TOUGHER action is being called for to tackle irresponsible dog owners in Northumberland amid claims those who fail to clear up their pets’ mess are being given an easy ride.
Opposition councillors have criticised the Liberal Democrat-led county council after the number of fixed penalty fines issued for dog fouling fell to just nine in 2011/12, down from 17 in 2010.
There were also two magistrates’ court prosecutions for dog fouling.
Conservative councillors say the figures are “shockingly low” when compared to the 228 dog fouling fines which they said were issued in the same period in County Durham.
Opposition members say the authority is failing to prosecute dog owners for allowing their animals to foul public paths and open areas – and have now called for stricter enforcement.
The council’s Conservative group has hit out after obtaining the figures under a Freedom of Information request.
Deputy leader Glen Sanderson said: “In the same year as our council fined just nine people for dog fouling, Durham Council fined hundreds of people.
“This appears to fly in the face of the Lib Dem claims to have a zero-tolerance policy on dog dirt.”
Fellow Tory Wayne Daley, who represents Cramlington North, said: “I am shocked to learn that prosecutions fell to an all-time low in 2012 for what is one of the most disgusting and offensive public health issues which affects everyone.
“The fact is the county council is not making this a priority, and bad owners are making a mockery of the existing laws.
“The time has come for the council to get this matter under control through education and prosecutions.”
Coun Daley will be calling on the authority to increase the number of staff who are trained to issue fines, and says the council’s 26 traffic enforcement officers play a key role in policing and tackling the offence.
The Labour group is also calling on the council to improve its prosecution rate on dog fouling, claiming many Northumberland park footballers are having to clear up mess and disinfect the area before playing their matches.
Group leader Grant Davey said: “Dog fouling reports are certainly on the increase and councillors have had complaints at the south east area committee about fouling in Cowpen Cemetery.
“Since the Lib Dem administration took over in 2008 they have tried to cheapen every service, including public health and protection. The people who expose us, our sportsmen and women and our children to dog fouling must be caught and punished, not lost in the melee of performance figures for a poorly-performing council.”
A council spokeswoman said the approach taken by the public protection service was to try to educate irresponsible dog owners, and deal with first time offenders by issuing a fixed penalty notice.
Council leader, Jeff Reid, said: “What incenses me is that when Labour was in charge in Blyth Valley, and the Tories ran Tynedale Council, they never fined people for dog fouling. They seem to have had a Road to Damascus moment.”