.

For one thing, I give thanks that Phoebe falls in the small-to-medium size range for the average family canine. Spend enough time picking up poop, and poopological breadth and depth soon becomes obvious. Small dog, small poop. Big dog? Well, then you have a lot on your hands – pun fully intended.

Poopology also naturally extends to best practices, techniques, and products. As a seasoned poopologist no longer faint of heart, I long ago learned how to reach inside a plastic bag, bend down to pick up a fresh pile of poop, and then turn the bag inside out and knot it quickly, all in one, smooth motion. Hoarding different kinds of plastic bags has also become a second hobby for me. Recalling the principle of diffusion from high school science – that even the smallest molecules can seep through a permeable membrane under certain conditions of temperature, size, and concentration gradient – I seek out only the densest grocery and produce bags for poop duty, the kind least likely to allow anything foul-smelling to reach my fingers.

Even though Phoebe gets regular walks, random piles of poop still litter our yard, though I do my best to pick them up as often as possible. Caught in the rain without a poop bag and anxious to get back inside as quickly as possible? Mark the poop’s location on a longitudinal and latitudinal axis (the tree straight ahead; the azalea bush ten steps to the right), so you can easily find it later.

But even though I can always be counted on to secure a proper stool sample for vet visits and understand the need for regularly expressing her anal glands (too icky even for me to do), don’t get the idea that I view the chemistry, biology, and geometry essential to poopology as fascinating for their own sake.

I just know that what goes in must come out, that anything unusual or exotic will only end up being my problem in the end, and
that my ultimate goal is to head off the possibility of a full-scale and unexpected pooplosion occurring somewhere in the house.

Sad to say, but the truth is, I am one with her poop. For now at least, until that day comes when my life is no longer —

Well, you know.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. The father of two, Tony has written the DadZone since 2009.
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