Friday, 11 January 2013

#Cornwall: Dog fouling - prevention and punishment.

As a new owner of an English Springer Spaniel puppy, the issue regarding dog fouling on parks and pavements has become all the more real to me of late. Laws have been in place since 16 July 2010 to deal with the problem, but little seems to be done to enforce them.

Cornwall Council has a county-wide approach to this problem, where offending owners are fined if caught. Their website states:
Failing to clean up after your dog has fouled will result in a fixed penalty being issued - which is for £80 (reduced to £50 if paid within 10 days) or prosecution where if found guilty you would face a maximum fine of £1000.
This is all well and good, but what is the council doing to enforce it, and how often is someone caught offending? 

Wadebridge has recently made an effort to both educate the public and enforce it, and I applaud their efforts so far. If only Penzance's councillors would do the same. The problem with the article, though, is that it intimates that the commitment to this crack-down (where the police will accompany them) will be limited to one single day. I will be interested to see how this awareness drive reaches its goals. At least they are trying.

As part of my manifesto for the local elections in May, I propose that together with my local community group, Neighbourhood Together Partnership, we organise a team of residents that walk around the ward and carry out a number of functions in a largely unofficial manner.

When I used to live in Sweden, my community there had a similar project. Teams of two people would work out routes where they would engage with the people they encountered and chatted with them about community problems, thoughts and solutions. They would use the time they would have otherwise spent on after dinner walks and dog exercising to present a visible community presence. So that everyone knew who they were (and not just some random vigilante or weirdo). They were issued with distinctive yellow jackets to protect them from the Nordic elements, and so that they were instantly recognisable. For their own protection, their routes were recorded and backed up by the local police.

It struck me as quite bizarre that these little twosomes were hanging around with the local oiks and simply having a chat and a laugh with them, but why should that be? Their sheer presence created a deterrent because they all knew that whatever mischievousness they might have been up to could be reported back to their parents if they weren't careful. But I digress.

Wadebridge has authorised 6 people to carry out the on-the-spot fines for dog fouling, so why do we not train a group of enthusiastic volunteers to do the same in our own communities?  There are other benefits too. It serves as an important tool for 'neighbourhood watch' where the police work closely with the community to reduce crime. More than that, it is a good excuse for people to get out and get a little exercise  Needless to say, it helps gel community spirit, simply by having people working together from the same community and engaging with one another.

The best thing, though? The cost. This sort of group costs very little to set up. There are already people that are concerned enough to volunteer their time to community awareness (at least in my area), and whatever equipment is required for the visible presence could be funded by insurance sponsorship, community grants, proceeds from dog fouling fines or any number of ways. It really is a simple solution to quite an array of community issues.

Having spoken to a number of people on this very subject myself, a recurring theme appears to be bringing back the dog licence. I think this is a great idea. It instils a sense of responsibility into the dog owner, gives the issuing authority a good idea of the dog population and its condition and the monies raised from the fees could be put directly back into the communities in the form of training, awareness and emergency veterinary costs, amongst other things. Undoubtedly, veterinary practices would support such an enterprise, and could become contracted licence issuers when owners take their dogs for an annual check-up. The details need to be honed, but I feel the idea is strong and there would be a great deal of support for such a move. 

So what can we do right now?

Here is my check-list of activities to encourage responsible dog ownership:

Write to the 'Dog Welfare and Enforcement Service' at Cornwall Council and ask;

  1. How many dog enforcement officers there are covering the areas that affect me? 
  2. Where can I find information on the number of offences committed and fined/prosecuted?
  3. What is the legal requirement for someone to act as a proxy dog enforcement officer, able to issue on-the-spot fines?
  4. If a community group were formed to patrol a given area, what support could the council offer such a group to assist in their work?
  5. Does the council have the authority to pass a law (or by-law) regarding the issuance of dog licences, and are there any plans to do so?
I think I will be copying this letter to my local MP, town councillor and the local paper too. Can't do any harm.

Write to my local veterinarians and ask for their opinion on the above letter, and they have any salient advice or suggestions?

Set up an on-line poll.

That is just off the top of my head, but I am sure people have other ideas that will benefit dogs, dog-owners, communities and local authorities, so please add your suggestions in the comment box below.

It is late here now, so I shall have to write my letter when I have more time. I have to walk the dog now!

If you would like to report a dog fouling incident to the council, click here to fill in their on-line form here. Or if you find your dog waste bin is full please contact the Refuse and Recycling Department on 0300 1234 141. There is also the issue of whether or not you can walk your dog on certain beaches. Check here to find out which are suitable, and at which time of year.

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