A fine mess: Why councils must crack down on pet owners who won’t clean up

Selfish dog owners who fail to pick up after their pets are creating eyesores and causing a big stink in the city’s parks and footpaths, writes Madonna King

Dec 10, 2020, updated Dec 10, 2020
One in three veterinarians plan to walk away from the industry within the next five years. (Photo: The Conversation)

One in three veterinarians plan to walk away from the industry within the next five years. (Photo: The Conversation)

If you have a dog, and you are caught sans a dog poo bag, Brisbane City Council officers can make your pocket $66 lighter.

And the fine jumps almost four times that, to $268, if your dog decides to deposit some waste, and you ignore it.

So why – with the threat of those fines – are our footpaths and parks hosting the calling card now daily of Rover and Lassie and Harry and Daisy and Dancer and Prancer?

It sounds preposterous that any dog owner needs to be reminded to pick up after their pet – and the majority of pet owners are no doubt law-abiding poo collectors.

But since this pandemic sent us back inside, and the sale of pets ballooned, the poo problem in Brisbane has become prodigious.

If a toddler deposited a left-over, no carer would consider looking sideways, to make sure they weren’t being watched, before walking way with a smirk and a conscience that needs a dose of guilt.

So why do we so readily accept it happening with dogs?

A few times now, in both Brisbane and Sydney, photographs of adult male joggers who have defecated in public have been plastered over the media, in an uncomfortable acknowledgement of something not heard of a few years ago.

That’s made me feel uneasy. Does the person have a medical condition that means a lack of control? Or a mental health issue, that needs addressing? And is there really a need for us to see a person’s private embarrassment jump out at us from the nightly news?

But no excuse can exist for an adult not cleaning up the mess of a pet, in a public place.

Recently, on ABC radio, a listener explained they’d seen a dog do its business in an aisle in a big Bunnings store. The owner left, leaving a young worker to clean up the mess. What?

On the weekend, a woman on the Gold Coast asked runners to go around her little dog, as he conducted his morning routine on a running path.

And even when it is collected, it’s frequently left where it should not be; a dad and daughter sat down at a Camp Hill cafe recently to find a plastic bag of dog’s business sitting on their table.

Other residents are finding dog waste deposited into their garbage bins, sitting out on the footpath, but after the rubbish had been collected – meaning it then sits in the bottom of the bin for a week. It’s not smelling of Chanel by then.

(Just a note here: wheelie bins left out for kerbside collection can be used by others to deposit their dog droppings, Council says, but asks people to be “considerate of their neighbours and avoid placing their dog waste bags in bins that have already been serviced.)

Pet ownership is growing, and not just because of a year when a pandemic tested our limits. But that means policymakers need to be proactive too, and they have done little to recognise the growing importance of animals as companions in our communities.

Tensions are already rising in unit blocks where patient and volunteer body corporates are trying to nut out what is fair to both dog owners and those who might even have allergies to some pets.

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In one unfolding drama, on the Gold Coast, a unit block has implemented a one-dog policy. But a new owner has moved two dogs into the building, raising the temperature of elevator discussions. In that case, both sides are spending far too much money, as public servants trying to negotiate a settlement that will surely act as a precedent.

Those tricky situations will arise. But picking up dog poo is cut and dried. A spokeswoman for Brisbane City Council yesterday said dog poo bags are a courtesy provided to residents, but could be in short supply and “residents are reminded to carry collection bags with them while in public with their pets’’.

The issue of whether those bags should be plastic can be the subject of another column.

But the Brisbane City Council, so far, has been slow to fine those not carrying bags, or collecting poo. The law has just sat there on its books, looking good.

“Our first approach to these offences is to educate animal owners of the requirements of the local law,’’ the spokeswoman said. Although one would be forgiven for thinking this is as much an issue of hygiene and courtesy as it is a ‘local law’….

So how many dog owners have been fined? From January 1 to December 4 this year, Brisbane City Council issued four infringement notices and two warnings for not picking up waste.

In addition, it issued two infringement notices and one warning for not carrying dog poo bags.

At least that’s a step up from the same period last year, when BCC issued no infringement notices or warnings for the same offences.

Imagine those figures compared to the number of car parking infringements. And do you know any resident who was simply given a warning for parking in a clearway?

A crackdown on dog poo could be a big winner for BCC: a new revenue raiser, with thousands of dollars collected each morning before breakfast, as well as a labour-free way of keeping our parks pristine.

But it might also put the lid on some of the tensions arising, as dawn breaks, between dog-owners and those who take the calling card home on bottom of their shoe.

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