Furious residents have logged more than 5,000 complaints about dog fouling with Fylde coast councils in just four years, The Gazette can reveal today.
That equates to more than three reports every day from residents fed up with the mess left behind by inconsiderate dog walkers.
Four years ago there were 907 complaints recorded by Blackpool Council, Fylde Council and Wyre Council.
But that number has rocketed to 1,480 in the most recent annual figures for 2013 – representing a 63 per cent increase in the “horrendous” problem since 2010.
Dog owners and residents were today united in their disgust at the findings when The Gazette visited some of the worst affected areas.
People are not short of ideas when it comes to dealing with the menace of dog fouling.
The trouble is, they do not always see eye-to-eye on the best approach.
“I think there should be a massive fine and community service where people have to go round clearing up the dog mess,” says Christine Bailey, 57, (pictured below) who was walking her dog Belle off the Esplanade in Fleetwood.
“If people can afford to keep a dog, they can afford to get a £50 fine, it’s a drop in the ocean.”
We are in Warren ward, where, of the 141 complaints over the last four years, 32 were made in 2013/14. Scanning the footpaths, and especially the grassed areas, it is easy to see why.
“It’s disgusting and I think it has become a far bigger problem over the last few years,” adds Mrs Bailey who lives on Warren Avenue South.
“You even find people who have used poop bags but they are too lazy to take them to a bin and just throw them on to the ground.
“The council could do with providing more bins and using CCTV cameras to catch the people doing it. The culprits could then be named and shamed in the paper.
“They are giving us responsible dog owners a bad name.”
But Mark Holden, 47, who lives in the neighbouring Rossall ward, disagrees with Mrs Bailey’s analysis that the problem is getting worse – and her proposed solution.
“I just think people complain about it a lot more these days,” he says.“I think education is better than enforcement – it gets people’s backs up if they are threatened with a fine.
“This education could come at puppy classes, in secondary schools, or from officials going out with poop bags – but I’ve never seen a warden along here.”
While chatting with Helen Farrer, 47, and her daughter Kate, 10, we spot a carrier bag full of dog mess next to a bin.
The bin is far from being full and the bag is too weighed down to have blown out of it.
Young Kate puts the bag in the bin and tells me she has had enough of inconsiderate dog owners.
She and her mum, from Warren Avenue South, are out walking their cockerpoodle Barney.
“I saw a girl the other day who was walking her dog and let it poo outside our house,” says Kate. “I asked her to pick it up and she did.
“I think more people need to challenge people when they see this happen. Otherwise we end up treading in the mess and it gets all over the house.”
Helen says more signs and bins would help. “If people see a sign telling them to clear up after their dog it might make them feel guilty and more likely to do so,” she says.
My next stop is Central ward in St Annes, where there were 195 complaints over the last four years, including 67 last year.
Here I meet Michael Webb, 52, who owns the nearby St Ives Hotel and is out walking his labradors Zak and Oakley.
Michael adopts a radical approach when he comes across other people’s dog mess.
“Whenever I see it I pick it up,” he says. “If everybody did that the place would look much better. I own a hotel so I want families and kids who visit the area to be able to enjoy the sea front.
“I encourage my staff to pick up litter if they see it, so why not do the same with dog mess?
“As for the solution, I think it is about raising awareness and educating people – and I do think things are getting better.”
Janet Clarke, 69, from Beech Avenue, Warton, who I meet walking her labradoodle Archie, tells me how she and a friend had recently seen a man with two dogs, who failed to clean up after one of them.
“I raised it with him and he said he would pick it up on his way back, but me and my friend watched and he didn’t,” she says.
“We took his car number plate and I passed it to the dog warden but he said he couldn’t do anything about it unless he caught the man in the act.
“I think enforcement is the way forward because people like this man are educated.
“The wardens have the word ‘dog warden’ on the back of their jackets, but I think it would be better if they wore plain clothes to give them more chance of catching people – and we need more of them, but where is the money going to come from?”
Andrew Lees, from Wetherby Avenue, South Shore, does not own a dog, but has nevertheless been left angered by the findings uncovered by The Gazette.
“It’s quite a problem,” he said. “When I’m out with my one-year-old son Thomas in his pushchair the dog muck gets on the wheels.
“He’s starting to walk now too and if he falls over and there’s mess on the path it can get everywhere. I find it is worst down on the Promenade at South Shore.
“I know money is tight but I think we need more patrols of areas like this by wardens.”
After my visit to some of the hot-spot areas I speak to Brian Coote, who leads on dog fouling for the 16-member-strong Clean Up Blackpool campaign group.
“We started the group last July,” he said. “We were attending quarterly area forum meetings but we felt we could make more of a difference if we created a group to gather information from the public and made it known that we were there to help.”
Mr Coote, 62, added the group was working closely with schools, and had its own dog mascot – Scoop – to help bring the issue to life for pupils.
“It’s sometimes very difficult for adults to adapt their behaviour so we are working with schools and it’s often the children who can educate their parents,” he said.
