Like many towns in Britain, Oundle is a dog-loving community. The Chronicle’s 35th issue featured Dogs and Their Companions, with photos of numerous dog owners and their canine friends. On any given day, you are sure to see residents walking their dogs through Oundle’s streets and surrounding countryside.
However, in every dog-friendly town there are inevitably going to be tensions between dog owners and non-dog owners, both of whom like to enjoy clean streets and countryside. Although most dog owners are responsible when walking their dogs through and around the town, not all are as conscientious as they should be.
Oundle School has recently erected signs which ask that dog owners keep off the grass in order to ‘protect Oundle’s green spaces’ out of ‘consideration for the children who play on them’.
The expansive playing fields in the centre of town have long been a favourite area for dog walking, and the signs have come as an unwelcome surprise to many dog-walkers who have enjoyed allowing their dogs the opportunity to run freely in an open space.
Richard Tremellen, Oundle School’s Deputy Bursar, told the Chronicle: ‘There has been an increasing use of the school’s playing fields for walking dogs, and it is being treated as the town park, rather than private property.’
With many dog owners leaving dog mess on the pitches rather than clearing it up, the grounds team have faced problems when cutting the grass and tending the pitches.
Mr Tremellen said they were also concerned about their child protection responsibilities: ‘As a school, we are obliged to put in measures to safeguard our pupils from strangers.’
Although this is extremely difficult for a school which is spread across a town, the school must still try its best to protect its pupils. He added: ‘The other three schools in town each have arrangements to prevent access, and PWS and the Middle School both have signs stating ‘no unauthorised access’.’
He said he regrets having to put up these signs, but said that there really was no other option.
Dog fouling is a host for toxocariasis which can cause serious illness and even blindness. If a person inadvertently ingests traces of dog faeces, the eggs can hatch into larvae and can lead to toxocariasis. Even if the faeces are removed from the grass, there is still bacteria that remains. This is particularly worrying in areas where sports are played.
Adam Begley, a local dog-owner, objects to the new signs. He told the Chronicle: ‘I disagree with the policy and I find the signs misguided and marred by double-talk — is the school really protecting Oundle’s green spaces?’
The solution, he argued, is not to ban dog walkers, but to put up more bins around the fields for dog poo. He added that Oundle School’s new signs have only contributed to a feeling of town and gown, instead of nurturing an amicable co-existence.
Many of the largest green spaces in town are those owned by the town or the local schools. Prince William and the Middle School have long had signs posted on their pitches prohibiting dog-walking, and a notice has recently been erected in the churchyard, which is owned by the town, warning dog owners that they will be fined if they allow their dog to foul the area.
There are other places that dogs can be walked, including Barnwell Park, the water meadows, and other footpaths. Unfortunately, dog owners often let their dogs off their leads to run freely and foul in the grass. The fields then become riddled with dog mess, and ramblers who wander off the trodden path can easily find themselves skirting round dog muck, which obviously is not particularly pleasant (never mind the cow-pats).
The town council claims to adhere strictly to rules on dog fouling. Under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, it is an offence to permit a dog that is in one’s charge to foul any area to which the public has access, even fields or meadows.
The local authority is responsible for ensuring that there are enough dog fouling bins around Oundle, and it is also expected to monitor dog fouling, and to take offenders to court. Moreover, there is an East Northants Dog Warden Service to prevent dog fouling, barking, and other anti-social dog behaviour.
The East Northamptonshire Council said: ‘Dog fouling is unpleasant and poses a public health risk.’ If caught allowing leaving dog mess in a public space, one may be given a £75 fine or taken to court.
In April, a Rushden dog walker was in the headlines after he was caught not picking up after his dog on the Greenway, and was fined £75.
The council encourages people to report other dog owners if they do not clean up after their dogs.
However, even with the stringent regulations, enforcement remains difficult.
Despite numerous complaints to the council, only four fixed penalty notices for dog fouling in all of the East Northamptonshire area were issued by the East Northamptonshire Council in 2014.