It’s a problem that gets on lots of people’s nerves – the scourge of dog owners who don’t clear up after their pets. So, what can be done to rid streets and parks of their mess?
The signs are easy to spot – the flattened deposit bearing the imprint of a shoe, the anxious parent quickly steering their offspring to one side, the man repeatedly wiping his foot on the verge as if kick-starting a decrepit motorbike. Few things irritate people quite so much as the abandoned deposits produced by the UK’s eight million dogs. It is often suggested that between them they produce 1,000 tonnes of the stuff each day. In reality there shouldn’t be a problem – you own a dog, it eats, it poos, you clean it up. Failing to do so is anti-social, smelly and can spread diseases, including Toxocariasis. Dog mess is one of the most common causes of complaints to local councils and four out of 10 people consider it a problem in their local area, says the campaign group Keep Britain Tidy. Along with the Dogs Trust it has launched a campaign, The Big Scoop, to remind the minority of bad owners to clean up after their animals. After a decade of decline, the number of areas affected by dog mess is on the rise, it says. Almost one in five of the recreation areas it surveyed had a problem. But given the decades’ old nature of the problem, what are the radical solutions that could be tried?
One of the problems with dog mess is that its earthy tones make it difficult to spot against the ground. Spraying it a bright colour and leaving it in situ for the owners to consider upon their return has been tried by a number of councils. Elsewhere little flags of the type more usually seen on sandcastles have been left atop piles of poo. In Boston Lincolnshire, they bear “humorous and caustic” messages, including “man’s best friend – let’s keep it that way” and “flagged up… irresponsible dog owner woz ‘ere”. Sometimes the offended party feels the need to go further. In Todmorden, West Yorkshire, British Waterways decorated a tree with dozens of bags of poo-filled plastic bags, to highlight the problem of owners picking the waste up – only to fling it into the foliage. And in Brunete, a small town 20 miles from Madrid, volunteers were enlisted to look out for irresponsible owners. Many were identified from the town hall pet database and the excrement returned as “Lost Property” in a box in a box bearing the town’s insignia. A 70% drop in the amount of mess found on the streets was reported.
Drawing attention to the problem can make owners realise “how much it upsets other people”, says Lance Workman, visiting professor of psychology at the University of South Wales. “When people take on a dog they think about the positives. People don’t always see the responsibility that goes with it.” But there are some people who won’t be reached by attempts to shame them. “Most of us feel guilty even if nobody knows what we’ve done, but some people have a high threshold for guilt,” says Workman.
A dog DNA database could quickly solve the problem, the leader of the Isle of Wight’s council suggested earlier this year. “We could test samples against the database and trace it to the dog’s owner,” said Cllr David Pugh. “I imagine we would see an immediate cessation to the problem.” Although the idea was dismissed by critics as an expensive step for a council with a tight budget, it is something that has been tried elsewhere. In the US, testing is provided by a company called PooPrints, which is marketed to property managers as “the only permanent, ‘set it and forget it’ solution for dog waste”. Animals are swabbed, their DNA recorded and kept on file, to be compared against any deposits subsequently found. Errant owners can then be fined.
The ultimate solution
It’s the ultimate solution to the problem. Simply ban dogs. In the UK restrictions are most often seen on beaches, particularly those awarded Blue Flags for cleanliness. “A lot of beaches will have timed dog bans on them,” says Bingham. It might mean that dogs are banned during the summer months, or during the day. Away from the coast, restrictions are less common, but are sometimes applied to places like playgrounds and playing fields. A ban on dogs in 45 locations in East Yorkshire, includes cemeteries and green areas on new housing estates, is being considered. Dogs could be banned from play areas because of the problem of dog fouling.
Under the Rotherham Borough Council Dog Control Order of 30th November 2009 it is an offence for a dog to foul on designated land and for the faeces not to be removed forthwith by the person in charge of the dog. In Rotherham alone we clear up approximately two tons of dog fouling each year from our streets and recreational areas, this is due to irresponsible dog owners failing to pick up after their dog. A single dog mess can contain approximately 1 million microscopic Toxocara eggs, which can cause a potentially serious infection in humans leading to blindness.
It is the responsibility of the person in charge of the dog to clear up any dog foul left by their dog. The legislation makes it clear that being unaware that the dog has fouled, or not having a suitable means of removing the faeces is not a reasonable excuse for failing to remove the foul. If you do not clear up after your dog the maximum penalty is £1000 in a magistrates court, alternatively an authorised officer can issue an £80 fixed penalty notice for the offence. Registered blind dog owners can’t be fined.