Dear Action Line: It’s pretty much agreed that hikers who don’t pick up their dog waste on the trail are going straight to hell. But what about those who bag it and just leave it on the trail hoping some sap will come along and take it to the garbage? Do you think there might be a special place in hell for them? – Dog-Tired.
Dear Tired: Local clergy did not respond to hellish queries regarding people who bag dog poo but then just leave it on the ground for a sap to later pick up.
The poo line of questioning was forwarded to Fort Lewis College’s Ruth Alminas, who received her master’s degree in divinity from the University of Chicago and is now an assistant professor of political science.
Probably sensing the looming briar patch, she wanted to first give “a major caveat to everything” she was about to say regarding dog poo, hell and special places in hell.
“I am not a theologian,” she said. “I have studied religion purely from an academic perspective.”
What her studies show is that the Bible is not very clear regarding different levels of hell.
“The text that really brought this idea to the popular imagination was not the Bible, but rather Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ written in the 1300s,” said Alminas.
There are also no specific mentions of special punishments in the Bible for people who bag dog poo but leave it for saps, she said.
“One of the most thorough descriptions of hell in the Bible is of course found in Revelation, which reveals that ‘the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.’”
“I’m not sure about you, but I do not read ‘Leaving dog poop bags by the trail’ anywhere on that list,” she said.
For Christians who believe there are special places in hell, two specific New Testament verses, 2 Peter 2:20-22 and Luke 12:47-48, suggest punishment in the afterlife depends in part on whether someone acted to the detriment of others despite knowing better.
“If it can be established that the poop bags on the trail were in fact abandoned there by the dogs’ humans for some sap to pick up for them, we actually might anticipate, based on the above Bible verses, that those owners will suffer a worse fate than those who do not bother to bag their dog’s poo at all,” she said.
However, this gets tricky because we can’t always know the intent of the poop-bag leaver, she said. Maybe they left it for someone else on purpose. Maybe they forgot to pick it up.
“When I am planning a long out-and-back hike and my dog poops within the first mile or so, I often bag and place the poo behind a unique rock or in the tall grass under a distinct tree for retrieval on my way back to the trailhead,” Alminas said.
“To the hiker behind me who spots my waiting bag, there is no way for them to know if I will be picking it up later or plan to ditch it completely.”
There’s also that part of the New Testament about judging others, she said, Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Alminas was asked if someone was judged, regardless, and ends up going to hell for not picking up dog waste, but their dog went to heaven, because all dogs go to heaven, would the dog be lonely?
“My dog gets a bit depressed when I go out of town for a few days,” she said. “How could he possibly enjoy an eternity in paradise if his humans have been exiled to an eternity in hell? I can only conclude that if all dogs go to heaven, then all humans who love, and are loved by, their dogs must be headed to heaven as well.”
Still, if for whatever reason the owners and their dogs end up separated, and the doggie angels started barking, who would other residents of heaven call to shut them up?
“Now this is just a silly question,” she said. “Heaven is paradise. No one would complain in heaven. When a dog barks in heaven, it is a joyous noise!”
Alminas, who, again, is an academic and not a theologian, said she was only providing answers from Biblical scripture, but could also address dog-poo bags and hell in the context of other religious traditions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Zoroastrianism.
Cathy Metz, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, approached the quandry from a more pagan-Hindu-Buddhist perspective. Whether someone goes to hell for leaving bags of dog poo is up the Poop Fairy, who picks up the bags and properly disposes them in a trash receptacle, she said.
“The Poop Fairy knows who left the bag and at some point karma happens,” she said.
From a strictly secular perspective, leaving bags of dog waste can result in a citation, said Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer.
“Typically, Animal Control will handle this type of call since we contract with them for services,” he said. “If there is a specific area of concern, I would contact them through dispatch nonemergency line (385-2900) and inform them of the area.”
Email questions and suggestions to email@example.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Baby Action Line, a senior at Durango High School, dreams of attending the University of Chicago, but after today, it’s pretty obvious he should go to FLC instead.
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