We’ve all been there: accidentally stepping in dog poo on while on the way to somewhere important is never fun. But for many children, it can present a risk of zoonotic disease, and the roundworm Toxocara can have devastating effects on cognitive development in young children.
One Brigstow Institute-sponsored team saw the key to an effective approach was making sure it was led by the community it served. They developed a toolkit to enable communities to devise, implement and evaluate their own anti-dog-fouling measures.
However, community-led schemes often fall down when it comes to gathering evidence. The team knew that if their anti-fouling measures were to take root long term, they needed to combine anti-fouling activities with a gathering of evidence to be used to provide proof of need, impact and benefit.
What is being created?
At a community meeting, the team co-constructed a method to assess fouling rates, inspired by community volunteers who were already engaged with anti-fouling schemes. Volunteers stepped forward to carry tally-counters on their routine, even adding extra walks with the sole aim of mapping the frequency of dog poo just beyond their doorstep.
With the community on board, the researchers were able to identify areas of high and low intensity, and sampled soil for Toxocara eggs. They were then able to produce the first evidence for the effectiveness of community-led schemes to reduce dog fouling and its associated public health threats.
As well as directly affecting the levels of dog poo in public spaces, this exercise in co-production demonstrated how public health research and community action can go hand in hand to brilliant effect.
The official Poo Patrol website is filled with findings, advice, and tools for dog owners and community members.
Who are the team and what do they bring?
- Professor Eric Morgan (then University of Bristol’s Department of Veterinary Science/Biological Sciences; currently Queens University, Belfast) has a record of accomplishment in epidemiological studies of animal parasites, including Toxocara.
- Professor Debbie Watson (Department of Policy Studies, University of Bristol) researches child and family welfare, focusing on understanding and improving the lives of children and young people, particularly those in adverse circumstances such as poverty and maltreatment.
- Dr Katy Turner (Department of Social and Community Medicine/Veterinary Science, University of Bristol) research focuses on veterinary infectious diseases.
- External partners came from Trooper’s Hill, Easton Community Centre and many parents living in East Bristol.
The work discussed here represents the first big step towards an ongoing, major project. Through follow-on funding from the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council, the team developed the approach with primary schools and parks groups. They held the ‘Poo Patrol Big Spray Day,’ bringing 26 primary schools and 30 community groups together to help tackle the dog poo problem.
Working with several PhD students from Life Sciences, Veterinary Studies, and Social Work, the team created learning materials for the Poo Patrol website, which you can see here. There is a toolkit for local authorities to use whenever they want to hold their own version of the Big Spray Day.
Significantly, two articles came out of the project:
- ‘Getting to the bottom of toxocariasis prevention’ in Public Health Journal
- ‘Child-dog faeces assemblages and children’s engagements in activist art’ in Children’s Geographies Journal
Over five years on, the project continues to roll on. You can catch all the latest Poo Patrol updates on its website, here.