Deborah Orr: It's time to take a lead and get to grips with Britain's dog problem

Related Topics

The economy is in ruins. Democracy is in crisis. Both of these calamities can be traced back – by a five-year-old armed with a scrap of his mum's greaseproof paper – to legislation introduced under Thatcher and lasciviously petted by Blair and Brown. Yet argument rages over whose fault it all was. Maybe the folly of the past 30 years can be understood better by examining one tiny aspect of Thatcherite legislation. Can we all at least agree that abolishing the dog licence was not necessarily a great idea?

Certainly, the system in the 1970s was moribund. Only half of dog owners purchased a licence, at 37.5p, and it cost more to administer the scheme than it raised. No one was ever done for not having a licence, and like most poorly administered laws, dog-licensing had lost the confidence of the public.

Labour, in opposition, promised to introduce a national dog registration scheme that would provide the money for a dog warden service. But this never happened. Quite right too. The Conservatives argued that controlling dogs, and more pertinently their owners, was "essentially a local issue". That's is absolutely correct.

Owning a dog in a densely populated urban area, and using common public space to exercise it, is an entirely different matter to owning a dog in the countryside, and walking it on open moorland. The only real difficulty in the latter situation is dogs that are aggressive and badly trained enough to worry other animals. Since local magistrates have actually had the authority to order the destruction or alternative control of a dangerous dog since 1871, there has been a local solution to this difficulty for more than a century.

But in the former situation, irresponsible dog ownership causes no end of unpleasant inconvenience, sometimes even turning public spaces into no-go areas, and occasionally it leads to the maiming or killing of humans. Even responsible dog owners create a cost to the public purse, as the scooped poops of their animals have to be collected by the council. Clearing up after irresponsible owners costs a fortune, not least because they have a corrosive effect on their communities.

Yet, ostensibly against centralisation of government as they may have been, the Conservatives were also against decentralsation of power. Dog control may have been, for them, an "essentially local issue". But they also thought that a local tax was "not the most appropriate means of funding". Quite why, they didn't say. Ideological reasons, of course.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives did not hesitate to shower local authorities with statutory obligations, all of which cost money to enforce. Far from deregulating dog ownership, the Conservatives merely "salami-sliced" it, passing more and more responsibility on, but rationing local power. The licence was got rid of in 1987. But an avalanche of legislation followed.

A Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1989; legislation on dog control was included in the Environmental Protection Act, 1991; another Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced, also in 1991, and a couple of private members' bills were launched to deal with sundry other problems. A Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act was introduced in 1996, and still nobody is happy with the nature of dog ownership in Britain (though Northern Ireland still has a licence scheme). In fact, in many respects, the problem is getting worse.

The least happy people are those responsible dog owners, the schmucks who were buying their licences in 1987, and who are now getting their dogs microchipped at great private expense and for little public benefit. We scrape our dog shit off the pavement, but our children still step in the shit of other dogs. We watch our children at a distance in the playground, because we're in the exercise area, the only scrap of the park where we can let our dog off his leash, because those irresponsible dog-owners won't respect the poorly regulated by-laws. And sometimes we are not in the designated exercise area either, because some clown has his mastiff in there, and he'll grunt that it isn't safe for our dog when his dog is around. Since there is a great big mastiff on his side of the argument, one generally acquiesces.

Yet dogs aren't people. They can be fitted with a microchip, and registered. Chipping of your dog should be, in areas where the issues around dog-ownership disrupt the community, an obligatory part of the process of gaining a licence. Vets should be obliged to report dogs that are not chipped; breeders should include the cost of chipping in the price of a dog. Suspect owners can be checked in a few keystrokes, if an address is supplied. Pensioners should get their licence for free, and council-tax payers should be able to insist that their local parks and shared spaces are uncluttered by unlicensed dogs and their shit.

There's much to be learned from the crisis in Parliament at present. But the most important one is that if the poor dears are so overworked and so underpaid, then we must do everything we can to get power and responsibility out of their hands, and into ours. Genuine local government of dogs is a start.

Katie, Peter, and a tale of sad banality

The rebranding exercise has faltered. When Jordan signed up to I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, in 2004, she had an agenda. The idea was to display her personality, alongside the implanted breasts that had previously been her main claim to fame. Goodbye Jordan, hello Katie Price. The glamour model arrived on the show as a bimbo with a reputation as a drunken poor mother, and left with an aura of mild complexity (relatively speaking) and a boyfriend.

One marriage, two children, loads of books, a brief pop career, millions of quid and hundreds of reality show moments later, and Jordan appears to be back. Her husband, Peter Andre, has ended their marriage, fed up with the way that his wife goes out to nightclubs and flirts with other men. She never, apparently, has sex with him any more, because she's too tired from practising her dressage.

The problem is that nobody believes them. Their plea for "privacy at this difficult time" has been greeted with derision. Their troubles are dismissed as a publicity stunt. But I believe them. What I see are two fragile and messed-up adults whose family life has collapsed under the weight of its pathetic contradictions. The sad banality of Mr and Mrs Andre has been revealed for the first time. No wonder so many people prefer to buy into "reality".

Beckett's tramps play the Brian Rix card

After a national tour, Sean Mathias's star-studded production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot has arrived in London's West End, to baffling acclaim. Simon Callow is wonderful as Pozzo. Ronald Pickup is magisterial as Lucky. Patrick Stewart is pretty good as Vladimir, but Ian McKellen plays Estragon like he's the grandad in a family sitcom.

One might be tempted to concede that three out of four ain't bad. But this is far from the case. The resulting failure of register is dismal. After two hours of watching two elderly men as they struggled to work out what their miserable lives had been for, the audience still laughed like they were on a canned track when Estragon's trousers fell down. He'd only removed the string to see if it was strong enough to hang himself – that's pathos, people, not ha-ha-guffaw.

Mathias has been praised for capturing the playful humour of Godot, when really he has merely taken existential farce and turned it into Brian Rix farce. The production only made me wonder what Beckett's life had been for, if contemporary critics can lap up such a travesty instead of wincing in shame at his memory. Beckett would not have allowed such a bowdlerised interpretation of his play to be staged. Now it's hailed as an "accessible" masterpiece. "What do we do now," you have to ask, "now that we are happy?" Just, wait, I guess. Who knows what for.

Sales of expensive barbecues are "defying the recession". Or people are entertaining at home, saving the cost of a restaurant and a babysitter, or maybe even a holiday abroad this summer. And having a fag if they fancy one. They were always defiant, those smokers.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
John Rentoul met Ed Miliband aged 23, remarking he was “bright, and put up a good fight for the utilities tax, but I was unconvinced.”  

General Election 2015: Win or lose, Ed Miliband is not ready to govern

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk