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Why Pedestrians Watch Their Step

Madrid residents keep their eyes on the ground to avoid dog excrement. Officials are using DNA fecal tests to track owners who neglect to scoop their pets’ mess

Fabienne Meier was accustomed to seeing dog owners quickly scoop their furry friends’ waste off the streets of her hometown in the Netherlands. But once she moved to Madrid, she was in for a surprise. 

“In the Netherlands, you have to have poop bags, and if not, you get fined, and I guess here you don’t have to, or maybe they’re just lazier,” says Meier, an Erasmus student at CEU San Pablo. “I would say, unfortunately, it is grosser here. And there are a lot more dogs.”

That’s why, like many pedestrians in Madrid, she remains on high alert as she walks through the streets. “If I’m in heels outside, then I’m concerned about what I step in,” she says. “I can’t really look anywhere besides the floor, just in case I step on poop.” 

After I stepped in it, I felt really horrible and dirty. I was probably on my phone when I stepped in it because I’m usually very observant.

— Mia Mahdaoui, a senior

Amid Madrid’s winding streets and busy plazas, an unusual roadblock appears: the unbagged waste of the city’s beloved pouches.  The danger to one’s shoe forces tourists and students throughout Spain to look down instead of admiring the historic sites. 

Local governments have caught wind of the nuisance. Officials from Mallorca and Tarragona to Las Palmas are using DNA testing and registration laws for dogs to address the problem, Time magazine reported. Using fecal DNA analysis, they are trying to pinpoint the source: the dog and its owner. 

€900 fine for playground perils

Madrid and other large cities such as Barcelona have increased fines for pet owners who fail to clean up after their pets, according to The Local news website. Fines in Madrid range from €751 to €1,500, while those in Barcelona are often about €300, rising to €900 if the offense occurs in a playground. 

“I feel like older ladies don’t pick up their dog poop the most,” remarked Mia Mahdaoui, a senior and permanent student at SLU-Madrid, with a chuckle.  She recalls a recent encounter with this sidewalk danger:

 “After I stepped in it, I felt really horrible and dirty,” said Mahdaoui, a frown on her face as she recalled the incident. “I was probably on my phone when I stepped in it because I’m usually very observant.” 

Thankful for power washes

Cecilia Albet, a first-year student from SLU-Madrid, is from Georgia, where cleanliness is upheld with Southern hospitality; her transition to Madrid’s streets has been a mixed experience.

“But I have never seen a power wash being used so much, so I would say that Madrid is very clean, but there’s so much poop that it makes it dirty,” Albert said. 

Her cleanliness-alert system failed her when she was walking to campus. “I wasn’t looking at the ground to look around, but where the trees are, I stepped in it, and I thought to myself, ‘That doesn’t feel like dirt.’” 

It also happened to Pablo Alvarez, a business student at CEU San Pablo. “There was a day in Madrid when I went home, and I was like, ‘What is that smell?’ and I realized I stepped in poop,” said Alvarez with a laugh. But he took it in stride. Alvarez is from Marbella, where there are more dogs. “Madrid is an upgrade,” he said. “I think Marbella is lazier.” 

Stella Pierce, a first-year permanent student from San Francisco, had a run-in with some neglected excrement in Malasaña, but she, too, shrugs it off.  

“At least it’s not human poop because I’m from San Francisco, and I’m telling you it could be worse,” said Pierce. 

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About the Contributor
Laila Emamjomeh
Laila Emamjomeh, Staff Writer
Laila Emamjomeh is a senior majoring in International Studies and Communication with a minor in art history.

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