12 May 2009

It's a real mess...

Following the recent debates on the effectiveness/decency of the dog stencils to control dog mess I decided to do a bit of research on how many dogs there are in the UK and whether one of the reasons for the prevalence of dog mess was due to a general increase in the numbers. My gut feeling was that dog owners, like smokers, must be aware of the issues but for some reason continue to allow their dogs to defaecate on the pavements...

My starting point, the office for national statistics led me to a blank. Digging a bit deeper (well doing a search on google) led me to DEFRA, confirmed that there are no official statistics on the numbers of dogs in the UK - why not?

Undeterred I looked up the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association who estimate that the number of dogs in 2004 was 6.8 million in 5.2 million households. The PFMA now estimate that the number of dogs in the UK is about 8million - a staggering increase of almost 20% over just a few years. What does this mean for Brockley? Well at first sight it could mean a lot. The statistics from the PFMA suggest that about a quarter of households have a dog - so in Brockley this could mean that the number of dogs could have increased from 1250 to 1500 - an increase of 250 over a 4 year period.

However, the PFMA survey suggests that London significantly bucks the trend for dog ownership per household. In London only 9% of households have a dog, nationally 23% have a dog. Meaning that in Brockley the estimate for the dog population is something more like 500 today - and was probably about 400 4 years ago.

Taken together the estimate for the increase of the dog population in Brockley is a more modest 90-100 over the 4 year period - still a lot.

From a public policy point of view - there could well be something like 90-100 households that have not previously or recently owned a dog who may need education - and overall the proportion of households that could be in need of reeducation is just under 10%.

It is truly amazing how such a relatively small number of people - the number of dog owners who do clear up after their dogs - manage to cause so much annoyance. Further it also sets out a clear challenge for us, as politicians to find effective ways of dealing with the problem.

The stencils, as indiscrimate as they are, are a serious case of being seen to do something about the problem. What we really need is a proper way of speaking to the majority of dog owners directly and thanking them for clearing up after their dogs, and tackling the minority with fines if necessary, of those who don't.


Brockley Nick said...

I admire your scientific approach!

Cllr Dean Walton said...

Nick, call it a curious mix of having a clutch of science A levels, a first degree in maths and a masters degree in politics with a smattering of Ben Goldacre's columns for good measure.

On a general note, Ben G has really put me on a whole range of issues where the actions of public bodies have the appearance of being sensible but on closer scrutiny are ridicously off target or wasteful. Looking at these stencils in terms of trying to attract the attention of such a small minority the downside of irritating the overwhelming majority of non-dog-owning residents and responsible dog owneres is so much more increased.

There are other instances - but I'll save those for another time...