‘The evil Disney dog catcher stereotype’ – it’s a perception that Russell Akehurst thinks some still hold about dog wardens like him, but you would have to be barking mad to believe it.
The 58-year-old is a self-confessed dog lover – the vegetarian has five rescue dogs of his own and has spent over a decade doing fundraising walks for dog charities, including a 100-mile trek on the Isle of Man.
And for his day job, Russell patrols Worthing’s 25 parks and open spaces, rescues strays and investigates allegations of neglect.
Recently, Russell rescued a Staffordshire terrier from ‘atrocious conditions’ at a Worthing home, after being tipped off by a concerned neighbour.
Three weeks ago, Russell said: “He was really nervous of people – scared stiff.
“He’s come along really well. “To see his progress is so heartwarming.
“It’s a real success story.”
Helping dogs is the best part of the job, Russell said, adding: “It makes up for the times you lose a dog.”
The council, which is responsible for found dogs, rehomed 27 strays last year.
Russell hopes to find fewer strays this year – the tally so far is ten.
Another key part of Russell’s role is patrolling open spaces to enforce council regulations.
These include dogs being on leads in designated areas, which is often a bone of contention, and picking up dog mess – an issue the council has put greater focus on this year, as Russell said: “The public see it as a huge problem.
“There are really strong feeling about it.”
Since public space protection orders replaced existing dog control orders last year, 30 fixed penalty notice fines of £50 have been issued – 22 in Worthing and eight in Adur – all for not picking up dog mess.
In the same period in 2015-2016, 17 were issued – 13 in Worthing and four in Adur.
When it comes to enforcing these sometimes unpopular rules, Russell believes his 30 years’ experience working in the police force has given him ample preparation.
“It helps with talking to people and reading people,” he said.
After retiring from the police in 2008, he applied for the council role and beat 70 other applicants to the post. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
It is certainly not a nine to five role – as the only dog warden in Worthing, Russell works many evenings and is on call all weekend.
But he said: “It’s great to be able to help animals and get paid for it.”