Forty children at four schools including Boundary and Waterloo have entered a competition organised by his group to design an anti-fouling poster.
The winner is still to be announced, but he is in talks with Blackpool Council about getting the winning design stuck onto lamp-posts and possibly even incorporated into Blackpool Illuminations.
The statistics in full...
2010/11 - complaints 251, Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) 6 (5 paid)
2011/12- complaints 382, FPNs 14 (all paid)
2012/2013 – complaints 627, FPNs 15 (14 paid)
2013/14 - complaints 245, FPNs 7 (6 paid)
Total - complaints 1,505, FPNs 42 (35 paid). No prosecutions Blackpool
2010 - complaints 440, FPNs 5 (2 paid), prosecutions 1
2011 - complaints 557, FPNs 14 (3 paid), prosecutions 1
2012 - complaints 809, FPNs 34 (11 paid), prosecutions 0
2013 - complaints 715, FPNs 33 (8 paid), prosecutions 2
Total - complaints 2,521, FPNs 86 (24 paid), prosecutions 4 Wyre
2010 - complaints 216,
2011 - complaints 214
2012 - complaints 360
2013 - complaints 520, FPNs 1
Total - complaints 1310
2010/11 FPNs -3, paid - 1
2011/12 FPNs - 7, paid 4
2012/13 FPNs - 3, paid 1
2013/14 FPNs - 1, paid 1
What the councils say...
Fouling is dealt with by two wardens, 14 street scene officers and, for the last two years, also by 18 traffic wardens.
The council says it deploys resources to clean up dog fouling when it receives a complaint and targets enforcement activity and patrols at areas where it has been reported as an issue.
CCTV is not used to gain evidence of dog fouling. However, it is used by the council to confirm if an animal is accompanied in areas where dog fouling is a problem. It says owners sometimes let their dogs out of a property and the animal then fouls before returning to the house. The area would then be targeted for a dog fouling patrol and if the dog was seen to foul the council would attempt to identify the owner and take action.
A fixed penalty can only be issued when an authorised officer witnesses an incident.
Fixed penalties are £80 or £50 if paid within two weeks. If not paid the offender can be prosecuted in court.
There are around 700 multi-purpose bins in the council’s area.
Coun Gillian Campbell, cabinet member for streetscene, said: “Dog fouling is one of the most complained about subjects we have to deal with and a huge source of frustration to everyone.
“As a result we’ve trained up more officers than ever before to tackle the problem and issue penalties to offenders.
“However, it is a never-ending battle and, ultimately, dog owners need to take responsibility. To leave your dogs mess behind for someone else to end up standing in shows no respect for the community you live in and the people around you. People who do it should be ashamed of themselves and I would urge people to think of others and remember to take bags with them when walking their dogs.”
Dog fouling comes under the remit of the council’s operational area team.
The council says an officer would inspect locations where fouling has been reported and arrange removal of the mess.
If there were several complaints for the same area, patrols would be arranged to try and identify offenders.
The officer would ensure there was sufficient signage.
They would also deliver letters to local homes to encourage people to get the detail needed for them to take enforcement action and remind dog owners of their duty to pick up after their dog.
If a witness can provide a legal statement giving information on the offender, including, for example, a description, a description of the dog and details of where they live and their car, an officer will follow this up and issue a £75 fixed penalty fine if the offender can be identified.
If the fine is not paid the case could go to court.
The council does not use covert surveillance, but relies upon high profile patrols and written statements from officers and residents.
Over the last year the council has installed coloured ‘Eye’ signs to raise awareness of environmental offences. The dog fouling signs are yellow.
There are 900 multi-purpose bins across the borough.
Coun Peter Murphy, cabinet member for street cleaning, said: “Reports of dog fouling have increased due to our publicity campaign to encourage people to report the issue and the introduction of online reporting, making it quicker and easier to do so.
“Area officers review reports and intelligence relating to dog fouling every month and carry out regular foot patrols accordingly, which have helped to reduce the problem in areas that were previously hot spots.”
Fixed penalties for £50 are issued if a dog owner is witnessed failing to remove dog mess by a warden. If they are not paid, prosecution is considered.
There are around 600 multi-purpose bins in the borough.
Kathy Winstanley, head of waste and fleet management, said the council had received more complaints in 2012/13 because it carried out door- to-door surveys.
“That was very useful, and as a result the figures for the most recent financial year are even lower than they were four years ago,” she said.
“Every complaint generates three reactive patrols and we visit the location in the morning, afternoon and evening, carrying out high visibility patrols, checking whether more signage is needed and arranging clean ups.
“It is also helping now that we have two full-time dog wardens who work different shifts, including some weekends. Every month they carry out intense patrols at the 10 hot-spots where fouling is being reported most frequently.”
Mrs Winstanley added that the favoured approach was to educate people.
“They give out leaflets, talk to dog walkers and knock on doors to encourage people to give us the information we need to identify offenders,” she said.
“We could seek permission to use covert patrolling but we feel that what we are doing at the moment is working - that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t consider it in the future.”