Safe in the assumption you’ve probably digested your breakfast by now, I shall proceed. Dog-mess, the most polite term I can come up with, has always been a fixture of pavements as far back as I can remember. It was certainly a key element of the urban landscape in the 1970s, though there seemed to be a greater variance of shades then – white being the chic alternative to industry standard brown at the time. It shared sidewalk space with routine rubbish – empty crisp packets, smashed bottles, closing-time sick, discarded pages from ‘Playbirds’ et al – though the pavements then still didn’t seem quite as depressing-looking as today; the aesthetic carbuncle of the wheelie-bin line-up competes with the nose-to-tail parked car parade in a competition to decide which has rendered our streets the uglier.
I put the proliferation of dog-mess during my childhood down to the way in which man’s best friend (as with children back then) was free to roam in a way that is unimaginable now. What were usually called stray dogs were more often than not family pets that were let out of the house and left to their own devices as only cats are today. These latch-key canines ran wild through neighbourhoods, impregnating bitches at will, getting into territorial tussles with other mutts, striking fear into the hearts of kids who were instinctively scared of them, and even occasionally (as old ‘Match of the Day’ footage proves) finding their way onto football pitches in the middle of a match.
By contrast, a dog wandering alone now is such an unusual sight that people’s first thought is that the creature is lost, either having broken free of its lead when being walked or having escaped from its home without its owner’s knowledge. And that’s one aspect of British life that has undoubtedly changed for the better, both for the dogs and the people. So why is dog-mess still with us?
The best dog-owners today are a more conscientious bunch than their predecessors, preferring to escort their pets around local parks rather than letting them prowl the neighbourhood; and the arrival of the so-called ‘poo-bag’ has persuaded them to clean-up after their dog has done the business. Of course, not everyone adheres to this unwritten rule, and it is these pillocks that are the problem. At the same time, anybody who walks a dog regularly knows that sometimes the poo-bags are accidentally left at home, resulting in grass or leaves acting as makeshift camouflage in such an event; but overall, there’s definitely a greater impetus to exert that kind of responsibility than there ever used to be.
However, the wilfully defiant and the accidental amnesiac are grouped together in law when it comes to dog-fouling. Of late, local authorities have intervened, with the most recently vocal being the Mayor of Liverpool, who last week proclaimed that anyone providing evidence of dog owners failing to bag their pooch’s plop would be exempt from paying council tax for a year. Why not a weekend for two in Paris? Mayor Jon Anderson – who obviously turned to local politics when being the frontman of Yes finally caused him the same pain as it often has record-buyers – told a city cabinet meeting that ‘My wife was walking our dog the other day and came back with dog muck all over her shoes!’ He didn’t specify if counselling was available to his unfortunate missus, but our thoughts go out to Mrs Anderson.
The Mayor of Liverpool claimed his proposal was about restoring civic pride to his city; his idea is that people should provide the authorities with video or photographic proof that could lead to a criminal conviction, thus earning their reward. Fines of up to £1000 for dog-fouling already exist without the employment of grasses to do the council’s dirty work for them, but Mr Anderson believes his brainwave will bring communities together. A strange interpretation of the end result, for sure; dangling the council tax carrot before non-dog owners struggling to make ends meet and bribing them to turn into spies and snitches seems a funny way to bring communities together. Further divisions would seem more inevitable to me.
I once knew of someone who grassed a friend to the DHSS for simultaneously signing-on and working part-time, purely out of spite on account of said friend wanting to become a vicar while the grass was a fanatical atheist. It struck me as an especially shitty thing to do to someone who was supposed to be a friend; though the reasons themselves were ludicrous, just making that nasty phone-call evoked images of ‘collaborators’ in Nazi-occupied France. Okay, so that might sound a bit OTT, but who amongst us has never broken a little law, safe in the knowledge we could get away with it? When the music industry told us ‘home taping is killing music’ in the 80s, did it actually stop anyone copying songs onto a cassette from an LP? And has anyone buying a batch of fags from a bloke in a pub ever been that troubled by the lorry they fell off the back of?
Sure, dog owners who don’t pick up their pet’s mess from the park or pavement give other dog owners a bad name, and if they deliberately avoid cleaning up after Rover, it serves them right if they end up being fined. But Britain’s fractured communities don’t need a cynical incentive from local government to divide them further. The abundance of trashy TV shows that goad warring neighbours into action for cheap entertainment are bad enough; and then there are the warnings to keep an eye on next-door just in case a potential Paedo or Jihadist happens to be on the other side of the wall, advice in danger of turning us all into informers complicit in the surveillance state. It stinks – and the smell is far more pungent than a dog turd.
© The Editor