Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Loose dogs and low standards


WHAT is the rarest dog in Britain? A dog on a lead.

This joke is only nominally about dogs. It cuts at the decline of manners, responsibility, safety, the countryside, our natural environment, and our society.

Just a couple decades ago, most Britons had the manners to put dogs on leads when strangers approached. It’s an old-fashioned norm that has gone pfft, like not mowing the lawn when your neighbours are enjoying their garden, and carrying a handkerchief to catch your cough or sneeze. An ill-mannered society invites laws compelling the wearing of facemasks, and court orders specifying anti-social behaviours. Britons don’t have the social skills they once had, so they don’t have the liberties they once had.

Perversely, with fewer liberties you get more irresponsibilities. Societal symptoms have political causes. Progressives pretend that their irresponsibilities are our liberties, but the right to be irresponsible is a moral hazard to the rest of society.

When a society can’t take care of the little niceties, it soon can’t take care of anything. Where people see uncollected faeces, more people don’t clean up after their dogs. People who are not cleaning up after their dogs are more likely to leave their litter behind too. When local authorities don’t care to enforce petty laws, they soon let more serious crimes slide.

Letting things slide is a partisan problem. You might elect conservatives to your council, but progressives get hired as the bureaucrats. Progressives are attracted to bureaucracy – less so to democratically-elected positions. Democracy is a form of accountability. Progressives prefer changing society without accountability.

Lazy, selfish, under-accountable local authorities find progressivism more convenient than conservatism. Conservatism means conserving things. How burdensome! Much easier to let things slide.

Social justice has exacerbated the slide. For social justice warriors, manners and responsibility are symptoms of privilege. And why care about the country when BBC Countryfile declares the countryside as racist?

Perhaps you think loose dogs are hazards only for people who dislike dogs. Think again. Uncontrolled dogs share diseases, which is why dogs are suffering an epidemic of parvovirus, and why dog walkers have a higher chance of Covid infection. Dog attacks on livestock have risen in each of the most recent years. Dog attacks on humans put more Britons in hospital in 2019 than any previous year.

Dorset epitomises the problem. Dorset, or ‘dogtoilet’, as locals now call it, is a county of passive law enforcement. Its Victorian resort towns, such as Swanage, Weymouth, and Bournemouth, have beaches where dogs are nominally banned, but the urban beaches are no different than Dorset’s other beaches: busy with loose dogs from early until late in the day during the summer, no matter that kids are building sandcastles or eating picnics.

Studland Beach is a National Trust wildlife preserve, where dogs are supposed to be on leads from May through September to avoid disturbing breeding birds, reptiles and mammals. The National Trust byelaw allows for a fine of £5 but the Trust’s operations manager at Studland, Emma Wright, told me that the £5 byelaw is ‘not economical to issue.’ Dorset Council’s Public Spaces Protection Order allows for a fixed penalty fine of £100, but the council doesn’t enforce it.

Similarly, the RSPB doesn’t enforce restrictions on loose dogs inside its Dorset bird sanctuary at Arne. Why? It has no authority of its own, and the county sends no enforcement officers.

The Ministry of Defence is the biggest landowner in Dorset, and has its own police and Guard Service, but they won’t enforce MoD byelaws against loose dogs in training areas, knowing that civil authorities won’t back them up.

Most members of the public naturally think of civil police as law enforcers, but a police officer admitted to me that Dorset police don’t take any interest in dogs until a human is bitten – and badly bitten. The same police officer unguardedly confirmed what farmers have told me: the police don’t care about attacks on livestock any more. In some areas of Dorset, desperate farmers are printing their own signs, reminding the public of the law. A sign I saw last week included a reminder that farmers may shoot dogs that worry livestock.

Wool is one of those Dorset parishes dramatically transformed in recent years by an influx of residents and tourists, and an outflux of law enforcement. Once a quiet agricultural village, its single playing field is now an exercise area for loose dogs, which, nominally, is illegal. Wool parish council explained to me that it colluded in this change a few years ago, in recognition that elderly residents struggled to reach the rough byways leading out of the village. Now it regrets that residents have normalised loose dogs in recreational areas, the streets, pubs and livestock fields. Over the last few years, it has posted enormous signs warning of fines for uncollected faeces and loose dogs. The signs are ignored. Enforcement is absent. The parish council blames Dorset Council, the authority responsible for most of the area of the old Dorset County Council. I heard the same story from other parishes.

Dorset Council’s excuse is lack of resources. Dorset has three dog wardens. But resources reflect priorities, and Dorset isn’t sending its dog wardens where requested. Why are parish councils, the National Trust, RSPB, and MoD all complaining that the council won’t send enforcement officers?

Well, here’s a revelation: one of Dorset’s three dog wardens admitted to me that they patrol only ‘urban heathlands’. Why? Because that’s where the preferred voters go. Rural conservatives can go spin.

Dorset is nominally Conservative at the elected level, but progressive at the bureaucratic level. One of Dorset’s environmental scientists epitomises the progressive bureaucrat ­­– quick to condemn critics as ignorant, unaware of their own bias. In June, she and I stood together at a project site, where she was in charge of assessing the risks to the environment. She denied that the dog faeces at her feet were damaging the wetlands and agriculture. No, she preferred to imagine industrial pollution, even though no industrial pollution showed up in the river, because industrial pollution can be blamed on capitalism.

As we watched a man stroll across the restricted area with a loose dog that promptly urinated on the equipment the contractors had just unloaded, she brightly declared that what the area needed was not enforcement, but education.

Progressives think that all good things come from education, that all bad things come from lack of education. People are naturally good, progressives say. People only become bad when misled by conservative ignorance, insecurities, and selfishness. Once progressives enlighten the victims of conservatism, then people become virtuous. People don’t cheat on rules if they understand the rules, say the progressives. Thence, progressives have no need for law enforcement. Defund the police. Defund the dog wardens.

Loose dogs aren’t just local problems for a frightened sheep or child. Loose dogs are symptoms of the progressive consensus. Loose dogs are symptomatic of irresponsible owners, and irresponsible owners are symptomatic of permissive society, and permissive society is symptomatic of progressive bureaucracy – and progressive bureaucracy is the end of liberal democracy.

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020).

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