Hunting out the dog foul menaces

Gary Russell helps Dale Lafferty to stock up on his supply of poop bags for his dog Chester.
Gary Russell helps Dale Lafferty to stock up on his supply of poop bags for his dog Chester.

It takes John Bettle and Gary Russell just 10 minutes to issue a fine to a dog owner during our morning patrol.

After giving the play area near the Marine Hall in Fleetwood a largely clean bill of health – apart from a broken fence which Gary says he will report – we spot a dog running free in Marine Hall Gardens.

John Bettle, left, and Gary Russell in the play area close to the Marine Hall.

John Bettle, left, and Gary Russell in the play area close to the Marine Hall.

This is an area in which dogs must be on a lead, and this dog has left a mess on the embankment.

Gary approaches the dog and has it sitting as the owner approaches. The man is informed his pet should be on a lead – itself an offence for which a fine can be issued – and that it has fouled.

He protests that it was chased off the beach by another dog and Gary and John give him the benefit of the doubt.

But they hand him a £75 fixed penalty notice for the fouling and he admits it’s a fair cop.

“At the end of the day you’re doing your job,” he tells them.

Gary and John are among five area officers with responsibility for environmental issues including dog fouling, litter, graffiti and fly-tipping.

They have their hands full. There were 520 complaints about dog fouling in Wyre in 2013 – more than double the 216 reported in 2010.

But for Gary, that is in some ways a good thing.

“We now give out cards encouraging the public to report dog fouling more and it seems to be working,” he tells me.

“We can’t be everywhere, so we do rely on the public to tell us about the problem.”

When a report of fouling is received, it is dealt with in order of priority.

“If we have an 80-year-old lady worried she is going to slip on dog mess outside her gate, we will get to it quickly,” says John.

“If fouling is a problem in a particular street we might put up some of our ‘Eye’ signs, do a letter drop and keep a close eye on the area. We do not usually end up going back – I think those responsible must see what we are doing and think, ‘we had better stop’.

He adds that in helping to bring the offenders to book, people need to provide as many details as they can about the dog and its owner, such as a description, details of the owner’s car and their address if that is known.

We drive inland from the Esplanade to Memorial Park where we chat to Dale Lafferty who is out walking Chester, his Jack Russell, armed with poop bags.

Dale, 45, who lives on Oxford Street, says fouling is a ‘big problem’, especially in the park and on the promenade.

“A lot of people go to the trouble of bagging up their dog’s mess but then leave it on a wall,” he says.

“Some people are just lazy and I don’t know what you can do about it. I’m all for bringing back dog licences.”

All the dog owners we talk to seem united in their disgust at those who allow their dogs to foul – so much so I begin to wonder just who these people are.

“There’s no class barrier and there is no stereotype,” says Gary. “It can be a skinhead with a Rottweiler or an old lady with a Chihuahua.”

Neither is it just dog walkers who are to blame - John tells me that some people let their dogs out of the house to do their business in nearby alleyways, or even on the street.

“One of our colleagues recently caught someone who was doing this on a regular basis. If someone is letting their dog do that twice a day, that’s 14 times a week and that can be a big reason for a local problem.”

While in Memorial Park we also meet Tracy Lynchey walking border collie Murphy with her grandchildren, 18-month old Daisie and six-month-old Mia.

Tracy, 45, from Waverley Avenue, agrees with Dale that some dog owners bag up the mess but then do not bin it.

“It’s disgusting and it’s really not nice near the children’s play area” she says. “I don’t think it’s just kids, I’ve seen a lot of old people not pick up after their dogs. I don’t think there are enough bins and people have to carry the mess around. For me the answer is more education.”

Gary says Murphy was one of 99 dogs micro-chipped at a recent event funded by the Dogs Trust at the Warrenhurst Community Centre.

In 2016 it will be compulsory for all dogs to be micro-chipped, a move he hopes will make it easier to identify strays so long as owners keep their address details up to date. But he disagrees with Tracy’s assessment that more bins are needed. People can now put bags in any litter bin.

“You can see there are two bins here in the park in the space of a few yards,” says Gary as he stops to pick up some dog mess.

“I can’t understand why people would not carry a bag to the next bin.”

John agrees. “We see poo bags left between two bins, so bins are never going to stop the problem 100 per cent,” he says.

He says that ultimately, people have to take personal responsibility, and praises the efforts of 12-year-old Preesall schoolboy Brandon Evans, who earlier this year began a crusade to clear up other people’s dog mess.

“He’s causing a lot of people to sit back and think and I’ve come across ladies who have said to me, ‘now we’re picking it up too’,” adds John.

Brandon was awarded one of the council’s Gimmee 5 certificates under a scheme which rewards people who take time - even if only five minutes - to help improve their neighbourhood.

But for John, prevention is better than cure.

He has responsibility for the rural Over Wyre area, where he has been going into village schools and educating children about the problem.

They have even been designing posters to encourage people to pick up their dog’s mess.

“The children will then say something to their parents if they are out walking the family dog and leave mess behind,” says John.

“We don’t want to be issuing fines, we want people to comply.”

By the same token, the area officers do not use covert surveillance and wear illuminous yellow jackets.

“We don’t look to catch people out,” adds John.

“If we did ‘plain clothes’ patrols people would not come up and tell us about things.

“But we try to raise our presence where there is a problem and that can involve early morning and late evening patrols.

“We make people more aware of what’s going on and our message does seem to work.”