The Long History of Dog Poop in Tel Aviv

Complaints about faeces covering the White City's sidewalks go back to the 1940s. Will a new campaign put an end to the problem?

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French bulldog
A French bulldog defecating on grass.Credit: Kittibowornphatnon / Shutterstock
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

It’s Tel Aviv City Hall’s project of the spring, featuring posters  showing a none-too-charming photo of a dog turd. So Haaretz has hit the archives to see when the droppings of our four-footed friends first started irking the residents of the first modern Hebrew city.

The first evidence I found in the Haaretz archives takes us back to the days of the British Mandate. In 1944, as the Holocaust raged in Europe, a woman called K.S. (her full name was withheld by the editors) was bothered by the dogs on Chen Boulevard (named after our national poet, Haim Nahman Bialik; Chen is an acronym). Her story appeared in the letters-to-the-editor section.

“My son was at home all winter, and now that spring is approaching, the doctors advised me to take him outside. There is a garden near my house, on Chen Boulevard. Actually, the garden lacks all charm [chen in Hebrew, with the guttural back-of-the-throat ch], because no one looks after it. There are no flowers or shrubs, and it’s very dirty,” she wrote.

“This garden, named after our national poet, has become a choice haunt of dog owners, who take their pets to this neglected boulevard. The garden has many holes, where the dogs defecate. When I go there with my son, he rolls around in the dirt and gets smeared with animal droppings.”

A dogwalker in Tel Aviv.Credit: Eyal Taoug

She ended her letter with a veritable scoop: “Not long ago I witnessed something nice. Members of the Bialik family, relatives of the poet, showed up with a small boy, and the mother explained to the child that the boulevard was named after his uncle, adding that his name was Chen as well. The boy added innocently: But Mom, why is this place so sad, why aren’t there any flowers here?”

Not like Europe

Complaints piled up at a greater pace in the next decade, after the state was established. “Every day, in the morning, you can see dog owners, mainly female ones, walking their dogs on the pets’ daily defecation outing,” begins a 1955 letter to Haaretz from H.K. Then comes the grievance.

“And what is most convenient and suitable for achieving this? The sidewalk! There is dog pooh everywhere, and people rushing by step in it, soiling their shoes and then the entire sidewalk when they try to clean their filthy shoes.

A poster in Tel Aviv's 2021 curb-your-dog initiative.Credit: Alon Idan

“How ridiculous it looks when a well-groomed lady stands beside her dog as he squats to defecate on the sidewalk. Would she have done this in her country of origin in Europe? Is it permissible here, because this is our home, where we can do anything we like? Isn’t it the municipality’s responsibility to issue a rule that prohibits dog owners from carrying on in this shameful way?”

A veritable minefield

The complaints didn’t stop over the following decades, and city hall woke up, albeit belatedly, trying to put an end to this malodorous problem. In 1974, Haaretz’s Tel Aviv correspondent (as we were called then) reported on a new city law under which dogs weren’t allowed to defecate in public areas. The article didn’t mince words in criticizing the municipality: “It wasn’t made clear where dogs can do their business as an alternative.”

Indeed, this “solution” solved nothing. “It’s a common sight in Tel Aviv’s streets and boulevards,” Avraham Katz wrote in a letter to the editor in 1975. He divided his story into two parts:

Another poster in the initiative.Credit: Alon Idan

“Act 1: A dog owner stands stoically still beside his dog, which is defecating right in the middle of the sidewalk or boulevard. Act 2: Before or after this event, people walk by as if through a minefield, and woe betide anyone not paying attention. End.”

Then comes an emotional appeal. “Honorable dog owners, even those whose dog is their entire world, please train your dogs to relieve themselves near trees and at the side of the boulevard,” he wrote. “It’s unacceptable that a small group of dogs (with all due respect) sully our streets, which already are not overly clean, forcing pedestrians to be alert to the danger with every step they take.”

Jerusalemites expressed their solidarity with Tel Avivians. One of them shared his experiences with Haaretz readers less than a decade after the capital was unified.

“A new custom has arrived in town – dogs,” wrote a Mr. Dushigashki in a letter to the editor in 1975. “All the sidewalks in the city center are befouled with dogs’ droppings after their owners take them there on their daily walk. People step in this pooh, curse and move on. Grassy areas in public gardens have also become an area of canine shenanigans, under the eyes of their owners. Forget sitting on the grass, everything is filthy. Is there no remedy to this affliction?”

A 1980s picture caption on then-Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat's battle against dog droppings. Credit: Hadashot

The poop mobile

A remedy arrived the following decade; in a caption, the newspaper Hadashot (the short-lived younger and vibrant sibling of Haaretz) used the nickname of Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat. It said “Chich buys a poop mobile,” reporting on a technological solution that promised to end the scourge.

“For anyone frequently treading the sidewalks of Tel Aviv and encountering mines left by man’s best friend, there’s some good news. The poop mobile is a new vehicle purchased by city hall designed to clean up the mess. The vehicle carries a container and suction pump that collects dog droppings,” Hadashot wrote.

