I was rung up by another, far inferior, newspaper the other day. They wanted my comments on a feature they were cooking up. “It's about macho men having small dogs,” said the journalist. I couldn't decide which aspect of his enquiry was more risible: the fact that I might be considered a macho man, or that my dog could be regarded as small. True, he's a dachshund, but he's just about the biggest dachshund in the world.
As I explained over the phone, people stop me in the street to comment on his size: he's built like a labrador with very short legs, so, when I take him for a walk, I don't cut quite the same picture as Mickey Rourke with his chihuahua or Hugh Jackman with his tiny pug. But that didn't stop me talking at length about my own dog, his personality, his peculiarities and his peccadillos, his likes and dislikes and, in particular, his Germanic nature (I know it's a cliché, and borderline offensive, but when blankets are put out in the garden in summer, he's the first one out to claim his spot. This, I swear, is true.)
In common with all dog owners, I believe my specimen to be one in a million. Or, more accurately if government figures can be believed, one in eight million. The dog population is apparently growing, and, with it, comes a rather malodorous problem. According to The Dogs' Trust, fouling in public places is on the rise for the first time in a decade. This I find rather surprising. Whether the Big Society is a figment or not of David Cameron's imagination, it's definitely true that people are more public-spirited today than they were, say, 20 or 30 years ago.
Overall, people are generally more considerate to others. And a manifestation of this - a direct effect of the much-derided creed of political correctness - is that there's much less litter on the streets and, so I thought, less dog mess. But no. The dogs of Britain produce around 1,000 tons of excrement a day, and quite a lot of it doesn't end up in little black bags. Cleaning up this problem is estimated to cost local councils £22million a year. On the anti-social scale, leaving dog poo on the street is right near the top.
When I told the editor of this newspaper that I was writing about the problem of dog mess, he said that he'd “long thought people should be allowed to post it back to the dog owners”. Well, that's one solution, but Stafford borough council have come up with a better idea. Anyone who reports a dog fouling incident will receive a reward of £75, the full amount of the fixed penalty handed out to the miscreant owner. As a supporter of restorative justice, I think this is an extremely positive move. A council spokesman said: “It is right that a community-minded resident...should be rewarded - and it is the inconsiderate dog owner who should pay.” I don't want to let loose an army of vigilantes, but this could be a template for dealing with other anti-social offences. A crap idea? I don't think so.