Discussion Synthesis 2016 – Dogs in Green spaces

At a previous meeting it was agreed that dogs would be discussed and that Simon Knightswood had been elected as the LFN Dogs Officer. It was explained that in order to understand the issues and to discuss policies he had drafted a  survey which was brought along to the meeting.  A lot of work had gone in to producing this and thanks and applause were given to Simon.  A discussion took place where groups were able to explain their problems, if any, and to also identify the positive elements of having dogs in parks.  These are listed below in bullet form for ease of reference. [Further notes of the discussion enclosed below]

·         Dog walkers are valuable as they are the eyes and ears of the open spaces

·         Anti social behaviour by owners/dogs has been/still is a problem in parks – eg. dogs being trained to be vicious; dog fouling; free running dogs can be of concern; dog damage to trees/wildlife

·         Dog-free zones established in many parks but there are problems where no designated space such as children’s play areas exist.

·         Commercial dog walkers are of concern because of the amount of dogs brought on to sites

·         Dog Wardens not always in a position to react to situations

·         Police can enforce fines.  SNT’s can engage with Friends Groups (template shown to group)

·         No evidence that fines have been issued / effective

·         Some parks have introduced byelaws

·         Poo bags provided by a Friends group are effective and help dog owners keep park clean.  Some owners clean up but do not put bags in bins.  Nappy bags a cheap solution to poo bags

·         The Dogs Trust are offering free poo bags (limited period?) and to chip dogs: www.chipmydog.org.uk

·          It was noted that all dogs are to be chipped by 6 April 2016

·          It was suggested that dog owners should be licensed (rather than the dogs)

·         Rogues gallery on noticeboard? Preferred idea was to put up positive dog profiles and news on boards

·         Fun dog show – positive engagement

·         Dog training sessions within parks promotes responsible users.

·         Active sports areas should be dog free

Tony Leach confirmed that LPGSF are currently devising  a template that could be used by all boroughs as a code of conduct for commercial dog walkers.  This is waiting to be put before legal teams and is aimed to be cost neutral.

Finally a discussion took place with regard to the draft survey. It was agreed that it was good but too long. Simon to talk with Tony with regard to a bigger response (100 felt too small) using their Survey Monkey Ac.

Extra written thoughts by Katy:

a) “Free-Running” Dogs
    Dogs running loose (off-lead) can be frightening, even if they are friendly, especially for small children and particularly those not used to having dogs or other pets around; suggestion that dog-owners and dog-walkers should be licensed rather than the dogs themselves; dog-chipping should be mandatory to establish ownership in case of ASB by dogs (and/or owners); relative merits of having dog-free areas and dog-only areas [?], and how to determine proportionality of allocation of space.

b) Dog Mess
    Poo-free zones and dogs’ toilets; more doggy-doo bins (eg Hampstead Heath); Enforcement and sanctions for people who don’t clean up after their pets.  Dog mess is surprisingly not often griped about by park users, it is streets that attract most opprobrium.

c) Commercial Dog-Walkers
    No-one liked the term “professional” dog-walkers, we agreed CDWs was a more appropriate description; More control needed over CDWs; Royal Parks rep said in the Royal Parks they have to wear arm-bands to show they are authorised to walk other people’s dogs, and all dogs must be kept on leads at all times; dog mess a particular problem, several dogs all doing it in the same place; lack of wardens another problem; no supervision.  Stronger by-laws needed to control the numbers of dogs that can be walked by CDWs both on- and off-lead, but this needs wardens or “plastic plods” to supervise and enforce – but they have no power of arrest; no consistency about existing by-laws, some parks and some boroughs have stricter controls than others; should licenses and micro-chipping be encouraged or compulsory?
    Haringey has recently banned dogs from all “active” sports areas, such as football pitches in use (even if these are in an open field), and from children’s play areas, on hygiene grounds; Haringey also limits CDWs to a maximum of six dogs that can be walked at one time, but this is hard to enforce because only the Police can enforce by-laws, on request – the few remaining Park Wardens, and the members of friends of parks groups and other voluntary bodies, are powerless to stop anyone seen transgressing the rules.  Hounslow also has strict borough-wide by-laws on numbers of dogs and when leads should be used.

Suggestion of a “Rogues’ Gallery” on noticeboards of irresponsible owners and their dogs; one woman present said her local park did this, but in reverse – turning it into a positive experience.  They have a noticeboard with photos of the dogs and owners, giving the dogs’ names and profile, and something about how much the dogs enjoy the park, so that children would recognise the local dogs and feel more familiar with them and therefore feel less threatened by inquisitive pooches that come up to them, accepting them as legitimate park users too!  (Obviously this was for local people who use the space for exercising their own dogs; it wouldn’t apply to CDWs).  This idea was warmly accepted by the meeting. 

