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Dogs in the community - a decreasing problem


Each year the government publishes the English Housing Survey. It is a minefield of statistics which contains a wealth of information on which decisions are made about legislation, house building and many other regulatory measures. A total of 17,000 households a year are involved.

The Survey has three components: the interview survey; the physical survey; and the market value survey. The interview survey is conducted with all householders in the sample while the physical survey involves an inspection by qualified surveyors of a sub-sample of around 8,000 properties per year and then there is a periodic follow-up survey with private landlords which is undertaken to collect information on landlord experiences and attitudess.

The result is a stream of information about household interests and concerns. For instance the survey calculates the number of garden ponds: 14% of households have garden ponds giving a total of 3 million. But on a more serious and practical note (not that garden ponds are not serious to gardeners and the suppliers or ponds, fish and accessories) the difficulties and problems which householders face are noted. They include vandalism, graffiti, litter and rubbish, racial and other harassment, noise, traffic and dogs.

Troubled

The question of whether householders are troubled by dogs in their area has been a question on the English Housing Surveys since 1994. The questions are divided into three levels: ‘is the problem serious?’; ‘is the problem a minor inconvenience?’ and ‘is there a problem at all?’ Back in 1992 21% said that their household had ‘serious’ problem with dogs in their neighbourhood while 34% said there was a problem but it was not serious. 44% said dogs were not a problem at all.
The last survey for which the full figures are available in 2007 provided a very different picture. Only 7% of households thought that dogs were ‘a serious problem’. While 15% said ‘there was a problem but it was not serious’ and those that felt there was no problem at all had gone up to 78%! Throughout the period there has been a steady change of attitude among those questioned borne out by official statistics.

Part of the reason is that the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act became law in 1992 (since greatly amended most recently in 2005) and this was the legislation which began to move the responsibility for stray dogs to Local Authorities. If we amalgamate the figures for ‘serious’ and ‘minor’ problems it means that the total number of households who have any problem with dogs is down from over half (55%) to less than a quarter (22%) a remarkable change in public attitude. It is true that the number of households owning dogs has decreased but only by about 12% in the same period.

David Cavill, who was a councillor in the 80s and Chairman of his Council’s Environmental Services Committee as well as being a member of the Conservative ‘think tank’ The Bow Group when the Act was first being discussed, told OUR DOGS, ‘The two main concerns of the local electorate while I had responsibility for environmental services for what is now Bracknell Forest Borough Council, were rubbish and dogs. There was a constant stream of complaints about rubbish collection, dog fouling, stray dogs and barking. Because the police were responsible for strays and we were responsible for the rest it was very difficult to put together a cohesive policy as both organisations had other priorities. For this reason, as a council, we were very anxious that the Clean Neighbourhoods Act was progressed. And it worked.

‘Once the Council’s had the authority then they were able to take action. It was not perfect and some local authorities were over zealous but the Act led to greatly improved neighbourhood environments andbetter and more responsible care of dogs. Unfortunately, the 2005 amendments to the Act have imposed greater and, from these figures it would appear, unnecessary, restrictions. Having all this research available it is a great shame that the ‘nanny state’ left hand of government ignored the findings of the right hand’


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