Authorities should unleash full weight of the law on dog poop

Local authorities need to be more inventive when it comes to tackling dog fouling, says Trevor Laffan
Authorities should unleash full weight of the law on dog poop

The answer to the dog fouling problem on our streets is enforcement, but that will require money and resources, says Trevor Laffan

THE coronavirus may have put a damper on lots of outdoor activities over the last year and a half or so, but it would seem that the various lockdowns and travel restrictions haven’t affected the canine community.

They have been roaming freely, if the amount of dog poo on the footpaths is anything to go by.

There’s so much of it now, I’m beginning to wonder if Covid-19 acts as a laxative in the dog world. It would explain a lot.

This national problem has been highlighted constantly, and for as many years as I can remember, but nothing has changed. The lack of control of dogs by irresponsible owners is a serious issue, and while local authorities have been banging on about it for 40 years or more, there is more dirt visible now.

Local authorities continue to complain that it is a very difficult problem to deal with.

As previously reported in the Echo, the former Mayor of County Cork Mary Linehan-Foley said some time ago that it is currently too hard to prosecute people for failing to clean up dog poo. She was speaking at a launch an education programme to encourage people to clean up after their dogs and said dog fouling is a “horrible, horrible issue” that has been on the rise.

“I think the fine should be quite strong,” she said. “At the end of the day, maybe €100 or €150, which is the way it is now, but there are not a lot of fines being issued for dog fouling because people have to be caught in the act for proof.”

Since the Act was introduced in 1997, Cork City Council have issued a total of four fines, all of which were issued in 2017 and all have been paid. So, with only four fines issued in 21 years in Cork, what’s the point in increasing the amount of the penalty?

The councils say the difficulty in issuing fines for offences under section 22 of the Litter Pollution Act 1997 is that the litter warden must actually witness both the dog depositing faeces and the person in control of the dog neglecting to remove it.

Awareness campaigns seem to have little impact. I have tried raising awareness with a few dog owners myself and I may as well have been talking to the dog.

It’s a fact of life that some owners open their front door in the morning and hunt their pets out to foul the neighbouring property with unsightly poo. It doesn’t bother them because they have little or no regard for their neighbours or the community generally. They couldn’t care less, so they’re certainly not going to take a blind bit of notice of a fancy awareness programme.

The answer is enforcement, but that will require money and resources, because dog wardens and litter wardens need to be out and about to catch the animals fouling the streets.

Catching them shouldn’t be too difficult. The dogs leaving their deposits are not being brought in from other towns or jetting in from Germany and Spain or arriving on cruise ships. They’re not being smuggled in from neighbouring villages to pollute our towns before being snuck back out. They’re local dogs and they don’t travel far from their own front door to leave their heap.

A spokesperson for litter management at City Hall previously suggested that the Litter Pollution Act 1997 requires a litter warden to practically catch them in the act. “This presents a particular challenge as the majority of dog fouling takes place early in the morning or late in the evening when dogs are being walked or let out unsupervised when the wardens are not on duty,” he said.

We all know that most of the fouling takes place early in the morning and late in the evening, so surely that’s the time the dog wardens or litter wardens should be on duty. Burglars would have a field day if gardaí only worked during daylight hours, and there would be chaos too if the fire service only tackled fires that occurred during the day.

Local authorities need to be more inventive. If it is too difficult to secure a prosecution for this problem under the Litter Pollution Act, then use the Control of Dogs Act. That act requires dogs to be licensed. It also clearly states: “Your dog must be accompanied by and be under your effective control or the control of another responsible person if it is outside your home or premises or the home or premises of the person in charge of it.’

One estimate put the number of dogs in this country at 800,000, with less than a quarter of them licenced. Enforcing that piece of legislation would have an immediate and positive impact and would educate irresponsible dog owners more effectively than any awareness campaign. If a dog is roaming a public area with no owner in sight, seize the animal and put it in a pound. If owners had to collect their pets and pay pound fees plus a fine, they might be more inclined to take care of them.

Alternatively, we could look to the authorities in Beijing for some guidance. They launched a campaign against pet owners and banned residents from raising dogs taller than 35 centimetres after Beijing’s police department received complaints about people walking dogs without a leash, dog fouling and dogs causing a nuisance.

Owners’ refusal to tie up their dogs or clean up their dog’s droppings annoyed many visitors to the parks, so dog walking has been added to a blacklist of activities that are banned. To ensure the effectiveness of the campaign, the authority has recruited about 1,000 volunteers to watch for violations.

Now, there’s a tactic that will raise some awareness.

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