As part of my role of Mayor I have tried my best to make myself available and to listen to the concerns raised by members of the Bridport Town Council community. To that end my contact details are readily available on the Town Council website and I am regularly contacted by about a range of topics that are of concern to people living in the town. The roundabouts on the A35, motorcycles on Sea Road South, parking issues, planning issues, environmental concerns, seagulls, waste bins and dog related issues and concerns. Of all the items listed the one which seems to divide people more than any other is dog-related issues and concerns.
Bridport is well known to be a dog friendly town, in fact we have friends who holiday in this area because their dog is welcomed into so many places. Type Bridport Dog Friendly into Google and the following list of options pops up: beaches, pubs, hotels, cafes, accommodation, holiday cottages, caravan park, and West Bay dog friendly. Visit Dorset has a whole section on its website relating to dog friendly places to stay and eat, and places to visit. It is pretty comprehensive as you can see: https://www.visit-dorset.com/ideas-and-inspiration/dog-friendly .
But as my mailbox and comments made indicates there is another side to this. For some people the Dog Friendly Guide is a way of finding out where they can avoid meeting dogs. Not everyone is besotted with dogs and some people are quite simply afraid of them. And I guess that is where a balance has to be struck.
Triggered by emails I have received and other comments people have made I have over the past few weeks made a point of trying to talk to as many different people as I could to try and gain a wider appreciation of their experiences and opinions on the matter. The following gives a flavour of the range of views people have expressed:
Coming into Bridport with my dogs is a real pleasure, I get to meet other dog owners and my dogs gets to meet other dogs. Having a dog has enabled me to make new friends. Win win.
Why do people bring so many dogs into town, particularly on market days? I am fed up of having to walk around someone with three dogs in tow when the pavements are already crowded with shoppers.
People seem to be more friendly when I am out with my dog. They want to learn about him and stroke him. I suspect they are a bit jealous that I have such a beautiful dog.
Dog owners seem to assume that I will like their dog. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against dogs I like them, but I don’t like their owners assuming I want to pet and dote on them.
It’s great that the grass is being left long in Asker Meadow, my dog loves bounding through it, sometimes you just see his head popping up every now and again.
I have had to stop my children running through and hiding in the long grass on Asker Meadow, they inevitably the come out with dog poo on them. It is becoming a real problem in some areas.
Being able to take our dog into a cafe means that we are all together as a family. She is really good and sits quietly under the table, in fact more often than not people don’t even realise she is there.
I have had a meal ruined by a whining dog at the table next to me. It was constantly whining for food and even jumped up at our table at one point. Outside is fine but not inside please.
Dogs are such inquisitive creatures, stopping and sniffing and marking where they have been. There is no such thing as a quick walk when you have a dog with you. I find it fascinating watching how they explore and interact with the world.
One of the planters outside our restaurant has become a dog scenting target, they all seem to cock their legs against it as they pass. We wash it down every day but it still smells, particularly on hot days. Not the best welcome to a restaurant.
Our two love to run around and chase each other in our garden, barking away as the charge about tells you how much they are enjoying themselves.
The people next door leave the dogs at home when they go to work. What they don’t realise is how much they bark when they are away. When I mentioned it to them they said there was nothing they could do about it and got a bit shirty with me so I just put up with it.
As you can see there is very little in the way of a middle ground when it comes to dogs. Owners become very defensive and non-owners equally defensive of their position. Perhaps a good place to start is by understanding the current legal position.
An updated dog related Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) across the Dorset Council area came into force on 1 January 2020. The order followed a 15-week consultation that received 8,602 responses. 83% of responses were from local residents, with 15% from visitors and 2% other organisations. 64% of responses came from dog owners and 36% from non-dog owners. 6.6% of the respondents considered they had a disability. The recommendations from the consultation were considered and approved by the Place and Resources Overview Committee in September and Dorset Council Cabinet in October 2019. A copy of the order can be viewed here:
The Order states that:
- owners are to pick up their dog’s poo in all public spaces and dispose of it appropriately
- no dogs are allowed in enclosed children’s play areas or on marked sports pitches
- no dogs are allowed on certain beaches between 1 May and 30 September
- dogs are to be put on a lead when instructed to do so by an authorised officer
- dogs are to be kept on a lead in signposted and identified areas
Areas where you have to keep your dog on a lead are:
- cemeteries, churchyards or graveyards
- council owned allotments
- formal public gardens
- within 5 metres of marked sports pitches
- council owned car parks
- Rodwell Trail Weymouth
- on roads and walkways close to certain beaches
- certain beaches dependent on season
Legislation is one thing, enforcing it is another and I am sure everyone is aware that the Dog Warden Service in Dorset is extremely stretched. As a consequence, it is very much left to the honesty and good will of dog owners to abide by the rules given the extremely limited risk of being caught.
It should go without saying that dog owners have to pick up their dogs poo in all public spaces and dispose of it. But what does that mean? The Order includes the following statements neither of which should come as a surprise to anyone.
2.3.1 Placing the faeces in a receptacle on the land which is provided for the purpose, or for the disposal of waste, shall be sufficient removal from the land
188.8.131.52 Being unaware of the defecation (whether by reason of not being in the vicinity or otherwise), or not having a device for, or suitable means of removing it, shall not be a reasonable excuse for failing to remove the faeces.
