Imagine that you have a lawn behind your house where you like to sit out for a picnic in fine weather, where your children or grandchildren play, chasing a ball, rolling on the grass. Now, consider how you’d feel if people began coming into your garden, twice a day, allowing their dogs to urinate and defecate on the grass. Would you feel any better if some of the people picked up their faeces and took it away ? Or would you still feel that you were being deprived of the proper enjoyment of your lawn ?
Well, that’s the situation we’ve allowed to develop in our parks and recreation grounds, public places intended to be enjoyed by all, young and old, but routinely used as toilets by a small but apparently growing army of dog owners. Anyone using these spaces for other purposes will know that many of those owners do not take responsibility for their pet, but leave faeces on the grass, to be spread far and wide when it’s mowed.
In 2007, councils had an opportunity to improve this situation, when introducing dog control orders under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. They could have required that dogs should be kept on leads, but instead, many decided to let them run loose in our public spaces, including areas regularly used for sports and children’s play.
I know, of course, that people’s dogs are important to them – why else would they organise their lives around another animal’s bowel movements ? But cigarettes are important to smokers too, and we eventually concluded that smokers shouldn’t be allowed to pollute our environment. I’m not proposing that we can move immediately to the ‘dog free’ situation on the sign which I photographed in a London park, but I do think that its time for a long-term, national dog reduction strategy.
A requirement that dogs should be on leads in public places would be a significant step in the right direction. At least, then, it would always be clear who’s responsible for clearing up, and there would no longer be any risk of harassment by boisterous or aggressive animals. Why have we been prepared to tolerate this nuisance for so long ? And wouldn’t it be nice to sit on the grass and rest your back against a tree, without wondering when it had last been used as a dog toilet ?