Dog Control Orders – Reasonable or Ridiculous?
It had been my intention to write this edition of my blog about animal welfare law. However, recent coverage in the press and on Radio 2 peaked my interest into another matter. There has been some controversy about professional dog walkers in London. Apparently some professional walkers are walking up to 10 dogs each and have been accused of intimidating other dog walkers in the parks. This in turn has also allegedly created fear about possible pack driven dog attacks. In this context there has been some debate about how, when and how many dogs should be allowed into our public parks?
The truth is this is not a new issue and legislation was introduced in 2005 to give local authorities powers to control where and how dogs are exercised in publically accessible areas.
Local Authorities have had the ability since 2005 to create Dog Control Orders in areas that are publically accessible such as parks. It is not a power restricted solely to land owned by the local authority, the land just needs to be accessible and open to the public. The Clean Air and Environment Act 2005 provided that orders could be created that ;
- Controlled dog fouling
- Required dogs to be kept on the lead when directed
- Required dogs to be kept on the lead at all times
- Specified the maximum number of dogs that would be permitted onto such land
The orders specify a sanction for non-compliance which is by way of a fixed penalty notice and a fine of at least £75, although it can be more. Failure to discharge the fixed penalty notice can lead to prosecution and a heftier fine.
These powers have largely been exercised by local authorities in a proportionate and reasonable way. Your own Legal Beagle has drafted a number of these over the years. To a large extent they have been fairly uncontroversial because the approach taken has been sensible. For example, the majority of responsible dog owners would accept that a prohibition of dogs in an animal petting farm for example would not be inappropriate or a requirement to keep dogs on the lead near a dangerous stretch of highway. Further, responsible dog owners are not going to object to controls in respect of dog fouling. After all dog fouling can ruin the environment for everyone and it is well documented that dog faeces can be dangerous for children. Sadly the irresponsible few continue to tarnish the view of dog owners by the majority.
So, would it be reasonable to restrict the number of dogs an individual can walk in a public place at any given time? There must be some argument to say that even the most experienced dog walker would physically struggle to control 10 dogs, even on leads. Therefore, perhaps it would not be unreasonable to restrict the amount any individual can be responsible for in a public place, but to how many? Oxford has done this and specified the number as 4, as had Birmingham City Council more recently.
Even more controversial though, how about the argument then that dogs should be banned from some public parks altogether? Given that the majority of local authorities have orders in place prohibiting dogs from play areas and land used for education, any decision to ban all dogs from parks just because children use some part of the park would seem perverse and disproportionate.
There is definitely a group within our society who have root and branch opposition towards dogs and would probably like to see them removed from all our parks and public spaces. Thankfully, I think this is unlikely to happen, the law has been applied sensibly to date. It is also comforting to know that local authorities have to act reasonably and have to consult when they wish to make these orders . This gives those affected the opportunity to make representations or canvass their local councillor to do so on their behalf.