Issues and dangers surrounding dog fouling

Dog fouling is a major concern for many people across the UK, and the problem is growing. It has been estimated that there are around 8 million dogs in the UK, and that these dogs produce over 1,000 tonnes of faeces each day. After a decade of the problem declining, the number of areas affected by dog mess is increasing once again, with almost one in five recreational areas reporting problems.

This article will look at why dog fouling is such a major issue in local communities and why it causes such an outcry. It will also explain the dangers of dog mess, including the health risks, legal issues and what to do about it.

Unsightly, unpleasant, smelly and anti-social

Dog fouling laws are in place first and foremost because dog faeces is unsightly and unpleasant. Not only does it look nasty and smell nasty, but it also causes a nasty mess if you step in it, cycle through it, push a wheelchair through it, drive a mobility scooter through it or even worse fall in it. If you then don’t realise that you have stepped in it, there is a good chance that you will carry it and spread it, either outside in public places, or take it inside into public buildings, your place of work, your own home or someone else’s home. On top of everything else therefore, it is extremely anti-social.

As was written in an article for BBC News Magazine back in 2013:

“The signs are easy to spot - the flattened deposit bearing the imprint of a shoe, the anxious parent quickly steering their offspring to one side, the man repeatedly wiping his foot on the verge as if kick-starting a decrepit motorbike ... in reality there shouldn't be a problem - you own a dog, it eats, it poos, you clean it up. Failing to do so is anti-social, smelly and can spread diseases.”

Health hazard

As well as being filthy, dog mess is also unhygienic and a health hazard. The danger caused by dog mess is greatly increased because dogs are most likely to be walked and therefore to also foul in areas where the general public, and in particular children, walk and play, such as in parks, on pavements and roadways, on footpaths, playing fields, on beaches and in town and city centres. Dog mess can lead to Parvo, which is a potentially fatal disease which is transferred between dogs, but the key health issue with dog faeces is that it can lead to toxocariasis in humans.

Toxocariasis

The reason why are there laws about allowing your dog to foul in public places but there aren’t any similar laws about other animals is quite simply because of toxocariasis.

Toxocariasis can cause serious illness, and can even lead to blindness. It is caused by a parasite, known as Toxocara Canis, also commonly referred to as Roundworm. The Toxocara Canis parasite lives in dogs’ digestive systems, and so dogs act as hosts for the parasite. Although foxes are also carriers of the parasite, they do not defecate in open spaces.

The parasites lay eggs, which are released via the infected dog’s faeces. The eggs can remain active in the soil for many years, long after the dog mess has been washed away by the rain. If the eggs are then ingested by someone, for example a small child, they may hatch into larvae and thus lead to toxocariasis. So, the child doesn’t necessarily have to pick up dog faeces in order to become infected – they could just be playing with soil which had dog faeces on it years ago and still contains active eggs.

Who does toxocariasis affect?

Toxocariasis has been reported in people of all ages, and so everybody is potentially at risk from it. However, it most commonly affects children between the ages of one and four years old. Young children in this age range are, of course, the mostly like age group to pick things up off the ground and put it into their mouths. They are also the age group least likely to wash their hands properly, if at all, after playing outside or picking up something they shouldn’t. It should also be noted that dog mess is a potential health risk to livestock as well, and so it can affect them if you allow your dog to foul in farmers’ fields or areas where livestock might pass through.

What are the symptoms of toxocariasis?

The symptoms of toxocariasis can be particularly nasty. They can include seizures, stomach upsets, sore throats, breathing difficulties such as asthma, and eye problems. Typically it leads to a very red and painful eye and clouded vision, and this only usually happens in one eye. If it isn’t treated, it can lead to permanent blindness in the affected eye.

How to prevent toxocariasis

Quite simply, the best way to prevent toxocariasis is to pick up and dispose of your dog’s faeces immediately. This is what all responsible dog owners should do and it is what most dog owners do indeed do. It isn’t just non-dog owners that get upset by dog mess in public places. Most dog owners are responsible and clean up after their dog, and so find it very frustrating when other dog owners do not do so, as it gives all dog owners a bad name.

However, there are a small minority of dog owners out there who do not clean up after their dog. If you don’t clean up after your dog, you are in the minority. Often, these are owners who take their dogs for a walk but then let their dog wander around on their own accord and so they don’t see that their dog has fouled. But whether you see that your dog has fouled or not, you are responsible for picking it up, so you should watch your dog at all times when you take them for a walk. The law makes it clear that not being aware that your dog has fouled is not an acceptable excuse for not cleaning up after your dog.

Dog owners should always carry a supply of bags with them when walking their dog so that they can pick up their dog mess. If you don’t like picking up dog mess with a bag or find it difficult then carry a poop scoop instead. This is a specially designed plastic shovel which you can use to pick up your dog mess and put it into a bag. The law makes clear that not having suitable means for removing the faeces is not an acceptable excuse for not cleaning up after your dog.

Seal the bag after picking up the mess and then place it in a bin. You should not hang it on a tree, leave it on the pathway or throw it over the fence or hedge, as you sometimes see when you are out for a walk. Many local councils provide bins especially for dog mess, but if they don’t, that doesn’t mean that you cannot dispose of your dog mess - you can use any public bin. If there is a suitable waste bin nearby then you can dispose of your dog mess in that. However, if there is not a nearby bin, that is not an excuse or a reason not to pick up your dog mess – you should pick it up, take it home and dispose of it in your own bin. Your dog is your responsibility.

