Craven council recently introduced CCTV cameras at dog fouling hotspots, but are dog owners getting the message? Lesley Tate reports.

PEOPLE should not shy away from reprimanding irresponsible dog owners, Craven councillors were told recently.

Asked whether 'special training' was available to teach councillors how to approach those guilty of not cleaning up after their dogs, community safety officer, Stacey Reffin, talking at the meeting of the Select Crime and Disorder Committee, said she had no hesitation in educating those owners who seemed to think it was just not their problem.

Craven District Council had considered bringing in an order which would have given it powers to fine dog owners guilty of not being stocked up with enough 'poo bags' when out with their pets - but in the end ruled it out in favour of siting CCTV cameras at problem areas, much in the same way as fly-tipping hot-spots, which has led to some successful prosecutions by the council.

Such a step could have presented all sorts of issues, and not just what to do in the situation where a grumpy dog owner refused to co operate when asked to present evidence.

Just how many bags could be considered enough. Would a nappy bag, or a supermarket plastic bag pass muster? And would say the owner of a Great Dane be required to carry more bags than the owner of a miniature Frenchie Pug?

Then there would be the cost to the council of taking someone who challenged a fixed penalty to court. The tough approach would bring praise, but how would people think if they knew just how much such legal action cost. And is such an expense a right and proper use of council tax payers money? Especially when councils are facing such difficult financial times.

In the end, and following a test run, in which it is not clear if officers encountered any grumpy dog owners annoyed at 'having their rights violated', the council decided instead to install CCTV at 'hot spots'. Places blighted by bad dog owners, otherwise known as a 'dog poo alleys'.

At the same time, the council says the number of complaints it receives is on the way down, which suggests people are getting the message. It is just no longer acceptable to let your dog empty its bowels on the pavement in a town centre and to walk off oblivious, leaving the mess for some poor unsuspecting person to stand in - not to mention the message it sends out to visitors.

In addition to the siting of CCTV cameras, Craven officers will be continuing with a project it started last year of making educational trips to schools.

Schoolchildren will be told all about the impact of dog fouling - as well as general littering - and will, the council believes, take the message home with them, as well as learning for themselves so when they are older and have dogs of their own, they will already be well aware of the health risks.

Councillor Carl Lis, the council's lead member for Greener Craven, has said the council was well aware of the strength of feeling its residents had towards dog fouling.

He says the council is determined to do what it can to tackle the issue, but prosecuting offenders was not at all straight forward.

“Obtaining evidence to fine or prosecute those responsible is extremely tough as the offender must be ‘caught in the act’ by a council enforcement officer or witnessed by a member of the public who is willing to act as a witness," he said.

“Our officers do their best in difficult circumstances and have been making progress in recent years, but we are always looking for ways to improve."

He added: “We will be carrying out more patrols along with installing CCTV cameras in key areas were intelligence and evidence confirm a persistent offender, or offenders exist, we will also be continuing our successful education programme in schools.”

As for introducing a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), that had been ruled out.

The order would have been similar to those in two of Skipton's car parks which give police powers to put a stop to anti-social gatherings.

But, the dog fouling order would have meant anyone stopped and not carrying a dog-waste bag could have been fined or prosecuted.

However, reported incidents of dog fouling in Craven had fallen from 145 in 2016/2017 to 112 in 2017/2018; and from April to December last year, there were just 49 calls to the council.

Council environmental health officers have also carried out patrols from early in the morning, to late at night, across the whole of Craven, interviewing dog walkers. All were found to be carrying dog waste bags, and there was 'no evidence of a significant dog fouling issue', says the council.

But, what about the countryside? Just before Christmas, the Country Landowners Association issued guidelines for people planning a festive walk. They included keeping dogs under close control, or on leads when around livestock, and clearing up after them. Interestingly, an episode of The Archers on BBC Radio Four, an everyday tale of rural living, also included an educational storyline around Christmas about the after effects of 'some ramblers' having left a farm gate open. Cattle in the field got out and ended up in an adjacent field where Barley was being grown. As if 'ramblers' are irresponsible and unwelcome interlopers in the countryside and not what they are in the main, middle aged and very responsible.

The issue of picking up after your dog while walking in the country appears to be a tougher nut to crack.

No one will have an issue when it is a well-trodden route, through private land, but in open countryside? The Forestry Commission encourages dog walkers to 'stick and flick' rather than hang full bags on trees and bushes. The bags, of course, may be collected by the 'hang-ee' at the end of the walk, to be taken home, but more often left, forgotten, like a rather unpleasant Christmas tree.

But not everywhere is suitable for 'stick and flick'. Cattle can abort calves as a result of dog faeces left in fields, and no one really wants to see the countryside littered with dog-waste bins; so people will have to take their bags home with them - which really is not too much to ask is it.