2018 is the Chinese Year of the Dog, perhaps the ideal time for Portsmouth to show some pride and address the topic of dog fouling. But one of the main obstacles to this, argues Sian Doherty, is Portsmouth City Council’s inability to clamp down on offending dog owners.
Britain loves dogs. There are 9 million of them and an estimated 26% of Britons own one or more. I’m a dog lover and have a little Labradoodle, who means more to me than my brother does. But as much as we like to think of them as family, it’s important to remember that legally they are our property, and as such we are ultimately responsible for their behaviour.
I’ve never for a moment considered leaving a mess, so I don’t understand people who think it’s optional to pick up. It may come down to one of my pet hates: entitlement. For some reason, too many people think they’re exempt from not only common courtesies, but the law: that’s right, not cleaning up after your dog means you’re breaking the law.
The standard on-the-spot fine for not picking up is between £50 and £80, but that can be increased to £1000. Imagine how gutted you’d be to shell out a grand because you were too lazy to bend down. Repeat offend and you could be landed with an injunction, community protection notice or fixed penalty. A decade ago, you might have found yourself with an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order).
One of Portsmouth’s plusses is that, wherever you go, you’re never far from the sea, the city or green spaces. It’s a great place to own a dog and there’s a variety of walking spots. What a shame, then, that a lot of them are covered in poo. While we all know that dog mess is a visual blight and a general nuisance, I wonder if enough people know the facts about the damage it can cause to human health.
Dog mess contains parasitic roundworms. Their name alone would suggest they’re not nice. These creatures can cause blindness and serious damage to your internal organs. So, imagine returning to your house unaware that you’ve got dog mess caked between the grips on your shoes. You trail it through your doormat, across your carpet. Your kids and pets come into direct contact with it as they play on the floor. Then their hands/paws go to their faces and mouths. Children are especially at risk of falling ill because they have weak immune systems and are often rummaging in the dirt. Pre-school workers have to clean up any mess they find on outings to protect their charges from it. This is a waste of their time and resources.
While the fault for this lies primarily with the offenders, the complacency of Portsmouth City Council (PCC) doesn’t help. According to PCC’s response to a Freedom of Information request I made in February this year, between 2015 and 2018 there were 929 complaints made about dog fouling. How many fines were issued? Eleven. Anyone prosecuted? Just one. In the last three years, PCC collected just £675 in fines.
PCC relies on dog owners reporting these incidents. There are obvious flaws with that approach. Imagine that I’m out walking my dog around picturesque Portchester Castle. I see a man letting his terrier do its business on the pavement. Afterwards, he and Fido simply stroll off. Later, I phone PCC to report the incident. (You can also use their online form.)
‘Heavens!’ I say. ‘I’ve just seen a man not clean up after his dog!’
‘What does he look like?’ replies the officer.
‘Um… middle-aged white male with brown hair.’
‘Where does he live?’
‘How on Earth would I know?’
‘Where’s he headed now?’
‘I can’t read minds and I’m not prepared to stalk him.’
What can PCC do about hundreds of incidents like this when the onus is on members of the public snitching on each other? Under this system, there can be no proper investigation or identification of the miscreants. It’s a waste of time for the good Portsmouth citizen, and it’s a waste of the time for the good Portsmouth council officer on the other end of the phone.
We’ve all seen those posters around town with the big eye and the ‘you’re being watched’ slogan. While they are mostly intended to repel bike thieves, anyone can print them off and pin them around their neighbourhoods to warn dog walkers. I’ve seen a couple, one in my local dog park in Braemar Avenue, Drayton, and another at the Rec along Portsdown Avenue. Being used almost exclusively by dog walkers, Braemar can be a minefield – or a field full of another substance than can be fatal. You enter at yout own risk. The park has four bins, and yet doing a lap around it is like attempting a toxic floor puzzle in The Crystal Maze. One wrong move and you’re leaving in disgrace. At first glance, the posters are quite intimidating. Then you see the sheer volume of mess. No one’s being watched. No one cares.
Portsmouth people, PCC, I’m appealing to all of you. We have to meet in the middle. Portsmouth people – stop being lazy and disrespectful. Pick it up. PCC – start acting on complaints, especially about serial offenders. Spend the extra money policing the scourge. Your constituents will be happier and the environment safer.
Let’s take some pride in our city and get rid of that stink once and for all.