We need a balanced approach to dog control

I chair the panel that scrutinises the process of creating and amending Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) in North Somerset. This is a ‘close enough’ transcript of the statement I made during the council’s Executive meeting on 11th February 2021.

I wanted to pick up on a point made by Mr Ives in his written address [to the Executive]. Mr Ives references the paragraph in the officer report which suggests we may go out for consultation later in the year on introducing a dogs on leads “by default” requirement for all public areas – with a list of exempted areas where dogs can run free or be excluded. The officer report recommends we consult on this approach.

I am not normally against public consultation – quite the contrary – but I would question the value of that. I think we already know opinion is split – so we’d find ourselves back where we started, but would’ve set a hare running. This has already been picked up by some media .

Bristol does operate a similar system, but I’m not sure they have the means to enforce it… and while this might make sense in a city or urban environment, I don’t agree that this would be a sensible approach for North Somerset. If it would include locations like The Strawberry Line or public footpaths in the countryside… I can’t see how that makes sense at all.

There are issues – dog control is a difficult thing to deal with whichever route we take; dog ownership has certainly increased; there are a lot of new dog owners… and lots of people out walking. A thread of concern that surfaced through the consultation was that there are “too many uncontrolled dogs off the leads in general in public places.” As I say, there are issues – and we should certainly monitor and review.

My favoured approach would be more education, more signage, more messaging… with more enforcement (which we will have from April with a new enforcement contract). As a dog owner, I am in favour of a zero tolerance approach to dog fouling, for example; if you are challenged by someone with enforcement powers – and you cannot produce the means to pick up after your own dog – BAM! a £75 fine! That can already be issued.

Most dog owners will know to put their dog back on a lead if going through a field with livestock in there. We’re in the lambing season… ‘sheep worrying’ is a thing – there is primary legislation on this – the Dog (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

Dogs need space to run to get rid of their energy – and keeping dogs on a lead unnecessarily will cause more anxiety and behavioural problems.

An area wide dogs on leads ‘by default’ requirement for all public areas – however defined – would I think cause confusion (and some consternation). Let’s not back ourselves into a corner, please.

To be clear, while I am absolutely not in favour of a ‘dogs on leads “by default” requirement’, let me be clear that I am open to further consideration of other options. For example, Calderdale Council (to name one example) has a couple of dog control orders that we might look into adapting in North Somerset – including one which makes it “an offence not to keep a dog, under your control, on a lead… [on] roads, pavements, [and] verges…”, which I think would address some concerns.

Photo credit: Mitchell Orr

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