Dogs as nuisances

John Charles Dollman, “Table d’Hote at a Dog’s Home” (1879). Wikimedia Commons,

Written by Ayman Paracha and Pearl Kositchaiwat

Dogs are known today as being fun and loving, and are greatly praised creatures. However, throughout the 19th century in London, dogs were more often seen as public nuisances. Dogs were associated with the fouling of public footpaths, creating an unsanitary atmosphere for customers in shops and restaurants, barking, and rabies. Numerous bye-laws were passed in an attempt to control London dogs’ behaviors and keep the city sanitary.  According to an MOH report from Battersea in 1896, “bye-laws are to be made by the authority (London County Council) for the prevention of nuisances or keeping of animals so as to be a nuisance or injurious to health, and as to paving yards”  (Battersea 1896).

London dogs were expected to be well trained. They were not allowed to excrete on public foot ways due to it being seen as quite unsanitary and disrespectful to non-dog owners. People believed that the reason dogs fouled the footpaths was because their owners did not have gardens in their yards in which dogs could excrete. According to the MOH for Hampstead:

I think that the dividing of houses into several tenements or maisonnettes, whereby the dog owners have not got a garden of their own, renders it necessary that people who live in this kind of dwelling should send them into the street, with a consequent fouling of the pavements. It is a persistent nuisance here, and there seems to be no
effectual means of combating it.

There was also a possibility of contracting diseases more easily and infections were more likely to be spread from dog excretions (Hampstead 1925). It was known that dogs “can carry and excrete germs capable of producing illness in man.” Further, “dog filth is an attraction to flies and blowflies, with consequent possibilities of conveyance of infection.” A public health department showcased by the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health displayed a food hygiene exhibition in order for the public to be informed on health education. (Kensington 1955).  

MOH reports complained that countless dog owners were being inconsiderate of others by allowing their dogs to foul on pavements. There were repeated calls to the City Council and Boroughs to initiate action (Wimbledon 1930). In order to regulate the dog excrement, the Council created bye-laws in which made dog owners responsible for any dog excrement on the pavement. If the dog owners did not comply, a fine would be inflicted if the court was able to convict them properly. The fines and regulations varied depending on the borough. In Hammersmith in 1924, the council stated that owners convicted of allowing dogs to foul on the pavement were required to pay forty shillings. This bye-law was effective in 1924. Then, in May 1926, the council made it a permanent bye-law. The people who were in charge of reporting an owner not abiding by the law were called Sanitary Inspectors. The sanitary conditions began to improve to a certain extent after the passing of bye-laws, but was still not at the City Council’s environmental health standard goal. There were eighty-nine notices, but there was a shortage of inspectors. Therefore, it would sometimes be difficult to take action when there were not enough people helping to regulate the footpaths to help maintain cleanliness in order to meet the borough’s sanitary standards (Hammersmith 1931). This was not the first time Sanitary Inspectors were brought up for dog nuisances. During 1859 in the St. James Borough, there were five instances in which dog nuisances were reported by sanitary inspectors. Four of the dogs were removed by the inspectors, which helped mitigate the nuisances in the area (St. James 1859). The Kensington Borough in 1921 continued to enforce bye-laws  for the fouling of pavements. There were 300 convictions in that year, but the amount of dogs nuisances was still considered to be high. In 1949, the Council further intensified their efforts to ensure cleanliness of the pavements. They began to display posters on dustbins and sand bins, hand out flyers to the public, show people how to train dogs, and place permanent dog nuisance warnings on lampposts around town (Kensington 1949).  During 1954 in Kensington, there were ten warrants issued after this bye-law. Out of the ten, eight convictions were made, resulting in a fine total of £3 and 15 shillings (Kensington 1954). The publicity had a good effect because it caused dog owners to be more careful when taking their dogs out (Paddington 1936).

In other boroughs, the Council did not believe bye-laws should have been put forth for dog nuisances involving fouling of footpaths. For example, in the Battersea Borough in 1922, the Health Committee passed bye-laws for this matter in hopes of less dog excretions in public. They ordered that plaques containing the bye-laws be affixed into lamp-posts around the Borough. However, the people believed that it was not necessary for the Council to implement these bye-laws because they were not taken seriously by anyone, nor were there many reports to the Council (Battersea 1931). There was only one instance that was reported and the Committee easily addressed the offender (Battersea 1932).

Dogs that were not trained were seen as stray dogs. In 1928, in the City of London, stray dogs were muzzled. This led to the regulation of the importation of dogs. Stray dogs were known to be nuisances because they could potentially have rabies. Originally, police seized 23, 276 dogs without collars or muzzles. The police determined that owners claimed only 7,742 of the dogs. The rest ended up in dog homes for sale or destruction (London County Council 1928). From this regulation, the amount of stray dogs on the streets decreased,which also directly correlated with the chance of being in contact with rabies to decline as well.

Hannah Velten stated in her book that dead dogs were one of the many items that were thrown at foreigners for entertainment. Also dog skins were sold in local markets.  Even with the numerous strays on the streets during the mid-19th century, there were people who felt some sort of remorse and pity for the suffering dogs, even though reports showed that dogs were mistaken as mad due to being dehydrated and solely wanting water. After realizing that they were innocent, the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association provided low-level drinking fountains specifically for the dogs needs (Beastly London. 208, 209). The people noticed a change in the dogs’ personalities as they did not seem rabid as before, but they were still a nuisance.

