Trevor Laffan: Digging the dirt on a dog mess problem that dates back years

In his weekly column Trevor Laffan talks about one of his pet hates.... dog fouling.
Trevor Laffan: Digging the dirt on a dog mess problem that dates back years

A poop scoop initiative by Dublin City Council in 2004. The problem has been with us for decades, says Trevor Laffan

I WAS lying in bed last week when an old poem I remembered from my school days popped into my head, The Dong With A Luminous Nose.

It didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time, and it still doesn’t. The Dong was just a figment of poet Edward Lear’s imagination and I have no idea where I dragged it up from, but it got me thinking about something else.

I’m regularly approached when I’m out and about by locals keen to raise the issue of dog fouling. It’s not the most pleasant of topics but many are driven to talk about it because it’s a huge problem and most of us are fed up with looking at it.

Stepping in it isn’t pleasant either but that’s difficult to avoid because it’s everywhere. Our footpaths, streets, green areas and even private gardens are destroyed with the stuff. It’s disgusting and I’ve been prattling on about it for years, but I’m afraid I’m wasting my time because the local authorities seem to have little appetite for tackling the issue.

They’ve made little headway in the last 50 years, so I reckon it will still be a problem in 50 more. By then, I will have had first-hand experience of the cremation process, so it won’t bother me.

Hopefully, pavements in the afterlife will be poop free but, for now, down here in the real world, the problem is getting worse and there are a couple of things I don’t understand.

Why have a dog in the first place if you’re at work all day and the animal is alone in the house or garden barking itself hoarse? That can’t be much fun for the dog, and it certainly doesn’t bring joy to the neighbours.

Why do some owners open the front door first thing in the morning and let their dogs out for the day, to wander the streets creating piles of poo everywhere? If people don’t want an animal hanging around the house, why bother with a dog? They’d be better off buying a cow.

I don’t have a dog, but I recently found a heap of mess in my garden and I had to deal with it. If I could have proven the identity of the offending animal, I would have had no hesitation in returning the pile to its rightful owner.

I have two grandchildren who play in our garden and I have to inspect it whenever they’re coming to visit because a couple of dogs are using my place as a public toilet.

You might think this is a modern problem, but dog fouling is nothing new. It’s been with us a long time and while trawling through the newspaper archives, I discovered we were complaining about it 53 years ago.

In the Evening Echo in 1967, there was a letter to the Editor from a reader who signed himself ‘Brush and Shovel, Cork’. He wanted to know why the ‘Budgetmaker’ didn’t put a bigger tax on dogs.

“They roam the streets fouling everywhere. People who haven’t a farm should be made pay £5 tax on their dogs. It would also, save money for the unfortunate ratepayer. Imagine paying men to clean up. Please, ‘Mr Budget man’, increase the tax on all dogs inside the borough boundary.”

I don’t think the ‘Budgetmaker’ paid much attention to ‘Brush and Shovel, Cork’ because the problem didn’t go away. In 1976, nine years later, the same paper reported that the Environment Minister Mr Denis Howell received a report from the inter-departmental working party on the control of dogs, concerning the danger to health from fouled footpaths and open spaces. He was considering the report before deciding on publication or further action.

I have no idea what was in that report or what further action they agreed on, but nine years later, in 1985, a warden service to round up stray dogs was urged by Mrs Alice Glenn (Fine Gael). She complained that the streets of Dublin were being continually fouled by dogs, causing embarrassment to residents and visitors alike, and she called for dog licence fees to be increased.

Later that year, greater powers to deal with the country’s stray dog population were approved by the Government at a Cabinet meeting. Dog wardens would be appointed by the local councils to enforce the stricter regulations.

The new laws would deal with the size of the dog population, the prevalence of stray and uncontrolled dogs, and the irresponsible attitude of dog owners. The fouling by dogs of parks and other public places would also be tackled. That plan didn’t work out too well.

But we weren’t the only ones suffering from an abundance of dog poo. In 1989, the Evening Echo reported that dog fouling was causing problems in England, but a certain George Buckley had a solution. He was chairman of a parish council in Yorkshire and in that role, he had received dozens of complaints from irate residents with soiled shoes.

He said these dogs were the scourge of pavements up and down the country and because people were now more aware of the problem, many owners preferred to exercise their dogs “under the cover of night”.

He said they often used darkness to conceal their foul deeds, leaving night-time strollers to tread a hazardous path in their wake.

Mr Buckley, who was also a pharmacy lecturer at Nottingham’s Trent Polytechnic, suggested that pet food manufacturers would inject their products with chemicals to make Rover’s returns glow in the dark. He thought the glowing poo might embarrass the owners.

It’s a pity that didn’t work out because it would have given us an opportunity to replace Edward Lear’s poem with one that would make a lot more sense: ‘The dog with the luminous poo’.

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