Why have a dog if you’re not prepared to clean up after it? - column

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I am a lover of dogs. They are beautiful, wonderful companions who provide joy, love and adventure. I also admire them for their incredible abilities - guiding people with visual impairment; locating earthquake victims; tracking down and tackling violent criminals. In short, dogs are amazing.

My problem is not with dogs - it’s with some of their owners. Like many people I am dismayed by the profusion of dog faeces in some public places.

Keep Britain Tidy says dog mess “is the most unacceptable and offensive type of litter on our streets.”

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I took a walk along the Promenade last week. The concrete walkway runs long and flat and straight and is popular with walkers and runners and cyclists.

Dog owners are leaving a mess behind on the Prom in KirkcaldyDog owners are leaving a mess behind on the Prom in Kirkcaldy
Dog owners are leaving a mess behind on the Prom in Kirkcaldy

People bring their dogs, and the majority are responsible. They clean up the mess using their own poo bags and the bins that the local council has provided.

But there is a significant minority, unfortunately, who leaves their dogs’ faeces lying on the footpath.

A walk along the Promenade sounds rather grand, but on some days the town’s “best feature” is more a stinking obstacle course - and this doggy “business” is not only disgusting, it’s unhealthy.

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All faeces contain bacteria that can cause stomach upsets. Contact with dog excrement can also cause toxocariasis – a nasty infection that can lead to dizziness, nausea, asthma and even blindness or seizures.

It’s particularly dangerous for young children. Isn’t it terrible that some people with dogs will not only spoil the appeal of a local recreational area but also needlessly put children’s health at risk?

Why does our society put up with it? It’s not just the irresponsible owners who have an attitude problem. By that I mean that there’s a sort of general public malaise about dog fouling. A sort of weariness, an inertia.

We allow the problem to continue. Does it need to be this way? What can we do if people choose not to clean up the mess?

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Well, why don’t we use the law? Dog fouling is an offence for which the person in charge of the dog may be given a fixed penalty notice or prosecuted, but how many penalties are issued, how many are paid and how many cases actually end up in court?

I contacted my local authority to ask. It has issued 29 penalties since January 2021. That’s right, just 29 penalties in more than two years. I’d counted more than ten doggy “deposits” on the promenade in the space of a short walk.

The authority also confirmed that 15 had not been paid, and that no cases had been taken to court - so, the owners who didn’t pay were effectively let off.

Some may say that in these hard economic times councils don’t have the resources to tackle the problem of dog fouling.

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Perhaps it is also a question of priorities. During 2022 my local authority issued over 5000 parking tickets. Now there’s a vast disparity for you.

Parking is stringently regulated. I regularly see parking enforcement officers hovering around cars on the High Street. Looking at the penalty statistics it might appear that my town has terrible parking problems but almost no dog fouling. Statistics can be misleading

Dog fouling, in my view, is a more noticeable problem in my town than foul parking, but I have never seen any enforcement officers issuing a ticket. Why the difference? It surely couldn’t be because it is easier and more lucrative to target parking offences?

I am not suggesting dog fouling should be targeted overzealously, but it seems, at least in my area, it is hardly targeted at all. As I walked along the Promenade, careful to avoid stepping in the latest pile of sludge, I felt repulsed and depressed. It shouldn’t be like this. It should be clean.

Why have a dog if you’re not prepared to clean up after it? And why have laws if you’re not prepared to enforce them?