Hey Elderly Aunt, how do I respond when people tell me to pick up after my dog when there’s nothing to pick up

Dear Elderly Aunt — What is it with people in this town yelling at me about cleaning up after my dog? Three times in the last week, someone has opened their front door and demanded that I pick up non-existent poop! I have a female dog, so she squats to do No. 1. and No. 2. But I know the difference between her postures and can’t clean up what isn’t there! Do I pretend to do it regardless? Do I yell back? I am starting to lose patience with my so-called “neighbors.” What happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt?

What indeed? As the Bible states and Pete Seeger sings, “for everything there is a season,” and right now appears to be the season of free-ranging boorish behavior. 

It is hard for the Elderly Aunt not to link the increase in reactive rudeness among Americans to the behavior of the genuine bully who currently occupies the bully pulpit of the American presidency. To her, it really does seem that the constant braying of this boor of very little brain (forgiveness begged from AA Milne) really has empowered the inner boor that probably skulks in all of us. For more and more people (regardless of political persuasion), “turn the other cheek” appears to be out, while “give as good as you get ” appears to be in. Even the Elderly Aunt—who has always believed she doesn’t have a boorish molecule in her body—once experienced an impulse to respond in kind to the rudeness of a stranger.  

This time, too, shall pass, dear reader, as all times eventually do. But it hasn’t passed yet which is why you are forced to deal with what sounds like assaultively boorish behavior while out walking the dog—in the literal sense of that activity rather than the Rufus Thomas sense.

So what am I to do? you ask.

The Elderly Aunt decided to fuel her consideration of your options with take-out Chinese.  As she pays close attention to the wisdom sent to her in fortune cookies, she cracked hers open before eating a single bite of her own “big dish of beef chow mein” (wink, nod to the Werewolves of London). And there it was — not an answer to your question, per se, but old soul wisdom about the consequences of reacting in kind to any rude behavior the day throws at you. 

Written in blue ink on the tiny oblong of flimsy fortune cookie paper were the words: We are what we repeatedly do.

The Elderly Aunt took this to mean what’s really important at this time is whether we will give boorish people the power to turn us into boorish people as well. 

We are what we repeatedly do.

Speaking for herself, the Elderly Aunt chooses to just say no to acting—and so becoming—a boor. Boorish behavior is fueled by free-floating anger and resentment in search of an outlet, and she has no desire to tote around a bunch of anger and resentment in her own head.  She’d much rather spend her energy playing with her cat than lugging around huge chips on her shoulders. 

As to specifics….

Remember, dear reader, that the only behavior you have a chance of controlling is your own. With this in mind, the Elderly Aunt suggests you cheerfully explain the situation once to each neighbor who yells at you about dog-poop-that-isn’t. Who knows? Maybe they’ve been troubled by members of the Boorish Nation who maintain that their dogs, like corporations, are legally people, and so their right to express themselves by pooping in someone else’s yard is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Or maybe your obstreperous neighbors have led a terribly sheltered lives and simply don’t understand that male and female dogs pee and poop differently?  In other words, treat your neighbors as you wish to be treated, by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Once.

After that, if the same neighbor yells at you again, simply fall back one more time on the Elderly Aunt’s favorite mantra of tolerance, “Purple Cow.”

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

And continue on your merry way with a light heart and a resentment-free head.


The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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