There are many obvious reasons for cleaning after your dog, but there is one which should compel also the laziest among dog owners. In this blog post you will find some considerations about the relationship between dog fouling and dog access restrictions in parks, and discover how you can benefit from 5 interesting initiatives London Councils have developed to encourage virtuous behaviours.
The missing link between dog fouling and dog restrictions in parks
Most Councils have dog control orders in place (which are now progressively to be replaced by public space protecion orders), establishing the amount of fines which can be issued dog owners who fail to clean after their dog, in order to discourage such bad habit. Sometimes Councils also publicly announce enforcement actions they have taken (e.g., last September, Hounslow’s Council informed that it had fined a dog handler for dog fouling).
In some areas, however – possibly also for the lack of resources to enforce them consistently -, this approach proves ineffective, and although the vast majority of dog owners are considerate and take care of disposing their dog’s mess, a few irresponsible ones litter pavements and parks.
This leads the way to people reporting dog fouling in public spaces and filing complaints with the Council. It was recently revealed that, in 2015, the complaints related to dog mess received by UK local authorities reached the number of 81,000.
The cause-effect chain set in motion sometimes does not end with the filing of a complaint: undisposed dog mess can pave the way to restrictions to dogs access to certain areas. Precisely, following complaints from park users, it is not rare that Councils table dog restrictions proposals in occasion of parks’ management planning.
A poor representation of dog handlers’ interests often leads to limitations to dog access to parks and open spaces, as well as to the removal of dog exercise areas and/or the creation of dog-free areas within parks. If it is true that in some cases there are additional reasons for such restrictions (such as complaints of people being bothered by out of control pooches/ etc.), most times these are the outcome of complaints regarding dog fouling.
How London boroughs deal with dog fouling: initiatives
To clamp down on dog fouling, some London boroughs have launched a number of initiatives, some of which aim to nudge dog handlers to act responsibly by providing positive incentives or making it easier to comply. I picked a few examples that I found particularly interesting, which you can read about below.
#1. Lewisham: the Green Dog Walker Pledge
The Borough of Lewisham came out with a Green Dog Walker Pledge initiative, encouraging dog owners to commit to a set of rules and cooperate in tackling dog fouling. The pledge includes a commitment to carry extra bags to distribute do other dog owners if requested. The Council also encourages running Green Dog Walkers stands, to help raise awareness about the negative effects of dog fouling.
#2. Kensigton & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham: Dog Toilets
In the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea you can find dog toilets. For example, such pooch facilities replaced the dog runs once present in St Lukes Gardens and in Avondale Park (removed in 2008 and 2009 respectively).
In this regard, I found particularly interesting Avondale Park Residents’ Survey Results (‘the Results’) which mention the consultation outcomes with regards to the dog run and the following park management’s strategy. The Results read, “The dog run was a point of controversy – the main problem people had with it was the fact it is rarely cleaned: “in summer especially it absolutely stinks”. Indeed, a lot of people referred to the area as the “dog toilet”. Users of the dog run were keen to point out what an appreciated facility it is: “it’s the only place other than Holland Park that I can let my dog off its lead. It’s so important.” Ideas to improve it (other than cleaning it more frequently) included making it slightly larger, keeping it open for 24 hours with access from the street, and splitting it into two or three sections so multiple dogs could use it simultaneously. People also mentioned that the fence and gate were broken and hadn’t been fixed adequately. Park Management Response: The Parks Strategy adopted in 2006 combined with the Dog Control Orders makes this sort of facility redundant. We will replicate the very successful sand-pit dog toilets seen in other parks at each of the entrances to the park. The Dog Control Orders do not require responsible owners to have their pets on a leash at all times in the park. We want the young children’s playground to remain dog-free.“
As far as St Lukes Gardens are concerned, less information is available in relation to the removal of the dog exercise area and installment of dog toilets in the Ten-year Management Plan 2006-2015 (which reads, “Dog fouling is an issue in parts of the park. As part of the renovations project the dog-run was removed and dog toilets installed on site. The park is now open to all and Dog Control orders are enforced and responsible dog ownership encouraged“).