d) Anti-Social Behaviour (by dogs): use of leads and enforcement of existing by-laws
Obviously this was the meat of the evening’s discussion!
    Began with a resume of areas of conflict – mainly dogs and people (particularly children), although the Royal Parks representative said that dogs worrying wildlife – animals and birds (mainly young swans) – was a big problem.  I then brought up the issue of dogs worrying cattle and horses, which was probably not much of an issue for the other attendees, though there have incidents in Richmond Park; I was also the only person to raise the issue of dogs attacking other dogs [which has been a huge problem in Waltham Forest].
    The problem of dog-poo was raised again, the problem here being anti-social behaviour by owners rather than the dogs themselves who are only doing what comes naturally.  The rep from Hampstead Heath said there was an increasing problem with bags of dog-poo in plastic bags being left hanging tied to trees and bushes, although they had put in more dog-mess receptacles recently.  More discussion of how to educate owners, running dog-training sessions in parks, etc.
    I think there were two women there as reps from Brent I think, one from Queen’s Park in the south and one I think from the Welsh Harp (Kingsbury) area.  Brent has a borough-wide by-law that all LARGE dogs must be kept on leads at all times in public places.  [My note added later: this probably explains why so many of the CDWs who drive to our Marshes with large boisterous dogs, including the one with the pack of 12 or 13 out-of-control loose dogs that attacked me in Coppermill Lane, seem to come from Brent!!]; Brent introduced the by-law because of the problem of dogs attacking trees and damaging vegetation – however, no mention was made by the Brent representative (or anyone else) of youths training attack dogs for (illegal) dog-fighting, although I mentioned it in passing.  The Southwark rep said that her borough has just finished a consultation on Dog Control Orders, and are now working on a Draft Strategy.
    I made the point that it was not possible for one person to be in full control of more than four off-lead dogs at a time, which all agreed with, and several of those present then recounted their Boroughs’ policies (this, of course, is irrelevant in the context of Lea Valley Marshes, which are legally the private property of the Regional Park Authority, and so are subject to the LVRPA’s by-laws – meaning that the Borough’s by-laws, although intended to cover public open spaces in the entire Borough, cannot legally be enforced there).  I raised the issue and said that in Newham an arrangement had been reached whereby the LVRPA had agreed to follow Newham’s strict dogs in public places by-laws; so why could this not happen elsewhere.  [However, as I explained, most of the reps were concerned with Council-managed municipal parks and not with other open spaces, so this was not discussed.]
    Returning to the original topic of conflict of interest, the Tower Hamlets rep (who mostly is concerned with Victoria Park) said that the population of Tower Hamlets is about 95% Moslem (I think he meant the whole borough, but he may have just been referring to the Whitechapel area), and that a lot of Moslems – even those who are not particular religious – feel very uncomfortable about using parks where there are a lot of dogs, especially if they are off-lead.  There had been a Mela (Asian festival – somewhere between a fair and a mass picnic with family entertainment and sports competitions) in Victoria Park which obviously attracted a huge number of Moslems, so the organisers got the attendants to tell local dog-walkers not to go into the area of the park where the Mela was being held; this caused a lot of controversy with local dog-owners.  Victoria Park users later called a public meeting about proposed Dog Control Orders – about 300 people came
(the room officially held about 50!) including large numbers both of observant Moslems, who complained that they and their families felt they were being excluded from using their local parks, and of local dog-owners.  I am not sure any conclusion was reached during the ensuing discussion of this; I haven’t noted it, I think we just kicked ideas and opinions about for a while.

e) ASB and Enforcement issues
    Agreed that the problems mostly come down to lack of enforcement of existing by-laws and irresponsible behaviour by dog-owners.  Park Wardens don’t have power to arrest, they have to call the police.  One rep (from somewhere in West London) said the only real solution would be for all parks to have dog-free areas, but (apart from children’s playgrounds) this is unlikely to happen any time soon.  I said that would not be a good solution for the Marshes, as outside the Nature reserves dogs could generally run freely – the problem was with dogs that were not under control.
    One of the women present (I think from Streatham Hill) passed round a notice that is used in her local park, giving the names and phone numbers of the local Safer Neighbourhood Team community coppers.  SNTs were discussed, and agreed Parks ought to have notices put up on noticeboards saying how to contact the emergency services (who require postcodes to respond) and stressing owners’ legal duty to clear up dog mess and stating the fines for transgressions.
    In Woodcock Park in Kenton (Brent) dogs had been seriously damaging the trees, which included a number of rare “specimen” trees.  But dogs damaging trees was not the only problem the trees face; one day some early-morning dog-walkers caught a Community Payback team cutting down the specimen trees and stopped them – and called the Police! [Does that remind us of anywhere not a million miles away from Orient Way?!]

f) New approaches – changing opinions
    Obviously there are strong opinions about dogs and dog-walkers.  In Haringey, Dave’s group have supported a “Dog Club” which organises training sessions for owners and their dogs, and they have run “dog shows,” with small prizes, at park festivals.  The aim is also to try to get non dog-owners to take a positive approach to dogs, but this can only work if park users behave responsibly (all park users, not just dog-walkers – people who drop litter or speed through on bicycles are just as much of a nuisance).
    By-laws and codes of conduct for dog-walkers are piecemeal and not applied evenly across London, and sometimes differ from park to park, which can easily lead to antisocial behaviour relating to dogs becoming concentrated in those places where the by-laws are most lenient or poorly enforced.

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