Many dogs were brought into shelters after some instances that occurred. Such as a law that was passed in 1796 where the owners must register their dog licenses to maintain order and keep accountability on the quantity of owned dogs. Dog owners brought in their dogs as they were not able to afford the renewal of dog licenses or even had to euthanize their dogs during the Second World War because owners were too frightened. Another example was when people moved into new council houses that did not permit dogs within the area due to wanting to keep their neighborhoods sanitized and dogs were still considered a nuisance. Some people did not want to put in the effort of taking their dogs into the shelters due to financial issues so they abandoned the dogs on the streets. With the increase of owners leaving their dogs, it led to the Battersea crematorium being used to cremate dead dogs found on the streets from car collisions. In North London, 233 dogs were found killed on the streets in the year of 1934 (Beastly London, 211).  Dog carcasses were even found in the river, which eventually produced an unpleasant smell for towns nearby. With the build up of the dogs rotting in the rivers, the city councils attempted to prevent the problem from getting worse by introducing the Public Health Act of London 1891 where the Sanitary Authorities were able to enact proper provisions (City of London 1904). Another problem in a different borough was that rubbish and deceased animals, dogs being one of them, were found being burned in heaps on the banks. This caused an issue because the animals may have some sort of diseases and the burning was believed to cause serious health risks in neighboring towns. The vestry was called upon to prevent any more burning of animals and also to remove the offensive matter and properly dispose of them (London County Council 1893). Another instance was the discovery of putrid carcasses of dogs that were floating under the bows of the West India Dock that was known to receive shipments of food sources that could possibly be contaminated if the problem was not addressed (City of London 1902).

Along with dogs not being allowed to foul on pavement, laws were made to curtail canine access to different businesses such as barber shops, meat shops, and butchers, since it was seen that dogs were unsanitary and could possibly cause illness to the customers (City of London 1910). The main reason for not permitting dogs into businesses was to prevent fouling of shoes, clothing, mats and carpets (Kensington 1960). Even with the cleansing of contaminated items, there was still a high chance of the odor lingering for a period of time. Stray dogs were popularly known to loiter around butcher shops due to the delivery of meat. The delivery men tended to be careless when placing the meat onto the ground, where it could easily be contaminated by dogs, making the meat undesirable and unprofitable to sell (Hampstead 1962). When the council was aware of the situation, they enforced a law whereby the packages of meat being delivered had to be wrapped well and not placed on floors any longer than a couple of minutes. Although this delayed the delivery of meat and was somewhat difficult to get used to, it helped prevent any food poisoning and contamination that may have caused.


Another nuisance, apart from sanitary nuisances, that dogs caused was barking, although there were no specific bye-laws relating to noise nuisances from dogs. Apart from other animals that may contribute to the noises, cocks, pigeons and dogs made considerable racket late at night and early in the mornings, which disturbed the sleep and caused annoyance. The MOH from Paddington opined that this should be under control and a law should be made about the level of noises that could occur at night, but there was none (Paddington 1870).

Although the nuisances caused by dogs are under better control in London than they were in the 19th and early 20th century, the animals are still an issue in the city. Dogs are still known as nuisances due to fouling pavements, causing unsanitary atmosphere, noise, and rabies. The dogs are not be at fault due to their natural way of living. But their owners should be responsible and considerate for any mess made by the dog. Not only is dog excrement on pavements hard to avoid, it can also spread diseases to the soil, water, pets and humans, especially children (Wiki Pets). Just in dog feces alone, there are 23 million coliform bacteria that can give rise to cramps, diarrhea, severe kidney disorders and intestinal illnesses. Dog feces are also known to carry diseases like whipworms, roundworms, tapeworms, rabies and many others (DoodyCalls). According to a BBC News article covering the solution to the problem of dog mess, dog mess is surprisingly one of the most common complaints to local councils in London today. There have been campaigns started by local councils like “Keep Britain Tidy” and “The Big Scoop” to bring awareness to dog owners to clean after their pets (BBC News)


  1. Battersea 1896-MOH
  2. Battersea 1931-MOH
  3. Battersea 1932-MOH
  4. City of London 1902-MOH
  5. City of London 1904-MOH
  6. City of London 1910-MOH
  7. Hammersmith 1931-MOH
  8. Hampstead 1962-MOH
  9. Hampstead 1925-MOH
  10. Kensington 1949-MOH
  11. Kensington 1954-MOH
  12. Kensington 1955-MOH
  13. Kensington 1960-MOH
  14. London County Council 1893-MOH
  15. London County Council 1904-MOH
  16. London County Council 1928-MOH
  17. Paddington 1870-MOH
  18. Paddington 1936-MOH
  19. St. James 1859-MOH
  20. Wimbledon 1930-MOH


  1. Velten, Hannah. Beastly London: A History of Animals in the City. Reaktion Books, 2013 (page 9).
  2. Walker, Duncan. “Eight radical solutions to the problem of dog mess.” BBC News, June 14, 2013. (accessed April 6, 2017)
  3. “Why Pet Waste Can Be Harmful | Toxic Dog Waste.” DoodyCalls. (accessed April 07, 2017).
  4. Wiki Pets. “Dangers of Dog Poop.” Dangers of Dog Poop. (accessed April 07, 2017).