Another summer, another dog ban imposed on beaches and other open spaces, another overweight dog and another TV series focussing on the health of the nation’s pets…
Cue another recipe for shock newspaper headlines above photographs of hugely obese canines.
The beach-ban versus doggie-freedom row is one of the nation’s most hotly contested summertime debacles and it’s been hitting the news again this week after publicity for a new Channel 4 series about the health of canines named and shamed several Westcountry beaches for banning man’s best friend.
Dogs: Their Secret Lives is being heralded as a “must-watch” series for pet owners after it was announced that half of Britain’s eight million dogs are now classified as overweight – but its publicity material claims that the surge in canine obesity can sometimes be blamed on rules limiting the open spaces where the barking creatures are free to run off the lead.
Naming Cornwall’s famous Polzeath beach and also popular South Sands at Salcombe as places now closed to dogs, the programme’s publicity states that there has been a dramatic leap in canine obesity from just 35 per cent in 2010 to over 50 per cent today.
The publicity for the series – presented by vet Mark Evans – quotes Cornish dog owner Nathan Bray talking about the Polzeath ban: “Our dog, Dexter, a pointer, needs a lot of exercise, but we’ve had to put him on the lead. He’s not been at all happy by the lack of freedom and he’s got chubby from the lack of exercise.”
It also quotes James Yeats – the RSPCA’s chief veterinary officer – who says: “Dog Control Orders are problematic and if they cause people not to exercise their dogs and they carry on feeding their pet in the same way, the dogs will become overweight. It is a major issue.”
What is not mentioned in the publicity is the subject of toxocariasis – a dangerous condition which can be spread from animals to humans via infected faeces. It is a rare infection caused by roundworm parasites (toxocara) but it sometimes hits the news because it can cause partial blindness, especially in children…
The subject of dog-bans is usually accompanied by polarised comments from angry pet-owners who are fed-up their canine’s freedom is being curtailed – matched by arguments from worried parents who have heard about the dangers of toxocariasis.
There are, of course, massive swathes of the Westcountry where pet-owners can freely take their dogs, as long as they respect the law of the land and clean up after them – but here’s the basic picture when it comes to official bans…
Cornwall Council says there are plenty of beaches west of the Tamar where dogs are welcome all year round – and many which are open to dogs on a seasonal basis.
“Some beaches are dog friendly year round, other beaches operate a seasonal dog ban usually from Easter to October,” a council spokesman told the Western Morning News. “Beaches where dog bans apply (like those around St Ives, Hayle and Polzeath) are patrolled on a regular basis.
“Persons with dogs on the beach during the ban period will be issued with a fixed penalty notice for £80 and be asked to remove their dog from the beach immediately.”
As various beaches around Cornwall operate different types of ban according to the time of day or year – canine-lovers are able to glean specific and up to date information on the council’s cornwall.gov.uk website.
Other local authorities with coastal zones in the Westcountry take differing lines…
A spokesman for North Devon Council said: “We do not impose dog bans on any of our beaches or open spaces. NDC-owned beaches include Wildersmouth, Hele, Ilfracombe Harbour Beach, as well as Lee Bay, Woody Bay and Heddon’s Mouth.
“However, most beaches in North Devon (for example, Woolacombe, Croyde, Instow and Putsborough) are privately owned, and therefore it is up to the owners whether they ban dogs. Dog owners would need to contact each private beach to find out what their situation is.”
In the South Hams there’s another story – there the district council has imposed seasonal bans (between May 1 and September 30) on South Sand at Salcombe and Mothwell Sand at Hope Cove – while Bigbury and Bantham have partial bans.
Private bans have been introduced by owners at Blackpool Sands, Mothecombe Beach, Wembury, Sandy Parlour and Challaborough.
At Minehead there is a seasonal beach ban on the famous strand stretching from the old harbour east past Butlins, and also along the East Devon coast in the resorts of Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Seaton and Beer.
In West Dorset no dogs are allowed on Lyme Regis’s main front beach between April 1 and October 31 and only on leads for rest of year. There are seasonal bans in place in the West Bay area and also at Burton Bradstock.
Not surprisingly the Kennel Club has a view on such dog bans – the organisation’s secretary, Caroline Kisko, said: “Beaches are always very popular with dog walkers, as they provide open spaces for dogs to be exercised off-lead, and it is a shame when local authorities deem it necessary to implement dog bans in these areas.
“These bans are often in response to issues that can easily be dealt with in a different, more proactive, way – such as ensuring that enough dog waste bins are provided, and that dog owners are educated in the need to pick up.
“The Kennel Club believes that dogs and their owners should be allowed to make use of Britain’s coast, so long as dogs are kept under effective control,” added Ms Kisko.
“Government statistics have shown that as many as 50 per cent of all walkers have dogs with them, which represents a huge proportion of society, making it important that this demographic have access to beaches.”
Mums and dads whose small children play in the sand may well disagree.
Despite the fact that Channel 4’s new series (which begins tonight at 8pm) shows how several featured dog-owners have been guilty of overfeeding their pets with treats, vet Mark Evans says he believes dog bans are taking their toll...
“I am convinced that lack of exercise is a major cause of the problem. In the past two years there has been a 25 per cent reduction in the number of British people who now exercise their dogs off the lead,” says Mr Evans.