COUNCIL leaders have sought to issue reassurances over proposals to limit the number of dogs that can be walked by an individual after being encouraged to rethink by the UK’s largest organisation for dogs.

Darlington Borough Council’s stronger communities portfolio holder Councillor Jonathan Dulston said the authority was yet to decide whether to implement a public spaces protection (PSPO) order to cut dog-related offences amid concerns that the move had been decided before the conclusion of a public consultation exercise.

The proposal, which includes a ban on more than four dogs being walked by an individual, is part of the Conservative-led administration’s drive to improve confidence in community safety across the borough.

The authority says while over the last three years the borough has seen just 14 people fined over dog fouling and eight people tackled over dog control offences, over the same period the council received about 730 requests to clear dog faeces.

As offenders have to be caught in the act to be tackled, the council said the order would help crack down on irresponsible dog owners, but has pledged it will to listen to and respond to others’ views.

However, Darlington Responsible Dog Owners Action Group said it was “disappointed” to have received no response from the council to its alternative proposals, despite having held several meetings with officers.

A spokesman for the group said: “We believe that the current consultation process is not fit for purpose although it clearly meets the statutory requirement within the Home Office protocol. “

Members of the group, which includes professional dog walkers, said launching a PSPO would divide communities, create resentment, criminalise normally law-abiding citizens, create wider welfare concerns for dogs, while many councils were ill-equipped to enforce legislation.

It has called on the council to create a coherent dog policy, survey residents to identify a spectrum of needs and views, launch a schools’ education programme and promote responsible dog ownership.

Meanwhile, the Kennel Club said it had long held concerns regarding the use of blanket restrictions imposed by PSPOs as they often had limited effect on addressing irresponsible dog owners.

A club spokesman said: “We welcome the proactive approach taken by the group in planning to develop a responsible dog charter that we hope will encourage and promote good behaviour to all local dog owners.”

Cllr Dulston said officers were set to respond to groups that had made suggestions in meetings and that there was still time for interested parties to express their views in the consultation.

He said: “I want to stress no decision has been made yet and the views of the public will forge policy going forward.”