Saturday, 11 February 2017

We need to talk about dog shit

(Pic :

It'll be hard to find anyone who doesn't think it's disgusting, and it's about time something was done about it.

I'm not going to use euphemisms like "dog fouling" and "dog mess". I'm going to call it exactly what it is – dog shit. It's the most appropriate description for what irresponsible dog owners living amongst us let their pets do to our streets and playing fields year after year – and they keep getting away with it.

I've decided to write something following a particularly disgusting example from Denbighshire at the end of November last year, where a young rugby player in Ruthin ended up with dog shit on her gum shield.

That should be a "final straw", but as I'm sure every single elected member in the land knows – from community councillors right through to MPs – this is probably the issue they come across the most. It's all the more fitting I'm doing this in a local election year as, ultimately, it's a matter dealt with by local councils.

Owning a pet isn't a "right", it's a responsibility. Irresponsible dog ownership directly impacts the rights of other people to good health and a good environment. Although dog fouling is said to be in decline, DEFRA estimates have put the cost to UK local authorities of cleaning up dog shit at £22million (proportional Welsh share ~£1.1million).

The softly-softly approach of posters, signs, public information campaigns and friendly reminders has been tried and doesn't work, so maybe it's time to get draconian. The following is tongue-in-cheek, but there's a serious message behind it.

The Current Law
(Pic :

It's illegal for a dog owner to let their dog shit in any public place without cleaning it up. That includes: parks, playgrounds, roads, pavements, cemeteries, footpaths, beaches, picnic areas.

Yes, it biodegrades, but that often takes weeks. Yes, cats do it too, but they're considerate enough to bury it while it's impractical for horse riders to clean it up.

Not only does it look bad, it stinks (particularly during the height of the summer), you can step in it if you don't see it (we've probably all done it) and it also carries toxocara canis parasitic worms which (in rare cases) can render humans blind.

The law, as it stands, means if you fail to clean up after your dog in a designated public space you can receive an on-the-spot fine of up to £80. If you refuse to pay and it goes to a Magistrates Court, the fine could rise to £1,000.

A fine for a first offence is actually less than a human could potentially face for public urination or defecation - which is a fine of up to Level 3 on the standard scale (£1,000).

The exemptions are: the owner has a reasonable excuse not to clean it up, the land owner allows dogs to defecate on it (so this includes private gardens), the dog owner puts the waste in a bin on the land, the dog owner is registered blind.

The single biggest problem with current rules is that it's incredibly difficult to get a prosecution, so people know they can get away with it; most local authorities issue a few dozen fines a year at best.

Unless a warden/enforcement officer is there to actually see an owner letting their dog shit where they're not supposed to – or a report submitted by a member of the public is detailed enough (i.e. they know who owns a dog and have proof) - they can't issue the fine.

The solution may lie in the shit itself.

Poo Done It?
(Pic : PooPrints UK/StreetKleen)

Dog shit has DNA traces unique to an individual dog. If you link the DNA to a dog and its owner you find the culprit.

From 2016, all dogs in Wales need to be microchipped, so one half of the process is underway. The other half would be to establish a dog DNA database and testing facilities.

A number of private companies offer the service, with expressions of interest from a local authorities in the UK. In Wales, both Denbighshire and Flintshire have considered (and for the time being rejected) it – but to have a real impact it'll have to be done nationally. A franchise to run the DNA service could be established with joint financial contributions from local authorities and the Welsh Government.

It would be no small task, admittedly. Every dog owner and dog breeder in the country could be given a certain amount of time to chip their dog or puppy (if they don't already have one) and then offer a DNA sample (saliva or blood) linked to the chip. This could be done as part of a routine vet appointment or by drop-in.

In terms of the cost, one company providing the testing service – StreetKleen – says each DNA registration costs £30, while the cost of processing a sample is £70.

With an estimated 590,000 dogs in Wales, the potential cost of registering every single one would be a pretty whopping £17.7million up-front – hence why this would have to be led at a national level, perhaps with the costs of registration shared one-third each between the Welsh Government, local authorities and dog owners.

Aside from the up-front costs, the biggest stumbling block would be collecting the evidence itself.

Councils simply don't have the resources to do it by themselves despite hiring enforcement officers, so all staff working outdoors (highways, groundskeepers, refuse collectors, PCSOs) could be issued with testing kits and some way to warn others like a fluorescent spray. The kits could be made available to the public as well – whether sold in shops or by local councils themselves.

There would be a number of, somewhat unpalatable, questions:

  • What would happen to the remnant of the shite? What if someone picks up most of the mess but leaves a trace? Does there need to be a minimum size of turd?
  • Would diarrhoea and soft stools be an exemption (it's not easy to clean up admittedly)?
  • What about tourists who bring their dogs to Wales and whose dogs might not be on the DNA register? Should hotels, BnBs and holiday parks have a legal requirement not to allow guests to bring dogs that haven't been DNA registered and chipped?
  • Irresponsible dog owners would be unlikely to get their dog registered in the first place; what would happen to them?

It sounds like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but it would almost certainly help deal with the problem once and for all. A similar scheme introduced by the appropriately-named Barking Council in London has seen dog fouling halved in three of their most popular parks. That brings me to the punishments.

  • Any fines should, at the very least, cover the cost of testing a sample as well as act as a punishment. So the fine could/should rise to Level 1 on the standard scale (£200) for each incident. Once the cost of testing is discounted, the remainder of the fine can be shared equally between the Welsh Government and the local authority in which the offence was committed.
  • The current exemptions (listed earlier) could continue and some way of flagging up registered blind dog owners on the database could be worked in so they won't have to deal with any notices.
  • Putting it in a bag then tying it to a tree or throwing it into a hedge – which seems to be a growing trend - should be treated the same as not picking it up in the first place (I understand it is anyway).
  • Housing associations and landlords should make it a condition of tenancy for tenants to get any dogs they own DNA registered.
  • Dog bag vending machines could be installed in popular dog walking areas.
  • Consideration could be given to wrapping the whole thing up in a reintroduction of dog/pet licences – raised in a comment on here a while ago by Jac o' the North, I think.

It's important to remember in all this that the dog is blameless. They don't get to choose their owners and sometimes they end up with lousy ones.

If you do own a dog and can't bear to clean up after them, I shudder to think what sort of parent you are/will be whilst you give all dog owners a bad name.

In short, you're telling the world you're a piece of shit.


Post a Comment