how to scoop poop

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The Independent Culture
As we emerge from the council offices and take a quick left off Colchester High Street, Pam Fleming suddenly grabs me by the arm and shouts: "Stop!"

Is an out-of-control car about to swerve on to the pavement? Am I about to be involved in a head-on collision with a letter-box? "No," she replies, pointing downwards at the vari-coloured, multi- textured dropping laying in wait. "Watch your feet." A narrow escape.

We British are spending more and more time watching our feet. Our 7.5million dogs (two million more than three years ago) produce 1,000 tons of excrement every day. Pam has not got X-ray eyes but, as a dog warden, she is more attuned to the problem identified in countless surveys as Public Enemy Number One; dog- fouling is the issue on which MPs receive most complaints.

This is not to say that the animal itself, despite the protestations of outraged owners, has been demonised. We are, after all, a nation of dog-owners.

"A lot of people think we're anti-dog, but we're not," says Pam, who has a photograph of her beloved Barnie, a bearded collie, framed on her desk.

"We love the pooch," a Tidy Britain Group press release insists, "but what about the poop?"

What indeed. It is not only filthy and smelly, but dangerous. More than 200 cases of toxocara canis are reported yearly; the round-worm infection, found in faeces, can be caught by children playing in areas where dogs have fouled and can cause blindness.

Pam whips out her little blue book and makes a note of the precise whereabouts of the offending excrement. She will report the crime to the borough' s contract cleaners, who will blitz the area over the next few weeks.

If she sees someone letting their dog foul, her message is polite but blunt: "Pick it up." A small white bag is provided by the council, free of charge, for just such a purpose. Plastic bags and bits of cardboard will do just as well.

Fresh faeces pose no threat of toxocara, so poop-scooping is both safe and effective. Owners who refuse to comply can end up in court, facing a fine of up to pounds 100.

Since the Environmental Protection Act was passed in 1990, poop-scoop bylaws have swept the country. However, Tidy Britain's survey of 500 local authorities showed that 85 per cent thought they were ineffectual and difficult to enforce.

The group's director general, Graham Ashworth, claims they are not being taken at all seriously by the public. "At the moment, bylaws are the only means available to deal with issues of dog hygiene," he says, "but they are expensive and time-consuming. National legislation is the only way to deal with this problem."

He thinks dog owners who refuse to clean up should be stung for heavy penalties of up to pounds 2,500, in line with other litter offences. In the absence of such legislation, we must all look to Pam and her colleagues to keep our pavements and parks poo-free.

We climb into her little van - referred to affectionately as The Van from Hell - which is laden with stickers, leaflets, spare bins and a natty camera to snap wrong-doers caught in the act.

A poster on the back, reminding us that dogs are for life, not just for Christmas, underlines her pro-canine credentials. First stop: Prettygate School. A neat row of mess has materialised under a hedge opposite the school gate.

Pam shakes her head and tut-tuts. There are plenty of no-fouling stickers around but they don't seem to have had any effect. "We've already cleaned this patch up twice," she says. "A woman who lives here has to come out and clean it up herself."

An elderly resident strides over to the van to register his complaint. Sidling up to the window in a conspiratorial manner - informants, wishing to avoid unneighbourly confrontations, prefer to keep a low profile - he whispers: "They do it in the evening when no one can see."

The little blue book is already out.

ANTHONY CLAVANE

Tidy Britain Group, Premier House, 12-13 Hatton Garden, London EC1N 8AN (0171-831 4484)

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