“The offensive site is sprayed with a white disinfectant foam that smells like an air purifier. Mayor Lahat, who has tried several strategies for solving this problem, hopes he has succeeded this time. Operating one such vehicle will cost 7,000 shekels [$2,130] a month. Some people say that a broom and brush can get the job done for much less.”

Dogs in Shanghai well equipped for a trip outside to do their business.Credit: Aly Song / Reuters

The excitement was so great that it went all the way to Moscow. When the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team visited this city in January 1989, Hadashot reported: “Whereas we clean dog poop from a vehicle moving along a sidewalk, they clear their snow with shovels.”

The disappointment was as great as the high hopes. The poop mobile didn’t deliver the goods and disappeared with in a few years.

An attempt to return it to service in 2005 also ended in failure. The city’s health chief boasted that “these vehicles have many capabilities due to their great mobility, allowing them to reach places where dog owners did not clean up after their pets.” The plan was for sanitation workers to spray the pooh and harden it, so it could be sucked it up with a special pump into a hermetically-sealed container attached to the vehicle.

“Every poop mobile can pick up 20 liters of droppings,” the health chief promised. So he promised. Ultimately, it was another disappointment.

Patent vs. pooh

Other solutions were proposed in the following decade. In 1999, journalist Anat Balint described an invention by one Shai Gamlieli. “Among the plethora of Israeli patents for security systems, computers and medical devices, it’s calming to discover an invention devoted to a simple and everyday issue. With due respect to internet users, somebody has to think about people walking on the sidewalks,” she wrote.

“I discovered that for dog owners, the moment when the dog deposits his pooh on the sidewalk is very embarrassing. Everyone is looking at them. Some people leave the house prepared, carrying a bag, or a scoop and container. Some start running right after the dog finishes, pretending they didn’t see what their dog just did.”

The world, it appears, has seen many patents to address this problem; one gadget has a scoop, a spring and a plastic bag. Regarding Gamlieli’s patent, Haaretz reported on the device's  foldable plastic arch and plastic bag. His patent was supposed to address any eventuality, even when the collectible item wasn’t too solid.

“At the bottom of the bag’s opening is a strong nylon string. The upper part of the opening is attached to a plastic wing, which later serves as a cover. When the bag is fitted over the plastic arch, using two small pins and holes located at the bag’s opening, the nylon string is stretched tight,” Haaretz wrote.

Dogs and humans at the Hilton beach in Tel Aviv. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“Now the device is ready for action. All you have to do is lay the bottom part of the device, which is stretched by the nylon string, on the sidewalk or grass, and sweep the poop up into the bag.”

The string is the secret. “It’s strong and flexible enough so that it clings to any surface and goes under the poop,” Gamlieli explained.

Poop bags

It’s not clear what happened to that idea, but apparently it didn’t solve the problem. In 2005, Tel Aviv launched a much less technological venture called poop bags. The visionary was a New Yorker who moved to Tel Aviv, and her method is still in use.

It consists of black plastic bags that are yanked out of boxes affixed to walls and fences. “I dream of reaching every child,” this New Yorker told Haaretz, sharing her vision of young Tel Avivians growing up with a poop bag in hand. Later years even saw competitors in this sector.

The black bag is still with us, but the poop keeps piling up on the pavements. One idea is to use DNA technology to test dog pooh and find the wayward owners, but for now the city is sufficing with that revolting campaign that includes a close-up photo of a dog turd. Earlier this month, my Haaretz colleague Alon Idan lambasted this initiative.

This pooh is cold

Until a solution is found to the pooh menace, let’s end with a smile, recounting the story of Talila Yosefi, who bested city hall’s lawyers over this issue in 2012. It all began at 8 A.M. on June 19, 2011. While Yosefi’s dog Sketchie was playing in a public garden, two inspectors gave her owner a citation, claiming that the dog had soiled the lawn.

A Tel Avivian dog on a daily walk.Credit: Alex Levac

Yosefi argued that this was impossible because the dog had already “filled its daily quota,” in the words of the court ruling, which Yosefi won. To prove her innocence, “she rushed to touch the suspicious pile, which turned out to be cold.” The inspector declined to employ this method.

To Yosefi’s aid came another friend from the dog park, attorney Raanan Ben-Tovim, who represented her in court pro bono. To prove the unlikelihood of the dog having done what it was charged with, he presented the court with a document reporting all the dog’s bowel movements on lawns and bushes, and near poles. The report was accompanied by 35 photos that documented these acts.

The judge acquitted Yosefi due to reasonable doubt. “It is possible that the dog only urinated, whether as a gesture to another dog who had preceded her there or in an attempt to mark her God’s little acre in that public garden,” he wrote.

The city had apparently tangled with the wrong person. “I’m a very green-oriented person. When I throw out the garbage and see a plastic bottle in the bin, I take it out. I really care about green issues,” Yosefi said. She told Haaretz: “If an inspector is asked to touch the poop and see that it’s cold, he has to. That’s his job, he makes a living off poop.”

The fine threatening her – 475 shekels – was canceled after the city couldn’t prove that the pooh came from Sketchie. “When I decided not to pay the fine and go to court, everyone told me I was crazy,” Yosefi said. “So there you have it, I’m a real idiot, but wonder of wonders, I managed to beat the city in court.”

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