I contacted the Council to confirm whether dog fouling complaints had been the main reason for the removal of the dog runs in the two parks. A Council spokesman replied, “We decided to install dog toilets in place of dog runs in Avondale Park and St Luke’s Gardens to remove the opportunity for aggressive dogs to run uncontrolled and to open up the space for other park users”. Asked about the operation of the dog toilets, the spokesman continued, “The dog toilets, which are maintained daily, are working well”.
Sand pit dog toilets are also present in the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. In particular, in Holland Park I found two of these (see picture above). Until today I have not seen any dogs using them and my dog abhors them (although I believe cats must greatly benefit from them), but this is just my experience and I could be mistaken.
#3. Barking & Dagenham: The Dog DNA Scheme
The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, launched a pilot Dog DNA scheme/PooPrints project in three wards (Abbey, Longbridge, Mayesbrook) in January this year. The participation to the scheme, which at this initial stage is not compulsory for dog owners, includes the collection of the dog’s DNA and checks on dog mess found in public spaces for matches.
In March 2016, Barking and Dageham council’s cabinet also agreed that the pilot scheme could serve to grant council tenants the right to keep a dog in council premises as long as they register with the scheme.
A spokeperson for Streetkleen, the company which developed the PooPrints programme, confirmed that, since the start of the pilot scheme, 377 dogs were registered in Barking and Dagenham and a 50% reduction in dog fouling in public spaces was recorded.
According to Get West London, Ealing Council is currently considering the introduction of a similar programme, and awaiting Barking and Dagenham’s trial results in order to further assess this project.
#4. Bexley: Sponsored Poo Bags
To encourage cleaning up after one’s dog, the Borough of Bexley had a great idea: sponsored dog waste bags. Businesses can become sponsors and get their logo printed on the waste bags, which are later distributed for free to residents through Council libraries as well as handled in parks.
Jennie Beckett, for the Borough of Bexley, told The Londog, “Our first sponsor, which was a vet, sponsored the [dog waste] bags from 2010 for a couple of years, and later we had a couple of the Council’s contractors as sponsors. This met the cost of purchasing the bags from the manufacturer and helped us to be able to provide residents with bags free of charge when requested at the Libraries and Council Offices.”
Jennie continued, “We are currently looking for a sponsor for a further supply of bags as providing them free of charge to encourage responsible behaviour has been very well received by residents.”
To become a sponsor you can contact Jennie at the number indicated in the poster above (click on the picture to open it in its original webpage).
The Dogs Trust’s “The Big Scoop” campaign
Apart from councils, also some charities are committed to promoting responsibile dog ownership in this respect. For instance, to encourage dog owners to pick up their dogs’ poo, the Dogs Trust launched The Big Scoop campaign, which, this year, included the installation of eight free poo bags dispensers across the UK (see also the previous campaigns here).
5 Thing You Can Do
What can you do to help preventing dog restrictions in parks and ensuring the continuous enjoyment of a clean and dog-friendly environment? Here are a few suggestions.
Also remember that dog exercise areas are not meant to be used as dog toilets. To allow dog owners to continue enjoying those areas, please do clean your dog’s mess in case you visit one and invite others to do the same.
Lobbying for dog walkers interests
As a closing remark, I would like to tell an example which shows the effectiveness of lobbying groups.
In 2006, it was proposed a restoration project of Chiswick House and Gardens’ grounds, which would have negatively affected the dog-walkers community. Clare O’Brien, Director of Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, said, “These discussions were around the restoration of the Gardens. There were discussions as to where dogs could roam free and where they were needed to be on a lead to respect the Grade 1 listed landscape. The Gardens, beautifully restored, were re-opened in 2010.”
In such occasion, the dog-walkers community gathered in a lobbying group called CHOW (Chiswick House Organised Walkers). CHOW liaised with the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust to try and find a solution which would take into account the interests of dog owners. In this regard, Clare told The Londog, “A full consultation to the local community took place during the restoration of the Gardens, dogs and issues arising was one subject but not the only one.”
As a result of the talks, a Code of conduct for dog walkers was agreed upon and the enjoyment of off-leash areas confirmed. Today dog owners walking in Chiswick House Gardens can also enjoy from free poo bags sponsored by the Dog Trust and dog waste bins (see picture above), and Clare, asked about dog walkers’ behaviour in the Gardens, said that it is on the whole excellent.
To read about other UK initiatives, BBC’s article “Eight radical solutions to the problem of dog mess” from 2013 is very informative.
©2016 The Londog. All rights reserved.