UK councils, stop hassling dog walkers

With Britain under lockdown, dog walkers’ daily walk with their animals is literally one of their last remaining freedoms.

Yet the Manifesto Club has been receiving an increased number of complaints about arbitrary and pointless crackdowns on dog walkers. New restrictions on dog walkers have been introduced under lockdown, dog walkers have found themselves in the dock, and dog wardens have been out in force.

North Somerset has decided that now is the best time to criminalise dogs off leads in the whole of the borough. This would mean that there will only be a few designated areas where dog walkers can let their dogs roam free for proper exercise.

One Wandsworth resident, Sarah Jenkins, tells me that she was prosecuted in February for violating the council’s ban on walking more than four dogs at a time:

Frankly, this is not justice, it is a gross example of bullying by an authority against a resident. I am facing a criminal record simply for going about my day-to-day life, walking down a quiet road with my family of eight little dogs trotting along on their leads at my feet. I and my dogs have never caused a nuisance or offence, let alone injury, or assault against anyone or their pets or wildlife.  This is an utter farce, and an abuse of the use of the courts that have got a huge backlog of cases. Wandsworth Borough Council has spent thousands of pounds (it filed for costs of £5000+) running an action against someone with no income, so it cannot recoup its costs.

Ms Jenkins notes how the council has now put these dog restrictions in a PSPO, ‘seemingly the result of a rather hurried public consultation process carried out last year during COVID lockdown’.

Meanwhile, Wyre Forest council introduced a three dog limit last October, again during high level Covid restrictions. Residents have set up a petition against the rule. A resident of Wyre Forest describes how the council’s ‘three dog’ limit is affecting her, as the owner of four dogs, forcing her to do two walks in the morning and two in the evening.

The PSPO has robbed me of my independence and stolen precious time from me. I have to start my morning walks at 5.00 am, go to work as an NHS Key Worker and then walk alone in the evening until  By the time I have cooked and eaten my evening meal it is 9.00 pm ready for bed to repeat this onerous routine which is unsustainable.

A Sefton resident, Sarah Thorley, objected to the council’s renewal of a dog PSPO, which created dog exclusion zones and dog on lead requirements.

Although a consultation did take place, this was completed at a time when the global pandemic caused much disruption to the community, due to timing of the consultation, there was also no open discussion on these proposals which the community could attend and present. These PSPOs will have a detrimental effect to many residents, including elderly who may not be able to travel to a location where off lead dog exercise is acceptable. I would urge the council to consider more carefully the advise of the Kennel Club, dogs trust and other charities, particularly ‘we would recommend that exclusion areas are kept to a minimum and that, for enforcement reasons, they are restricted to enclosed areas’.

Meanwhile, dog walkers in south London have been complaining of harassment by council dog wardens, who are out in force in open areas including Figg’s Marsh. One resident posted on a local messageboard:

My Dog stopped for a poo in the middle of the park and I walked towards him to pick it up, as I did my fiance told me to turn around. About 10 meters behind there was a man in all black with a Environmental Logo on his jacket with his arms extended filming us with a hand held camera as I walked towards my dog. He filmed as I picked up the poo and then turned and walked away. Local councils should not be filming residence up close as they go about their business. It so intrusive.

This pandemic is hard enough for everyone. This should be a time for focus and prioritisation, with public bodies focusing on necessary services. No doubt some councils are doing just that. But an unfortunate number of councils have used the cover of the pandemic to further their busybody schemes, hassling law-abiding dog owners and making their lives harder. This has to stop.