When disposing of your dog waste in your own bin, make sure you don’t put it in your garden waste recycling bin (if you have one), as otherwise the eggs could still be active in the product that is created from your recycled garden waste. As has already been noted, they can remain active for many years.

Ultimately, it would be much better if you can train your dog when they are a puppy not to foul in public places but to use your garden instead, as this makes it much easier for dog owners to dispose of the mess.

It is also important that dog owners regularly worm their dogs, which can reduce the problem. It has been reported that over half of dog owners never worm their dogs. Dog owners can get advice from their vet about which worming products they should use for their dog. However, just because your dog has been wormed does not mean that you shouldn’t clean up after them after they have fouled.

Finally, you should always wash your hands after handling animals or soil, and before touching food, to prevent the spread of disease.

What does the law say about dog fouling?

Because of the reasons outlined above, it is against the law to allow a dog to foul in a public place and make no attempt to clean it up. The law says that it is the responsibility of the dog owner or the person of charge of the dog to clean up any dog foul left by their dog, and that being unaware that the dog has fouled or not having a suitable means of removing the faeces is not a reasonable excuse for failing to clean up after your dog. You therefore have a legal duty to clean up after your dog every time they foul in a public place. Only people who are registered blind do not have to clean up after their guide dogs.

The Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 was repealed by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. This act allows local authorities and communities, including town and parish councils, to create bylaws relating to dog mess and issue dog control orders against individual dog owners for offences including allowing their dog to foul in a public space. There are five different types:

  • Fouling of Land by Dogs Order – for failing to pick up dog faeces
  • The Dog on Lead Order – for failing to keep your dog on a lead
  • The Dog on Leads by Direction Order – for failing to put your dog on a lead under direction of an authorised officer
  • The Dogs Exclusion Order – for permitting a dog to enter land from which it is excluded
  • The Dogs (Specified Maximum) Order – for taking more than a specified number of dogs onto land

Councils can issue fixed penalty orders in relation to these dog control orders. This is usually between £50 and £80. If there is no local rate, the fixed penalty fine is £75. Serious cases can lead to a criminal prosecution in a Magistrates Court which carries a maximum penalty of £1000. If local authorities have not issued such dog control orders then the old laws of the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 apply.

For more information about dog fouling and the law, please visit this page on Keep Britain Tidy.

Reporting dog fouling

If you are aware of a problem area for dog fouling then you should report it to your local council or dog warden, letting them know when and where the problem occurs and as much detail and relevant information as possible so that they can deal with the problem. You are not advised to approach irresponsible dog owners directly.

The role of local councils

Local councils have a duty to keep public areas such as parks, playgrounds and pavements clear of dog mess, as set out in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This means that, as the problem of dog fouling increases once again, local authorities have to spend millions of pounds of tax payers’ money which could be used to finance other essential frontline services cleaning up dog mess. Local communities are therefore suffering twice – firstly because of unsightly and hazardous dog mess in their public spaces, and then because they have to pay to have the problem cleaned up.

Complaints to local councils

Anyone who has served as a parish, town, city, district, borough, community or county councillor or as an employee of a local council will be very much aware of how much anger the subject of dog mess generates. In fact, it is one of the most common causes of complaints to local councils across the UK. It has been reported that 95% of the British population are worried about the amount of dog fouling, and that four out of ten people consider it to be a problem in their local area. 70% of local authorities have some sort of problem within their area. Dog fouling is therefore a major issue across the UK.

Educating Dog Owners

There has been a number of high profile campaigns in the last few years aimed at trying to change the behaviour of those people who fail to clean up after their dog. One of these was The Big Scoop campaign, which was launched by Keep Britain Tidy and the Dogs Trust, and involved TV presenters Ben Fogle and Kirstie Allsopp. Another was Keep Britain Tidy’s Dog Poo Fairy campaign. Ultimately however, many people allow their dog to foul in public because they don’t believe that they will get caught.

Enforcement

Many local authorities now recognise what a major problem dog fouling is, and so employ enforcement officers to enforce the legislation relating to dog foul to keep public places clean, hygienic and hazard free. Residents don’t want dog fouling in the place where they live and all of the issues that come with it, and tourists don’t want to visit somewhere that is covered with dog mess.

Kingdom’s Environmental Protection division tackles dog fouling and control orders as well as street litter and other anti-social behaviour on behalf of local authorities across the UK. They are led by experts with an ex-police and military background and deliver over 270,000 Environmental Protection hours per year on behalf of local authorities.

They issue fixed penalty notices (FPNs) to offenders who are seen breaking the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in streets, parks and open spaces therefore successfully reducing anti-social behaviour. This is a zero cost solution to councils and residents, as Kingdom takes a percentage of the fines rather than being paid directly by the local authority. For more information about Kingdom’s Environmental Protection Division and how they could help your local authority to tackle dog fouling, please visit http://www.kingdom.co.uk/services/environmental-protection/ or call 0845 051 7702.