All of the dog owners I spoke to assured me that they pick up after their dog and on occasion even pick up after other dogs when they see it. They were all as disgusted as the rest of the population by the bags of poo they see in hedges. It was really reassuring to hear from the random selection of the dog owning population that I spoke with how seriously they take their responsibility in this area. That said I suspect that again this year, come the autumn, the bags of dog poo in the hedges will be revealed when the leaves fall and the grass dies back.
Incidentally have you ever wondered what happens to all the dog poo deposited in the bins around Bridport?
Something in the PSPO that I was unaware of and I am sure the same is true for many dog owners, given the number of times I have observed this happening, is what it has to say about dogs and sports fields. Dogs are not only not allowed on marked sports pitches and within 5 metres of a marked sports pitch a dog has to be on a lead. This brought to mind the collie belonging to a family member who given the opportunity would run onto the local cricket field and pick up the ball before it reached the boundary, much to the amusement of many onlookers and horror to the players.
Dog owners are responsible people who love their pets. They give them affection, feed them and spend a fortune on them at the vets. In response their dogs are loyal and give back huge amounts of affection and pleasure. Going out with your dog is an important part of owning a dog, they need exercise and you the owner are benefiting as much from the daily walks as your dog.
The past few days of extreme heat have been a challenge for all of us to cope with and this is equally true for our dogs. A local pet shop owner told me she had treated couple of dogs for burnt paws recently. She also introduced me to The Seven Second Rule which is a simple but effective test of whether a dog should be taken for a walk along the street. Place the back of your hand on a sunny pavement and count to seven. If it feels hot keep your dog at home.
Believe it or not dogs can suffer burns to their paws on days most people wouldn’t consider searingly hot. If the outside temperature is a pleasant 25C (77F), there’s little wind and humidity is low, asphalt and tarmac can reach a staggering 52C (125F). This can rise to 62C (143F) when the temperature hits 31C (87F). It’s worth bearing in mind that an egg can fry in five minutes at 55C (131F) while skin destruction can occur in just one minute at 52C (125F). The reason pavements get so hot is they soak up heat all day and then retain that heat. Standing having a chat with another dog owner on a hot market day may be a great way to pass the time of day but you could be risking putting your dog’s paws in danger of burning.
Which brings me to market days in Bridport. One of the things that prompted me to write this blog was the number of people asking me to do something about the number of dogs in town on market days. Why do so many people bring their dogs into town on market days they ask? There are a huge number of reasons people come into town with their dog on market days. For some it is a social event much enjoyed by both owner and dog, for others on holiday they rightly do not want to leave their dog in a hot car, or are not allowed to leave the dog alone in their accommodation. One man I met had brought his dog into town to buy a muzzle and needed to have it with him in order to fit it correctly. And of course there are guide and other assistance dogs who have to be with their owner at all times. All are perfectly valid reasons to come into town with your dog. In addition, Bridport’s dog friendly reputation brings much needed additional income to the town via the doggie pound.
So what might you ask is the problem? People with large dogs or two or more dogs occupying already congested pavements and expecting others to stand aside for them. People using retractable leads on busy pavements and entangling others. Owners allowing their dogs to cock their legs against market stalls particularly food stalls. How much fun is for a dog to be surrounded by a sea of legs?
It has been interesting to observe how shops and shoppers have responded to ‘Freedom Day’. In order to keep their staff safe many shops are continuing with the pre Freedom Day rules on sanitising, face masks and social distancing. The same is true of shoppers, whilst Covid numbers are once again on the rise they too are still choosing to sanitise, wear masks and maintaining a degree of social distancing. If for whatever reason you bring your dog into town on busy market days by keeping it on a short lead you are doing your bit to help ease the congestion on our pavements.
With regard to bringing a dog or dogs into town on market days I would suggest it boils down to the following: ask yourself if it is really necessary and if yes keep the dog on a short lead. When in town with a dog please be mindful of those around you, not everyone is as fond of your dog as you are, and some may even be afraid of it.
Bridport is proud of the fact that it was the first Rights Respecting Town in the UK, to find out more go to: https://bridportrightstown.org/ . With rights come responsibilities. People with or without a dog have every right to walk around town whenever and wherever they please, but in doing so they all have a responsibility to be respectful towards those around them as they make their way.
Why you might ask am I risking the wrath of dog owners and non-dog owners alike by writing a blog on this topic. The answer is very simple. I hope by attempting to take an even-handed look at the issues and concerns raised by some about the impact of dogs on their lives, we can all come to a more respectful way of interacting. There is clearly right and wrong on both sides at times, but, by stepping back and thinking about, and talking about an issue or concern in a civilised manner, greater tolerance all round should be possible.
AND FINALLY THIS WEEK
I had the honour of attending a memorial service for Clifford Samways held at St Mary’s Church. To say that he led a full life would be an understatement, Mr Samways is probably best known for founding Samways Fish Shop and serving as Town Mayor on two occasions.
The tributes paid to Mr Samways during the memorial service were deeply moving and reminded those present of the deep love he had for his family, his beloved Bridport and all that he achieved during his life.
There are many people in Bridport who have benefited from the work that Mr Samways carried out in support of the town he clearly loved. For examply it is largely thanks to his efforts that we have the Bridport Leisure Centre today.
Picture Jessica Samways
The Bridport News carried an excellent tribute to Mr Samways this week which can be read here: