Overwhelmingly favoured: almost half the letters we received supported it. The old dog licence, costing 37p (7/6d in old money), was scrapped in 1988, and nothing has replaced it. Many readers thought that registration (at a 'realistic' cost - suggestions ranged from pounds 5 to pounds 50 pa, though one reader demanded a dog tax of pounds 200) would be the fairest way to raise funds to pay for more dog wardens, 'dog-only' areas, free poop-scoops, better and more frequent street cleaning, and other dog hygiene schemes. Pensioners and those on benefits could be exempted. David Hawkes, of Hemel Hempstead, thought registration could also be a way to curb the popularity of bigger breeds: charges could vary 'in proportion to the weight of the dog': anything over 40lb would be clobbered.
Registration is 'a nettle the Government should have grasped long ago,' wrote F Paul Taylor, of Frosham, Cheshire. It is also supported by the RSPCA. So what's stopping it? 'Dog owners have too many votes,' guessed M F Betts, of Stamford.
Readers wanted to see on-the-spot fixed fines and 'hefty' penalties (possibly on an incremental scale, leading to a total ban on owning a dog). At present the maximum fine is pounds 500 but some offenders pay as little as pounds 20 (the maximum for litter is pounds 2,500). 'The fines for dog fouling are ridiculously small - maybe the threat of a pounds 5,000 fine might deter irresponsible owners,' said Dr Nick Forster, of Cardiff.
Introduce national legislation
By-laws are not enough: 'If the law is unenforceable, then the law should be changed. There should be national legislation which overrules local by-laws', wrote David Joyce of Hull, and many other readers, despairing of their local authorities' powers to act, agreed. But even national laws could meet problems on the ground: 'I do not believe the law is unenforceable: I just believe that in this country dog-owners have more clout than dog-sufferers,' commented Mrs I Purkiss, of London NW3.
More dog wardens
The only hope of many readers was for many more dog wardens with vastly increased powers to prosecute, armed with leaflets and even cameras to catch offenders in the act. 'Persuade dog-wardens (or better still, police) to do mass sweeps on parks so those responsible are outnumbered,' suggested George Hay, of Hastings. Traffic wardens could cover dog fouling, too, some readers thought. The ultimate answer? Give the job to car-clamping firms, according to one reader.
More dog-free areas
'In parks there should be one area where dogs must go, and the rest enjoyed by everyone else. At the moment dogs have more freedom of space than children. 'Anyone tried flying a kite lately?' asked Mrs C J Stidston, of New Milton, Hampshire.
People felt strongly the balance in many parks is wrong: instead of small 'dog-free areas' around children's play spaces, dogs and owners should have their own areas and stick to them. Some readers wanted dogs banned entirely from all public amenities (including shopping centres, playing fields and beaches). Better dog facilities were demanded everywhere: toilet areas and bins for dog mess in all parks.
Readers wanted more help for dog owners to be clean. Coin- op bins and plastic glove dispensers in parks were suggested; poop-scoops should be supplied free - and should be easier to find in supermarkets. Some thought carrying clean-up equipment should be compulsory. 'Responsible owners are the best front line of attack,' wrote dog-owner Margaret Mooney of Lowestoft. 'They should carry a spare 'poo bag' and not be afraid to offer it to the owner of any offending dog.' Shirley Nicolaou of London N11, suggested: 'A free tin of dog-food in exchange for 20 bags of dog turds'.
Raise public awareness
'A public education campaign is needed, like those on seat belts and safer sex,' wrote Maria MacLachlan of Wembley. 'That means using prime time TV, public billboards and leaflets in clinics and surgeries.' Readers felt more publicity on the dangers of Toxocara infection is urgently needed, with funding for research. Campaigns on dog hygiene and health should start in schools.
Dog food companies should help
The dog food market in Britain is worth pounds 682m a year. Readers believed that manufacturers are uniquely placed to help raise public awareness: especially by printing health warnings on their packaging. 'Dog food producers have the widest access, on their packets and cans, to inform and educate and plead with dog owners,' wrote a Brighton reader.
'Dog excrement is dangerous to health. Please clean up after your pet' was a suggested slogan. John Winfield of London SW14 had another idea: 'What better method to obtain the funding for dog hygiene schemes than by placing a small tax on dog food?'
Apply social pressure
'One day dirty dog owners will feel outcasts the way smokers are beginning to feel now,' wrote Jane Penson, of Chalfont St Giles. Until that day comes many felt, with Mrs J Small of London N19, that 'public shame is the only way'. Fouling should be made a social disease, which 'reflects on your own personal habits and cleanliness'. Maurice Roeves, of Ealing, thought we should be like Los Angeles, where a moral poop-scooping majority intimidates 'dirty' owners. Jacqueline Page, of Twickenham, believes in positive encouragement. 'I always take the trouble to thank a dog owner I see poop-scooping.' Less understanding readers suggested pushing Dirty Dog Owner cards through their letterboxes, and the posting of photographs of offenders in public places.
Last resort: retaliation . . .
'If only one child were to defecate in a public area there would be an immediate and vociferous outrage,' pointed out J B, of London SE26. 'Perhaps parents of young children should stage a dirty protest and leave soiled nappies scattered about the streets and parks.' Take the problem to the dog owners, suggested a Cardiff reader: 'Scrape up the offending article and dump it in the dog owner's gateway'.
G Hawkins of Wirral, wrote: 'All dog food should be laced with a delayed action laxative which would inspire the pampered pet to deliver a deluge of ordure on the carpets of their owners when the animals returned from their walks in public places'. Ian Wilson, of Sherborne, volunteered: 'If the offending owner has a car, strategic placing of assorted turds around the driver's door does much to concentrate their minds as to the foulness and anti-social nature of their behaviour'. Only if all else fails, should the ultimate weapon be deployed: 'Call in Blue Peter'.
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