Since I have been travelling around the constituency and meeting people since last autumn one of the most persistent issues that people raise is that of dog fouling.
Dog fouling is not something unfortunate that we simply have to live with – it does not happen on the same scale in other jurisdictions. Dog fouling needs to be seen as a health issue and an economic issue. In terms of health it can cause blindness in children and acute stomach problems. I know some parents who simply do not let their children in some of our public green spaces for fear of coming into contact with dog litter.
It is also an economic issue from the point of view of tourism. We can talk plenty about strategies to increase tourism but one of the most important tricks of the trade in the tourist industry is to work at and get return visitors and issues like dog fouling are one of the problems that turn people off coming to an area again. I am not just talking about foreign tourists here I am talking about Irish people being turned off visiting areas in their own county or locality.
The fact that there were no fines imposed for dog littering in the last two years is a testament to the fact that the current system as it is set up is not working. To be fair most owners who properly supervise their dogs these days do pick up their dog’s litter. The real core of the problem of dog littering is actually unsupervised dogs. This figure coupled with the fact that there are an increasing number of detections of unsupervised dogs underlines that the issue of unsupervised dogs needs a different approach.
The fining system for stray dogs is much too relaxed at the moment. It is as follows from the Council website:
If you want to reclaim your dog, you will have to pay the Pound a reclaim fee of €20 plus a charge of €8 bed and board for each night your dog remains in the Pound. If you do not have a current dog licence you will have to buy one also for €20. If you don’t keep your dog under effectual control you can get a €30 on-the-spot fine.
Frankly I think these fines need to be increased significantly– dog littering and stray dogs are a health hazard not just in terms of the disease that can be spread to children via dog litter but also because unsupervised dogs are a hazard to cyclists and motorists alike. In Skerries we know that they can cause accidents too. The question also needs to be asked about how many of these fines are repeat offences . There does not appear to be an increase in fine for a repeat offence.
There needs to be a radical rethinking in the culture of dog control. Its easy to say that we need more dog wardens but we have to be practical too. Currently the wardens are clearly kept very busy. But one has to ask if the penalties they can impose are having any deterrent effect.
We are also at the peak of Tidy Towns season and I know there are many groups across the North County that are keeping their fingers crossed that the judges will not come across a spate of this problem when they set foot in their town.
I have written to the County Manger to ask him to initiate proposals to better tackle the dog littering problem across the county.