After posting the pic of Margaret Thatcher for the International Women’s Day tribute, I felt I should choose another candidate, one closer to home. I just met her two days ago, but her dedication to her cause has garnered kudos and international recognition and my respect. Her name is Sally Dawley and she is affectionately known around these parts as “The Butt Lady of Auburn”. This interesting moniker came about in 2014 when she started picking up butts along her daily walk and thus began her odyssey that continues today.
How I came to meet her has its own quirky story. Don’t worry – I’ll make it brief! I’m a big Trailer Park Boys fan and have a subscription to their Swearnet website and on their podcast episode #133, they congratulated Sally and asked for help contacting her because they want to talk to her themselves. That was an unusual request – I’d never seen them do that before. So, I thought, hey! I live near Auburn, I’ve got free time, let’s find her! A cursory Google search came up blank, Facebook zilch and even Duck-duck Go produced no results. I now understood why the unusual request; she has absolutely zero web presence. Thankfully, my first action of posting in the Auburn group on FB got me in touch with her. Thanks everyone!
Our meeting was really unusual, and think about it; to Sally, I’m some random stranger looking for her, who just wanted to let her know that a group of guys from Canada were looking for her. Not suspicious at all. It must have taken a leap of faith for her to call me. I don’t know if I would have done the same! When we finally talked the night before meeting, I had to explain that I am in no way affiliated with The Trailer Park Boys (
they wouldn’t have me), only a fan who had time on her hands and likes helping people. Weird, right? The next morning I showed up at the appointed Starbucks, prepared with my laptop and headphones so she could see what had prompted all the furor. Sally was amused by what she saw and was definitely game, and I thought, oh, great! mission accomplished. Then we both looked at each other, and she asked, “What do we do now?” I laughed and said I would give the appropriate people her phone number…in an e-mail. She shook her head and explained she didn’t want that kind of information on the internet. I ended up writing a letter to that effect, where, as far as I know, it’s sitting in someone’s inbox in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
When we were fairly comfortable with each other, we went out into the parking lot and, yes, you guessed it, picked up cigarette butts for about an hour. Well, I got to use the clicker for the most part and she did the hard work. During that time I found out that not only does she find butts while she’s out and about, she finds wallets, cash, (she’s collected $900 since 2014!), ponytail hair ties, and of course, used condoms. And don’t worry if you drop your wallet with your credit cards, $1,000 cash and no ID – she’ll get it to you one or way or another. She’s scrupulously honest that way, but if she finds a stray $20 here or there, the law of “Finders, Keepers” comes into play.
What saddened me and galvanized my respect for Ms. Dawley was that after about 20 minutes of picking up butts, the magnitude of what she was trying to accomplish hit me. There was always another butt over there, by this fence post, trapped in the sidewalk cracks, underneath a truck trailer, disguised as dead leaf – it seemed endless. I asked her if she’d noticed any difference in the volume of cigarette butts she was finding since she’d been receiving some notoriety and the city of Auburn had installed ashcans for smokers in public places. She shook her head and said, “No, not really.” Then she remarked how unusual it was to have someone helping her. I was shocked at this point, and clarified if I’d understood her correctly, in that no one has ever helped her. Nope. I had heard it correctly. Then I was really disappointed. And really proud of her. A lesser mortal would have given up well before the 1,000,000 mark. As we were nearing the end of our time together, I asked her what message she wanted to get out, and she said, “For people to stop throwing their cigarettes everywhere.” Ultimately, she wants everyone to stop smoking, but as seen through the eyes of this ex-smoker, that ain’t happening any time soon. Besides the fact that it’s highly physically and psychologically addictive, it’s a tremendously personal decision and you’ve got to want to stop.
So next time you’re out on the town, or anywhere, for that matter, getting ready to toss your cigarette because you can’t find an appropriate place to put it, try field stripping. That way, you’re less likely to find a cigarette butt in the stomach of the fish you caught that morning, you won’t have to worry so much about your dog eating a stray butt while you’re walking them and making them sick, the birds will have less to line their nests with and the landscape in general will start looking a lot better.