Skimming and scanning through my school grounds’ Google alerts over the weekend, I was struck by how many news items refer to dogs in schools grounds, and by how frequently theser reports portray dogs in a negative light. Now, I’ll admit I’m a cat person, not a dog person. But I don’t dislike dogs per se… I’ve met some very lovely ones in my time (RIP bonkers Beano, a Heinz 57 if ever there was one, pale and hairy, skinny and exuberant and as all dogs should be, unswervingly loyal). I’ll state my case upfront; it’s ignorant dog owners I don’t like – you know the kind. Their dogs are the ones allowed to answer the call of nature on public pavements, pathways, yes, school grounds – and the owner just ignores it. Leaves it there for the next unfortunate person to step in.
But something about this veritable avalanche of dog stories worries me a little. Do we hate dogs? Surely not? Why are so many school grounds banning dogs? Why are many schools even banning guide and hearing dogs? Really, they are. I’m a strong believer in schools and school grounds at the heart of the community, and if I advocate this as a position statement (which I do), I have to accept that a ‘community’ incudes all comers, including dog walkers. So a solution must be found that keeps school playing fields and playgrounds relatively clean and hygienic. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, or followed me on Facebook you’ll perhaps have guessed that I’m all for danger and germs in childhood – but I do draw the line at animal faeces – yes badgers and foxes, that means you too!
What is the solution? ‘Dog parks’? More bins? Free nappy sacks? Timed entry and exit? CCTV? Machine gun nests on the PE block? Or a seriously concerted and collective effort to educate these really rather vile human beings (I have no hope of educating the real wildlife) and to help them understand how THEIR anti-social behaviour (note: not their dog’s) affects the enjoyment, and potentially the health of every other school grounds user?
Pupils in Tranmere took this approach, designing posters (now made into permanent signs) highlighting the need for dog owners to clean up after their pets: http://tinyurl.com/6o7f4sx
In Florida, children worked on improvements to a local ‘dog park’ to entice dog walkers away from the streets and playgrounds, whereas in Arizona, one school’s grounds are becoming less accessible to the community and their dog park is to be phased out, to huge local uproar.
In Ireland, a boy with cerbral palsy is to be home schooled after the governors banned his assistance dog: http://tinyurl.com/6n5aacz
Schools are very used to clearing up drug paraphernalia, or evidence of other antisocial behaviour – but one school in Dover was forced to remove a dead dog, which had been dumped in its grounds.
I could go on, but won’t because as I started to investigate this, I started to lose the will to live after the 20th ‘dogs banned from school grounds’ story… and I delete these alerts after a couple of months, so these are recent stories. By my reckoning, 90% of the stories are negative. Novelist Julia Donaldson is attempting to redress the balance, with an article in last weekend’s Sunday Times outlining her intention to dress her dog in a HiViz jacket and carry an ear trumpet in order to allow the two of them to gain access to… well, almost anywhere actually.
Dog faeces is disgusting, yes. Dog owners who don’t clear up after their dogs are disgusting, yes. But how do we move forward? I’m not suggesting dogs should be allowed to run free on school grounds, especially not during school hours. But there are around 100,000 acres of school grounds in the UK – a huge and still, after over 20 years of campaigning, underused resource. Perhaps it’s time to get the responsible dog owners on our side – to make the case for greater use of school grounds by the local community. After all, who best could insist that their irresponsible peers pick up or pack up?