Dog poo is the bane of many people's lives - especially at this time of year. There's nothing like the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot - unless they are hiding something nasty and smelly left by an irresponsible dog owner. The good news is that councils are fighting back - with hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines.
Dog mess is a serious problem. Not only is it unpleasant and irritating - and can lead to hefty cleaning costs if it finds its way into homes, but it's also highly dangerous. Dog mess can carry roundworms. If it infects soil, and people ingest that soil, the Association of Optometrists warns that it can cause blindness.
Henry Leonard, AOP Clinical & Regulatory Officer, said: "It's important to recognise that not picking up after pets can indeed have wider consequences for public health. There is a risk to the sight, particularly in children, from an infection called toxocariasis which is caused by a parasite present in animal faeces, predominantly dogs."
The five councils with the most fines
1. Barnsley Borough Council
2. Denbighshire Council
3. Hinckley & Bosworth District Council
4. Belfast City Council
5. Dumfries and Galloway Council
Prit Powar, head of Pet Insurance at Direct Line said: "Dog excrement left on our streets and in parks poses a serious public health hazard. While it is good that owners have become more conscientious when clearing up after their dogs, there are far too many incidents when peoples' health is being put at risk as animal faeces is left in public places."
What can be done?
Councils have strong powers to fine owners who don't clean up after their dogs. Dog fouling orders are governed under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which allows local authorities to set out specific public space protection orders (PSPOs) for their area, detailing that owners must clear up after their dogs in certain public areas. If a PSPO is ignored, dog owners can be given an on the spot fine (fixed penalty notice) usually between £50 & £80, or up to £1,000 if it goes to court.
The question is how councils can enforce this law. If there are already litter wardens patrolling the area, their remit can be increased so they hand out on-the-spot fines to dog owners who break the rules - which is the approach taken in Rhondda Cynon Taff. If dog mess is a serious menace in a particular area, councils may choose to employ a warden specifically for this purpose.
Other councils have come up with some unusual approaches. As we reported back in January, Barking Council ran a pilot scheme to DNA test the dog poo left on the streets, and try to match it to dog DNA on their database, and then send letters to repeat offenders.
In December last year, Daventry Council introduced a rule which meant that dog walkers had to carry a dog poo bag at all times or face a fine of £100. It said it wouldn't be accepting the excuse that they had already used the bag - instead they would have to carry two just in case.
East Devon District Council tried to highlight the problem by posting small flags in any discarded poo - warning of a potential £75 fine.
However, no council in the UK has yet gone as far as the town in Spain, where volunteers were encouraged to approach the owners who weren't clearing up, ask the name of the dog, and then bag the poo. The council then used the name and breed of the dog to trace the owner, and deliver the poo to their home address. They delivered 147 parcels during the trial and dog mess on the street fell 70%.