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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Pick it up and put it in the bin!

It’s a problem that appears to cause more concern than drugs and violence – a scourge that triggers anger and disgust. In places, it can sometimes be so serious that you fail to watch where you’re walking at your peril.

Yet this often stomach-churning offence isn’t one caused by a criminal gang terrorising innocent people.

It is one that, however, affects a seemingly endless number of streets, sees the likes of parents pushing prams forced to carefully negotiate messy obstacles and often leaves its victims with a smelly clean-up operation.

Dog fouling is a crime that affects almost every street and park across Cumbria at some time. Few issues rile people as much.

Everyone at some point has been caught unaware and stood in dog muck.

New figures to emerge this week show just how much concern it causes across Cumbria.

Research for the county’s law enforcement watchdog – Cumbria Police Authority – revealed dog dirt, rogue drivers, doorstep conmen top the list of residents’ concerns about crime and antisocial behaviour.

In Carlisle, Labour city councillors claimed complaints about dog fouling have doubled in the last year.

And in Copeland, new powers came into force on Wednesday that include banning dogs from children’s play areas.

Everywhere, it is agreed that the minority of owners failing to clean up their dogs’ mess cause the problem.

Yet that makes it no less frustrating.

Veteran Carlisle Labour councillor Cyril Webber, who represents Harraby, is in no doubt about how annoyed the mess makes people.

He said: “The problem has increased significantly. If you asked the general public that, they would confirm it.

“We do residents’ referrals across the city. When they come back, nine times out of 10 dog fouling is on it. It’s bad.

“On my own part of London Road it appears and people have stood in it. That’s then going into peoples’ houses.

“If children get it on their hands, it can cause all sorts of problems. It’s an issue that causes concern to a lot of people. We’ve got to get it sorted out.”

Mr Webber, who is also annoyed at owners who do pick up their dog’s muck but then throw bags into hedges, believes enforcement is key to tackling the problem, but that staff cuts by the city council have made that more difficult.

Council leaders say they have the same amount of enforcement staff as they have always had because work done by those who have left has been taken up by others.

Conservative Ray Bloxham is the city councillor responsible for the environment.

He said: “The council takes very seriously the health risks associated with dog fouling and dogs have been banned from our children’s play areas for some time.

“The council will continue to take enforcement action against anyone who allows their dog to foul our public spaces, where we have the evidence to prosecute.”

The authority works with a raft of people in an attempt to educate people about the risks of dog fouling in places including parks.

“Most dog owners already scoop the poop and we are grateful to them for their efforts. We now need everybody to do the same,” Mr Bloxham added.

“Standard litter bins can be used to dispose of dog waste in scoop bags. It doesn’t have to go into a special bin.”

Copeland Council this week became the latest in Cumbria to bring Dog Control Orders into force.

These measures include banning dogs from children’s play areas in the district, as well as St Nicholas Gardens in Whitehaven, following lobbying from the public.

The package also includes areas where dogs must be kept on leads and where they must be put on leads where asked.

Control orders are designed to tighten up rules against irresponsible owners, including those who fail to clean up after their pooches.

Copeland Council say dog fouling creates some of the biggest volume of complaints they have to deal with.

Pat Graham, the authority’s corporate director for people and places, said: “Everyone wants to live in a clean and tidy place and there is nothing worse than dog fouling to spoil that.

“We know that the majority of dog owners are responsible and use the dog bins provided. However, the new legislation will make it easier for us to take action against the small number of irresponsible dog owners who let their dogs run free and foul public areas, spoiling them for everyone else.

“We consulted extensively on our proposals to implement dog control orders and most people see this as a sensible approach because they don’t think children’s play areas are appropriate places for people to exercise their pets, particularly as dog faeces are highly dangerous to children.

“They appreciate that there are plenty of places and open spaces where dogs can run free.

“We know residents want to rid Copeland of dog fouling and together we can.”

The council says the borough remains a dog-friendly place, but the new orders will help them better manage issues and that officers will not hesitate to issue a penalty to those caught breaching the rules.

Elsewhere, Eden Council also enforces Dog Control Orders with dogs banned from enclosed children’s play areas and some other pieces of land.

Dogs are also banned from children’s play areas in Allerdale. There are also designated areas in the district where dogs should be kept on leads.

For every irresponsible dog owner, there are many more who are responsible, obey the law, clean up after their pets and put the mess in a bin.

The Kennel Club represents dog owners across the country with members including those in Cumbria.

Secretary Caroline Kisko stresses the point that it is the minority of dog owners who cause problems.

Since Dog Control Orders came into law, she says many have been put in place across the country and feels that they are sometimes overused and used in cases where they are perhaps not needed.

She said: “We always support local authorities that say they want people to pick up after their dog. People should do that.”

There is a fear that bringing in orders and bans covering specific areas could push problems elsewhere.

Ms Kisko added: “If somebody has a car, they will put their dog in the car and might go somewhere else to walk it. If they don’t have a car, they will go to another car or walk their dog in the street.

“Because we have a duty of care towards our dogs, we have to make sure they are properly exercised. That might mean dogs can no longer have free-running exercise.”

Dog owners themselves are seen as key to promoting responsibility among their peers – encouraging people to control their animals, clean up the mess they leave and dispose of it responsibly.

But for anyone tempted to challenge someone they spot failing to clear up after their dog, comes a warning.

“You might get told to push off. You need to be careful somebody could decide to get physical,” Ms Kisko said.

“We always say to people that by all means say to somebody but you have to be careful how you do it.”

The issue with control orders is not always about dog mess, however.

Ms Kisko said: “The reality is that most of these dog control orders are about putting dogs on leads and keeping them on leads.

“Dog owners want their dogs to be sociable, run around and enjoy themselves. Where this falls apart is when you get the odd person who is irresponsible.”

Details about the new control orders in Copeland and maps of the affected areas can be found online at www.copeland.gov.uk.

CStory@cngroup.co.uk

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