(about animals, control, signs, definition and instruction)
There’s a new sign in Goodale Park, “ANIMALS UNDER DIRECT CONTROL”. The rest of the sign reads:
Before we explore the truly interesting stuff, I feel compelled to address two concerns with the initial bullet point. The first concern is the assumption that all animal owners are men (“…any property not his own”), or, due to the ambiguity of the sentence construction, the assumption could be that all animals are male. Either way, I’m just saying that it would have been pretty easy to use gender-inclusive language instead. The other concern is the city’s use of the term “run large”. Is this a central Ohio thing? I’ve heard that some shoe brands “run large”. Does this also apply to dogs? Maybe to dog breeds? Are owners not allowed to let their dog breed “run large”? Bernese Mountain Dogs come to mind; are these no longer welcome in Goodale Park? I assume, of course, that the city meant “run AT large”, since that’s an actual animal behavior term used beyond Franklin and contiguous counties.
But more importantly, I think this new sign reveals two very interesting human issues. The first is our need for definition. It’s not enough for our new sign to state that unleashed animals (again, I’m assuming dogs, but it’s fun to think of unleashed hamsters in the park) need to be under the control of their owners, because each of us defines “control” differently. So the city helpfully delineates (in the third bullet-point) precisely what it means in this context. You could pretty much make an assessment rubric out of their excellent definition.
By contrast, some signs could use better definition, like this next one that my brother-in-law sent to me. What exactly is “garbage”? How does it differ from “trash”? I could argue that “garbage” likely refers to food waste, but the term is used in such varying contexts and with such broad interpretation that any reasonable person would conclude its meaning on this sign is ambiguous. It needs more definition.
And now on to the most interesting topic underscored by our new Goodale Park sign: “instruction”. In general, how much do we need? I applaud the appropriate instructions provided on our new sign, as opposed to the strange instructions found on ubiquitous tags and labels that indicate such seemingly superfluous instructions as “do not eat” or “do not swallow” (silica beads, school paste, and perhaps unbelievably, my new bicycle light from Paradise Garage), or “for external use only” (ointments, medicinal skin products, and again unbelievably, curling irons). Do we really need this instructional overload? It is with consternation that I admit the answer is apparently “yes”.
Unfortunately, we can find many other examples of our embarrassing need for too much instruction. I’m not sure what to say about this gasoline pump sign I saw on our trip through Myersville, Maryland. This single instruction, to “follow instructions” seems ridiculously stupid. But I assume there is a story behind it that would reveal the clear need for this helpful tip.
And here’s another sign (“Field Closed”), just off the Olentangy bike trail. Do we really need a sign on a standing-water and mud-filled ball field indicating that the field is closed? Again, apparently the answer is “yes”.
Occasionally, signs could use more (or better) instruction. I found an example right next door to Goodale Park:
PLEASE USE PARK AREA
$100 fine for allowing pets
to urinate/defecate in common areas
and for not picking up waste.
The definition (urinate/defecate) is clear enough, but the only instruction that is entirely clear is that residents’ (and neighbors’?) dogs should eliminate in the park instead of here. Beyond that, though, it’s unclear whether the first instruction (don’t allow your pet to urinate/defecate here) is expected to be heeded, since that statement is followed by “and for not picking up waste” (which could only apply if you did allow your pet to defecate. This reminds me of the similarly conflicted instruction, “Don’t have sex; but if you do, please wear a condom.”
In the final analysis, our new sign in the park is pretty descriptive and instructive. Just to be on the safe side, though, I’m putting my dog on a diet. I want to be sure that she doesn’t run large.