Public Space Protection Orders were first introduced by the UK government in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. They were intended to prevent anti-social behaviour in public places (a bit like the old fashioned “ASBOs”, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, but for a place not a person).
However, over the last few months, a number of Councils have been using them to add additional restrictions and legal limits on dog walkers – especially in public parks. The most recent was from Boston Borough Council which has said they will fine owners £100 for walking their dog and NOT carrying a poo bag. This has (of course) resulted in a flurry of social media reports and a wide range of different responses from the public.
So, what effect does this have on dog owners?
Well, the infamous Boston PSPO shouldn’t make a lot of difference to anyone – essentially, the Council is penalising anyone who doesn’t pick up after their dog, or show that they are willing to do so. This is, of course, something that all of us should already be doing! The worry will, of course, be that you use up all your bags and then get fined, but looking at the Council’s publicity, I think the fact that you were carrying full poo bags would be considered perfectly adequate evidence.
However, there are others that are more worrying – Boston Borough Council is using these orders to ban dogs from enclosed children’s playing areas (which seems fairly reasonable), but others have been planning to use them to prevent dog walkers’ access, restrict their use of a space (Carmarthenshire Council recently backed down on a plan to prevent off-lead exercise, for example), or limit the number of dogs a single person can walk.
The Kennel Club is campaigning to protect dog owners’ rights, and include a whole page on their website devoted to PSPOs and similar potential infringements.
The important thing to remember, however, is that these Orders only apply to certain specific locations, and they must be notified to owners – usually on signposts in and around the specified area. There will usually also be announcements of current and planned PSPOs on your local Council’s website.
Why are people so worried about dogs?
Well, that’s a whole different story… Ultimately, we all know that 99+% of dogs are friendly to people and are fantastically unlikely to cause anyone harm when out and about. However, there are just enough “dog attacks” (usually where people have misread a nervous dog’s body language) for people who don’t own dogs to be afraid. Sadly, poor quality reporting hasn’t helped this, with lurid reports that ignore the underlying reasons for a dog to become aggressive.
The issue with dog fouling, however, is more of a problem. Dog faeces are disgusting (I think even the most ardent dog-lover would agree!), and the public quite reasonably do not want to risk treading in them. More importantly, from a health viewpoint, is the fact that many dogs carry Toxocara canis roundworms. The eggs of these worms are present in the faeces, and the parasites can infect humans – especially children who are generally less reliable about washing their hands than adults.
In a human body, most of the worms will live out their lives harmlessly in our intestines before dying of old age – and the person may never know they were there. However, occasionally a worm larva gets lost and wriggles through the gut wall into the internal organs and blood supply. This is called Visceral Larval Migrans, and the worms may end up in the liver, lungs, eye or even brain – and that can be genuinely dangerous. (There’s a really good article about the condition on the NHS website).
So, concern about dog faeces is real and justified – even if your dog has been wormed, there is a chance that they are still carrying small numbers of worms. This is especially true if you used a herbal or homeopathic product, or an old-fashioned wormer like nitroscanate or piperazine (all of which seem to be less effective than the more modern pharmaceutical products).
What can we as dog owners do?
Well, a council will usually only impose a PSPO if there have been complaints from the public. If you keep your dogs under tight control, and rigorously clean up after them, the chance of someone making a complaint is massively reduced. If the council consults on a new PSPO, go along to the meetings, if possible; or write to your councillor to explain your point of view.
Remember, these aren’t being imposed to victimise you – the council is trying (albeit in a rather unhelpful way) to protect you and your neighbours!