I live with my wife, our pet dog and my guide dog X-Celerator on 8th St. near 30 Ave. in St. Petersburg. As you may have surmised by my naming a guide dog as a member of the family, I am blind. In the most technical of terms, I live with a severe vision impairment which, translated to normal English means that I have no usable vision but can detect some light but not objects or anything useful through my eyes.
Almost every day, X-Celerator (don’t ask how he got his name as the story is too long and quite boring) and I go out for an exercise walk. I have managed to memorize which streets in my neighborhood do and do not have sidewalks as our city planners seem to have selected randomly where such should start and stop and simply poured cement in an arbitrary pattern of parallel and perpendicular lines. On the east side of my street for instance, the side walk starts in front of my house and runs north in front of two more houses; the most perplexing aspect of this bit of concrete is that none of these houses sit on a corner. Thus, we have a sidewalk from our home to that of a neighbor but not to 30th or 31st Ave., the terminal spots of our block. Thus, upon leaving my house to go south, I need to walk with my guide dog across a bit of the neighbor’s lawn until we find his driveway , turn south on the street and, if we’re heading east, rejoin the sidewalk once we’ve passed his house. To make matters more confusing, we’ve been cited by whichever governing body within the city bureaucracy handles such things for having some tall decorative plants leaning over the sidewalk that goes nowhere, hence, has no pedestrians to be disturbed by the excess foliage.
As a responsible guide dog handler, I pick up after X-Celerator when he “does his business”during our morning walks. I gather his solid waste in a bio-degradable bag designed for this specific purpose and purchased at a pet store. When I’ve gathered all that he left behind, I tie the bag closed and continue on our walk. The second major problem with the sidewalks of our fair city is the complete absence of public receptacles of any kind; there are simply no trash barrels on or near any of the sidewalks on either the major or minor streets in the area.
Often, our exercise walk takes us some distance and I must admit that carrying a bag of poop for a couple of miles aggravates the carrier and severely distracts from the fashion statement made by the guide dog handler. Simply put, where does one get shoes to match this sort of bag?
We frequently walk on Martin Luther King St. where I’ve grown friendly with a bunch of guys who work in establishments that service automobiles in some way or another. The mechanic guys, when they spot me carrying the doggie doo-doo, almost always drop what they are doing and run out to help me find a place to throw it away. Thus, I’ve some familiarity of the dumpsters behind businesses on one particularly busy street. Most others just look at me and I suppose they think, “look at the poor blind guy with the pretty yellow Labrador and the bag of feces in his hand,” these people try to pass me as silently and quickly as possible.
So, I have decided to take matters of sidewalks, the foliage that overhangs them that strikes me in the face and the lack of public garbage cans into my own hands. On streets where sidewalks do not exist, I will try to encourage x-Celerator to do his business and leave it where it lands as I will assume that the lack of a sidewalk means the presumption of no pedestrians, hence, no one to step in the poop I leave on random citizens’ lawns. If the street does have a sidewalk, I will try to find a proper place to dispose of my plastic bag and, if I do not find one within a block or so, I will leave it on the grass abutting the sidewalk at the next intersection.
I will take a two pronged strategy toward the overhanging foliage: first, if I happen to have a bag of poop in hand, I will tie the baggie to the overhanging branch as a measure of civil disobedience and a bit of kenetic sculpture that may help raise the artistic values of our community. Second, I will go to Sears and buy myself one of those rechargeable, battery operated hedge clipper low power chain saw things and start carrying it with me on my walks – yes boys and girls, a blind person armed with a power tool roaming the sidewalks and defending himself against the trees, bushes and such that terrorize his head and limbs as he walks by will be on the loose in our placid, seaside community.
Obviously, I wrote much of the above in gets and will not likely take all of the actions I can imagine against a town that pretends to be a city that really cares less about those of us with vision impairments and, to a large extent, disabilities of any kind. I ask only that Mayor Baker and our city counsel take action to complete the sidewalk construction in our city and put a few trash barrels here and there to cut down on litter in general and dog poop in particular. Finally, I ask that the city enforce regulations involving plant growth that obstructs sidewalks before I have my face or arms scraped and call the city to send someone out to deal with the objectionable growth – this can probably be accomplished by having city workers out and about for other purposes take note of such and report them at the end of each day to the individual or department responsible for enforcement of these rules.
Christian D. Hofstader