Next time you’re in your local park walking your dog, puffing a cigarette, humming a Hozier track, be alert. You may be under surveillance.
Undercover council workers may be watching to check if you’re picking up after your pooch. Fail, and you could face a €150 fine.
Despite calls by some councillors to introduce DNA testing to take on the potent problem of dog fouling in Dublin, the city council has shied away from this approach to the problem. But it does seem to be moving away from the “signs not fines” policy to one of tougher enforcement.
Last week in the Dublin 12 area, the South Central Area Public Domain Unit began a stealthy mission or, if you’re less romantic about these things, “practical enforcement measures”.
The aim is “to improve the quality of public leisure areas” for locals, says a council spokesman, who in line with press office policy wouldn’t be named.
Last Friday evening, I accompanied Bruno, my chubby black labweiler, to Walkinstown Park and reached the football pitches where three children were playing. There, Bruno stopped to “do his business” under a tree.
I paused to finish a text message, picked it up, and began to wonder why I was being stared at intently.
A man approached me to sing my praises and explained that because I cleaned up after Bruno not only did I not get a fine, but I also got a dog toy. I got a lead and a bag dispenser; Bruno had to go again.
All in all last Friday, there were about eight plain-clothes council officials and community Gardaí of all ages.
At the request of the councillors and residents of the area, they are concentrating on dog fouling, but have also been dealing with general littering and public-order problems.
“Strangely, [dog fouling] is one of the biggest issues you get when you knock on the door,” says Paul Hand, an independent Dublin city councillor for the area.
“Bring Back Our Bins”
Many local dog walkers say they carry plastic bags, just in case. Some have come across the enforcement team; one was asked for a dog licence, another knows someone who was fined.
But many had the same complaint: where were the bins to chuck away their dogs’ waste?
Within Dublin 12’s Walkinstown Park, Bunting Park and Pearse Park, there are no bins. There are a couple just outside – one at the entrance to Bunting Park and another at the gate of Walkinstown Park.
Contrast that with the petite Belgrave Square in Rathmines, which is home to six bins.
At Bunting Park, Seamus Fitzmaurice walks in front of his white westie, Levi. Before the new bin was installed at one of the four entrances, he had to carry his dog’s waste home with him.
He often spots plastic bags of dog waste in the corner of the park, due to the lack of bins, he says. In Pearse Park, dog owners leave the bags under the trees for park staff to dispose of.
In Walkinstown Park, there is a similar situation, with at least a dozen little bags scattered near the edge of one of the football pitches.
“They should have special bins for dog waste,” says another dog owner, Sandra McNamee. She believes it would probably be cheaper and just as effective to put in extra bins, rather than have council staff staking out the local parks.
Education, Then Enforcement
Dublin City Council has uprooted many bins from around the city, because people were using them to get rid of domestic waste.
“There should definitely be more bins,” agrees Hand. Though he also points out that a couple of plastic bins, specifically for dog waste, were burned in Bunting Park a few years ago.
In the first week of the council’s stakeout, fourteen litter fines have been issued for dog fouling. That’s a significant number if you consider that last year only two fines were issued by Dublin City Council, and only one was paid.
If you’re feeling smug outside of Dublin 12, then take heed. This undercover enforcement is set to travel across the city soon.
It is too early to say, though, whether it will become a permanent feature of the battle against dog fouling.