“Do your business” is the phrase I use to prompt my guide dog Chloe to relieve on command. One of Chloe’s best “party tricks” is that as soon as she hears this phrase, she can pee and poop anywhere at any time: on grass, in the snow, on a busy sidewalk in the middle of a bustling urban center, on artificial turf in the pungent dog relieving room at most major airports, or even in an out-of-the-way hallway of smaller airports without relieving areas.
Chloe knows exactly what I mean when I say, “do your business”, but what are the multiple meanings embedded in the process of doing one’s business. How is Chloe’s business the same or different from my business? What does Chloe’s business reveal about human interaction with the natural world? How does Chloe’s business help me think about the reinforcement and transgression of boundaries? How can I turn doing my business into the business of toilet justice?
My daily responsibility of picking up Chloe’s poop is an unlikely gift connecting me to the natural world. Multiple times a day I must leave the confines of my office or home to take Chloe outside to do her business. I am “forced” to step outside, breathe fresh air, and feel the rain or sun on my skin.
Not only does relieving Chloe provide the opportunity/excuse to go outdoors, it also forces me to reach down and connect with the earth. Admittedly, as I bend over and scoop poop I wear a mutt mitt (poop bag), but without the ritual of picking up poop, I rarely touch the ground with any part of my body other than my shoe covered feet. I am grateful to Chloe for these gentle nudges from her blatter, which continuously reconnect me to the ground.
Attending to Chloe’s relieving needs blurs the boundary between humans and nature. It reminds me that waste elimination is a shared experience – not just among humans, but also among all species. My bodily practice of peeing and pooping is not much different from Chloe’s, or from any other sentient being. What does separate me from other species as well as from some other humans are the rules surrounding how and where each of us does our business.
Being attune to the relieving habits of Chloe also reminds me of the social and cultural boundaries of waste elimination. Chloe can pee and poop almost anywhere, as long as we are outdoors. She is trained to relieve on command and with an equal lack of self-consciousness she relieves in the midst of a crowd or in the privacy of our yard. Passersby sometimes even coo and swoon as they comment about how adorable she is as she takes a shit.
I am jealous of Chloe’s freedom to squat and do her business freely and publically without the judgement of others. As a blind person, finding public bathrooms when I am out-and-about on my own is challenging, especially in unfamiliar places. I long for the freedom to squat and let it flow whenever the urge strikes.
As soon as Chloe and I cross the threshold from outside to inside, her waste elimination garners a different response. Depositing a mushy smelly pile of excrement in the middle of the hallway in a conference center, which Chloe has done, violates established social boundaries of acceptable dog relieving areas. Suddenly the sappy swoons Chloe elicits when pooping outside, turn to hushed undertones of judgement, pity, and even at times hostility.
Stress often activates the colon and it is no coincidence that Chloe is more likely to poop inside when we are wandering around unfamiliar territory. As long as I provide clear and confident cues, Chloe remains calm. The pathways of my communication with Chloe are subtle and often non-verbal. The boundaries of where my stress begins and her stress ends are indeterminate. I always know what is about to happen the moment before she takes the unwanted dump, transgressing the outside/inside boundary and transforming both of us into outsiders in an inside space.
Chloe’s business moves her body and mine in and out of bodily privilege and marginalization. Chloe and I elicit compassion and grace when she poops within the confines of designated dog relieving boundaries. But, when Chloe transgresses the established boundaries for what is deemed an acceptable place for a particular type of body to shit, she, (and me by extension) highlights that toileting rules are often reduced to pissing and shitting in the proper place at the proper time.
A seemingly slight shift in where a body does its business, from inside to outside, from the door marked men to the door marked women, from one side of the national boarder to another side of that boarder, from the side of the restaurant designated for black and brown bodies to the side marked whites only, is often a monumental move toward eliminating the artificial boundaries of elimination.
Chloe reminds me that doing our business is a common bodily experience, but the ebb and flow of toilet justice depends on where and how particular bodies contest or conform to the boundaries of peeing and pooping. “Do your business” is not just a command for Chloe to relieve; it is also an invitation to transgress boundaries and increase the flow of toilet justice.