One of the most important debates in Britain’s history took place in Westminster earlier this week. The issue was absolutely critical to our future and will affect not just the current inhabitants of these islands, but future generations too. I’m talking, of course, about the discussion in Westminster Hall on Tuesday night about how best to dispose of dog waste. Should we place it in little black plastic bags or use the ‘stick and flick’ method, i.e. find a stick and flick it into the undergrowth?
At this point, I would love to update readers about the fate of Leo, the Young family’s Hungarian vizsla, but I can’t for two reasons. The first is that my children have forbidden it. They heard about my ramblings from their friends at school and, for the first time ever, actually read my column. They were predictably horrified — ‘Why do you hate him so much, Dad?’ — and it took me the best part of an hour to persuade them that a formal complaint to Ipso wasn’t the best way to go. The deal we struck is that I’d never write about Leo again (I hope they don’t think I’m breaking the agreement by writing about not writing about him). The second reason is that a civil case involving Leo and an Ocado delivery man is currently wending its way through the courts and I have been advised by my solicitor that it would be prudent not to write about him until it’s been resolved.
But I certainly have a lot of experience when it comes to picking up after a large dog, so feel eminently qualified to weigh in on this important matter. Until now, I have been a black plastic bag man, although it annoys me that they don’t come in larger sizes. Indeed, the risk of not being able to entirely contain Leo’s deposits in a bag no bigger than a paperback is Caroline’s reason for insisting this is a job for a man, not a woman.
However, the issue doesn’t turn on whether the bags are fit for purpose. Rather, it’s about what you do with them once you’ve filled them up and tied a knot at the top. Any responsible person would hold on to the bag until they find a suitable bin to dispose it in. That’s what I do, obviously. Unfortunately, not every dog owner is so civic-minded. According to the Forestry Commission, the countryside is blighted by little black bags filled with dog poo hanging from trees. It’s not just rural areas, either. Walk down any street in London and you’ll see the bags hanging from railings and discarded at the foot of lampposts. And this is not a petty annoyance. Keep Britain Tidy estimates there are over eight million dogs in the UK producing 1,000 tonnes of waste every day. It’s poo-mageddon.
What on earth goes through these people’s heads? What’s the point of cleaning up your dog’s mess, only to leave it by the side of the road in a little black bag or, worse, hang it up like some toxic little Christmas decoration? Do they think that, having reduced the risk that someone will step on it (although not entirely), they’ve discharged their duty? Or do they think they’re less likely to be hit with a £1,000 fine if they perform this pointless little ritual than if they just leave the poo undisturbed? Perhaps they’re just too embarrassed to be seen strolling along clutching a little black bag full of poo, the pathetic panty-waists.
The solution in the countryside, according to the Forestry Commission, is to pick up a stick and flick the mess off the pathway or into a wooded area. A wag at the Commission has even composed a little poem to encourage people to do this: ‘If your dog should do a plop,/ Take a while and make a stop,/ Just find a stick and flick it wide/ Into the undergrowth at the side.’ But I’m not entirely convinced by this. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve ventured off the beaten track to retrieve Leo’s ball only to step in some steaming pile of excrement, much to the children’s amusement. Surely it would be better if people picked up properly after their dogs and then disposed of the little bags in the proper way?
My recommendation is to increase the fines we impose on these unhygienic free riders. £5,000 for failing to bag up the poo, double that if you leave the bag by the roadside and triple whammy if you hang it up. All fines go up by 500 per cent for second offenders and if you commit a third offence your dog is executed in front of you with a nail gun. That should sort it.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.