Professional dog walkers must get licence
with new bye law coming into effect on 1st July
Professional dog walkers who use Wandsworth's parks and open spaces to ply their trade will now need to obtain licences from the town hall after the council was given new powers to regulate and control their behaviour.
The council has just been informed by civil servants at the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) that its long-standing application to introduce a new licensing bye-law has been successful.
The council has been discussing the introduction of a licensing system with Defra officials for more than a year, in response to growing concerns about the behaviour of some professional dog walkers.
Professional dog walkers are becoming an increasing problem across London and locally Battersea Park, Wandsworth Common, Falcon Park and Hillbrook Park in Battersea have all seen a big influx.
The walkers are believed to charge between £10 and £20 a day for exercising other people's dogs. Some have been seen single-handedly exercising as many as 20 dogs at a time.
Other park users, especially other dog owners, the elderly and parents of young children have complained that being confronted by so many dogs, many of which are not on a leash, is highly intimidating and causes them to fear for their own, their children's or their pet's safety.
The new bye-law will require anyone exercising more than four dogs at any one time in any Wandsworth park or open space to hold a licence.
Applicants will be assessed by staff in the council's dog control unit and parks police to ensure they could adequately control the number of dogs they wish to exercise. The maximum number allowed per walker would be eight dogs.
Licences will specify how many dogs a walker can exercise at any one time and which parks they can use. It will also identify certain times of day when they are permitted to use the parks, to ensure that popular open spaces are not overrun at the same time. Failure to abide by the terms of the licence will lead to it being revoked. Licences will be issued free of charge, but failure to obtain one will render the walker liable to prosecution.
The new rules will come into force on Saturday, July 1. All the professional dog walkers that are already known to the council's dog wardens have been written to and notified, and notices advertising the new bye-law will also be placed in all the borough's parks and open spaces.
The council's cabinet member for environment and public services Cllr Kathy Tracey said: "We are introducing this important new bye-law because this is a burgeoning industry that needs some degree of control.
"Many councillors have been written to by people who say they are too frightened to visit parks because they are terrified of these large packs of dogs running wild together. Many of the authors are parents with toddlers or dog owners themselves who fear for the safety of their pets when confronted by a large pack of dogs.
"While most professional dog walkers are absolutely fine and show great care and responsibility for the environment and those around them, sadly there are a few irresponsible ones who do cause problems.
"Because this is such a lucrative money spinner, lots more people are now offering dog walking services. The problem is that many of these people have neither the experience nor the expertise to handle large numbers of dogs.
"Under the new licensing regime, we will be able to look at how skilled an applicant is in handling dogs. The better they are at it, the more dogs they will be licensed to exercise."