From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (11th September 2013) where I discuss the need for a common sense approach to the issue of dog fouling and litter in general.

 

It’s a subject guaranteed to provoke a storm of response, so it’s no great surprise to see the perennial problem of ‘dog turd’ once again raising its ugly head in the media.
Recently, Rochford Council announced that it was going to tackle the problem by giving the poo deposited on its streets ‘the Essex spray tan treatment’ by spraying it a tangerine shade of bright orange. It is hoped that the bizarre project will shock owners who fail to pick up after their pets into changing their bad habits. The press proclaimed it as a ‘novel experiment’ but, of course, dog owners know different.
A town near to where I live attempted a similar stunt back in 2010 but their colour of choice was a dark Phthalo green (which I thought was a rather strange choice for faeces deposited on parkland) and they also had high hopes that the ‘shock value’ would persuade errant dog owners to ‘pick up’.
On a recent trip to the town it was clearly evident that the headline-grabbing gimmick hadn’t worked as one had to assume moves that would make any ballet star envious simply to avoid stepping in the many doggy deposits.

Shocking owners

However, obvious past failures haven’t stopped councils up and down the country from adopting this novel stance and spray-painting dog poo. For example, West Dunbartonshire and Mansfield councils are spraying their dog excrement a ‘shocking pink’ and Dorset has chosen a shade of bright blue – maybe to coincide with the Cinema release of the latest Smurfs movie? Over in Eastbourne they are even sticking little ‘poo alert’ flags into their dog mess. Bristol Council recently provoked controversy by displaying a poster that depicted a child eating ‘dog mess’ next to the words, ‘children will put anything in their mouths’. A spokeswoman said: “The idea behind the poster is to shock because dog owners not cleaning up after their animals is a shocking thing. Residents have found dog mess (which is very harmful to children) in playgrounds.”
Now I’m quite sure that the ‘experts’ involved in thinking up these schemes will have reams of facts and figures that prove their effectiveness but basing a campaign on ‘shocking owners’ is hardly going to have an effect on the riff-raff who allow their dogs to foul our streets and parks. They just aren’t going to feel the levels of remorse and shame these councils expect them to feel. Most of them couldn’t care less and, given the prevalence of graffiti in this country, I’m sure quite a few would feel proud that their irresponsible actions had been further enlivened and brought to the attention of others with touches of vivid pink, orange or blue.
If a sign warning of a £1,000 fine isn’t going to stop dog fouling, do you really think a splash of paint will? What we really need to do is to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on futile gestures (whose only guarantee seems to be getting the name of the council using them onto the pages of the Daily Mail) and actually pay someone a decent wage to survey these areas where dog fouling is prevalent and then hit the offender with an on-the-spot fine – just as is done with those people who park illegally or those who speed. A few high-profile cases appearing in the media would have far more effect than paying people to wander around spray-painting dog poo a garish array of colours.
A similar tactic could also be applied to those whose actions make me apoplectic with rage. I’m talking of those idiots who pick up after their dog, go through the motions of neatly wrapping it in a plastic bag and then feel its perfectly acceptable to leave the bag on the pavement or even worse – tied to a branch! What kind of demented fool would do such a thing?
Obviously these people’s mindless actions have also irked some councils as ‘innovative’ ways have been dreamt up to tackle this modern day menace.

Tied to trees

In Todmorden, British Waterways decorated a tree with dozens of poo-filled plastic bags to highlight the problem of the strange folk who pick up after their pet and then think it’s perfectly acceptable to throw the bag into or tie them onto bushes and trees. I recently visited a church on Exmoor where the trustees had written a message asking people not “to bag it and leave it” but to either bag it and take it with them or to leave it unbagged for “nature to take its course”. What a strange world we live in that people need to be told such things!
But, surely once again, the answer – especially in particular hotspots – is to set up surveillance, catch these people and then hit them hard with a hefty fine and, once you’ve done so, loudly publicise the fact.
It does make me wonder why (given the level of public anger to dog fouling) nothing more concrete is ever done to address the problem. Most of them seem to just skirt around the issue allowing it to get worse and then, when public anger boils over, bring in blanket bans. Contrary to what others say, I believe that there most definitely is a conspiracy against dogs and dog ownership in this country and dog fouling is the very reason used as an excuse to ban them from beaches, parks and open spaces. I recently learned that to get a coveted ‘blue flag’ award for a resort’s beaches, dogs need to be banned from them during the holiday season.
With each dog poo story in the press comes the inevitable clamour for ‘no dog zones’. I read one comment (that was very highly rated) that said he wanted “dogs banned from public parks, footpaths, sports fields and anywhere children are likely to be”. “This,” he claimed, “was the only way to reduce the prevalence of disease passed on from dog urine and faeces”.
There is no denying the health risk posed by dog faeces, but it is interesting that the cat and the fox (and their deposits) do not come in for anywhere near the level of hysteria apportioned to the dog.
All too often when such stories appear in the tabloids it is viewed as the dog owner versus the non dog owner. This isn’t correct because the vast majority of dog owners view dog fouled streets and parks with the same repulsion as any non dog owner. As in so many dog-related problems, it’s the ignorant minority that threaten to deprive the majority of the multitude of benefits that owning a dog can bring. If we are to avoid losing the use of public space for exercising our dogs, then it is in all our interests that these wilful dog fouling offenders are caught and punished. However, I would also like to see the same level of justice meted out to all of those who litter and pollute our cities, towns and countryside with their fast food packaging, bottles, dirty nappies and other carelessly discarded rubbish.
It always amazes me (I live in a very popular south coast resort) the level of vitriol and outrage that a single ‘dog turd’ discovered on the beach provokes (with letters of disgust filling the local paper), yet the mountains of discarded rubbish left behind on the beach by day trippers passes by with almost no comment. Did anyone hear in the national press about the half-tonne of litter collected from a World Heritage site over the course of two weekends in early August?
If we are going to get serious about cleaning up our dirty country, then let’s target ‘litter’ as a whole and not just single out the lazy dog owner for attack.

 

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