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Channel 5 Britain’s Dog Poo Scandal Sniffs a Puppy Poodemic

  • 5 min read

A new Channel 5 documentary has uncovered the truth. A rise in dog ownership and pressure on council services mean Britons are having to watch their step. Britain's Dog Poo Scandal (Channel 5) saw presenter Alexis Conran and his trusty spaniel, Gelmer, going walkies around the UK to investigate the toxic issue blighting our public spaces. About time too, with 1,000 tonnes of muck now produced by Britain’s dogs every day  and nowhere near enough of it being responsibly cleaned up by owners.

It is not a problem to be sniffed at.

A year after the coronavirus crisis, local media, council newsletters, social network users and disgruntled environmental health experts across the UK are warning that the country is in the grip of a dog mess emergency – and that new puppy owners are shirking their responsibilities to clean up after their lockdown pets.

Channel 5 Britain's Dog Poo Scandal TV presenter Alexis ConranOf course, the poo problem is nothing new, and the subject has long engendered a passionate response from those who have found themselves stepping in it. But even by those standards, Facebook, Next Door and Twitter have been aflame with anecdotal evidence of an escalating issue since the pandemic began – and after lockdown, many suggest, matters have got out of control. You might, if you had a tolerance for bad puns, call it a poodemic.

Dog fouling is a major issue in many different areas of the UK, to highlight the escalating dog mess crisis, presenter Alexis Conran and his canine companion, Gelmer, took to the fields and footpaths around the country to find out more.

"It's one of the country's biggest pavement peeves. We've seen it happen and we've smelt the aftermath. And, at some point, we all put our foot in it," Alexis says in the documentary. "With complaints of dog poo causing such a stink, what is going on in the UK and why can't people pick up their dog poo? Is it getting worse?”

“It’s the most passive-aggressive subject in neighbourhood social media.” A UK survey found that 47% of adults think dog fouling is one of the most annoying things they experience in public places, worse than litter, pollution, traffic and smoking.

Not only is dog mess disgusting, but it can also be highly toxic. Over at Newbridge Rugby Club in South Wales, eight-year-old Jake was playing on the field when his face fell onto a pile of dog mess. Smearing on his face and eyelid, there were fears it may have gone into his eye. Thankfully Jake was fine, but it could have been serious due to the parasite toxocariasis and bacteria in the poo.

“Toxocariasis, an unpleasant infection that can cause blindness and seizures, can cause inflammation in the lungs and in the liver, as well as a granuloma. This can cause blindness if it effects the eye," Dr Zoe Williams said on the program.

Is dog poo really that bad? It’s horrible to step in, and contact carries a very small risk of toxocariasis. But it’s organic matter: surely that’s not as bad as plastic waste that takes six lifetimes to decompose. Recent research on popular dog-walking routes in nature reserves in Belgium suggests it’s not that simple. The excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in dog faeces can upset the delicate balance at these sites, allowing certain plants (such as brambles, nettles and hogweed) to outcompete more fragile species that need low-nutrient environments to survive. Conran investigated the risks of illness for children and wildlife, alongside the harmful effect that dog poo has on the environment. It’s ultimately an owner problem, of course, because they’re effectively leaving a health hazard out in the open. Extra scorn was saved for the baffling habit of “litter exhibitionism”  leaving full bags dangling from branches, like a sort of demonic Christmas tree.

“Picking up poo is part of owning a dog. If you’re not prepared to do it then don’t own a dog.”

So what can we do? Is there a less crap in, less crap out solution? Louise Glazebrook, dog behaviourist and dog diet evangelist. “Dogs who are fed well on fresh diets, especially those on raw diets, tend to have excellent poo. It is firm, small, calcifies quickly and is super easy to pick up.” If your dog’s poo is loose, like Mr Whippy but warmer, then it’s an issue. 

Canned processed foods, she says, can potentially lead to “a mountain of wet, sloppy poo that no one wants to pick up. If we paid more attention to what we put into our dogs, we could afford to pay less attention to what we pick up, as it would be easy and no bother.” It’s only a partial solution. Oscar, being both fussy and French, insists on natural human-grade dog food, and generates high-quality manure. 

Potential solutions offered up here included dog wardens, DNA testing and fixed penalty notices - offenders can also be fined up to £100 if caught in the act. More poo bins and free bags would also help but council cuts make this unlikely. 

Top of the Plops: Conran drew on data to find out which part of the UK took the, well, bottom prize for having the most complaints about dog poo. County Durham is the worst place for dog mess in the UK, the Channel 5 documentary Britain's Dog Poo Scandal has uncovered. County Durham, go to your basket. Alexis found that Birmingham and Antrim are some of the best places for cleaning up after their pooch. But Birmingham and Antrim? Good boys. There was just time to visit a collie in the US which had been trained to use a human toilet and flush it afterwards. Conran had the self-awareness to self-deprecatingly ask: “Where has my career gone?” Literally down the toilet, I’m afraid. 
Eventually, Conran put aside the canine puns and jolly tone to end with an impassioned plea for dog owners to pick up after their pooches. Let’s hope some of the culprits were watching and shamed into fixing their foul ways. In the meantime, mind your step out there.

You can watch Britain's Dog Poo Scandal on Channel 5 now. Catch up here.

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