Grieving relatives targeted by dog police – and other crackdowns on dog walkers

Although we are still mid-pandemic, it appears that some public authorities are focusing their attention on creating more punitive measures targeting dog walkers.

First, Dartmoor National Park is creating a new byelaw that allows dog walkers to be fined £500 if their dog’s behaviour, appearance or even presence causes ‘annoyance’ to anyone. There is no requirement that this annoyance have ‘reasonable grounds’. This means that dog walkers in the park put themselves at risk of a sizable fine, without themselves or their pet having done anything wrong.

Meanwhile, councils persist in introducing PSPOs banning dog walking off leads on winter beaches. Dog owners in Lyme Regis take regular videos of the deserted beach from which they are banned by a Dorset Council PSPO. They say that the beach ‘used to be utilised by loving dog owners‘, who have been sent to unsuitable areas. The side effect is that local businesses are ‘losing out on paw pounds’. `Dog walkers are one of the main users of beaches in winter; it is unfair and nonsensical that they should be prevented from enjoying and making use of these empty public spaces.

And finally, PSPOs targeting dogs in cemeteries – which are enforced by council officials or private security guards on commission – are being used to hassle and punish grieving relatives. One man, who was visiting his sons’ graves, said:

I went for a walk, and decided to visit my both sons’ graves – it was a spur of the moment thing – so I went in with my little dog to visit the graves. I was approached by a Denbighshire County Council Enforcement officer pointing out that I was in breach of rules of having my dog with me in the cemetery. I apologised and said I wasn’t aware that I was committing any offence, to which he replied that he would be issuing me with a fixed penalty of £100. He seemed quite pleased with himself – the best way I can describe him was like the cat that had had the cream. I stated that my dog was on a lead and that if he had done anything I would have cleaned up after him, but he was having none of it. My last resort was to point out that there was no sign saying that no dogs were allowed, but he wrote out the ticket.

This shows the attitude of officials who are motivated by profit: they ignore the context, and lose humanity. The result is that they can be almost gleeful at the opportunity of punishing a grieving man whose pet was not causing anyone any problem. This shows a punishment that is grievously unhinged from the public interest and common humanity.