By Chris Smith
There’s no denying the popularity of pets. According to the RSPCA, in Australia about 62% of households own a pet and there are approximately 24 million pets in total.
Similarly, man’s best friend is popular online. To provide an idea of the scale of public interest in the topic, on Instagram there are dogs attracting millions of followers and hence would be the envy of most Australian celebrities who paradoxically have smaller social media accounts. For example, this year’s gold logie winner @grantdenyer has significantly less followers than @itsdougthepug.
There’s a growing body of research confirming that pet ownership benefits cardiovascular health, makes the immune system less sensitive to allergens, reduces anxiety and improves general health. For instance, research published in Journal of Royal Society of Medicine revealed pet owners made less yearly doctor visits than non-owners.
Urban planners want to be inclusive of pets. ‘Providing pet-friendly facilities is a straightforward way of building social capital,’ says Virginia Jackson, director of Harlock Jackson town planners. She first came across dog-friendly parks in a trip to Los Angeles during the 1990s.
‘Off-leash areas universally improve social connectivity,’ says Virginia.
Virginia says in off-leash areas across Australia informal conversations and loose bonds are formed and some groups meet on a regular basis. She has seen examples where occupants from nearby luxury high-rise and public housing informally converse to a point where socio-economic barriers are broken down.
Given how much Australians enjoy the company of pets and we can see this down the beach or around landmarks in the city. How inclusive is society of pets?
If you are a dog owner how easy is it to take fido down to the park?
How easy is it to take your pet on public transport or in a taxi to the park?
How easy is it to rent a pet-friendly apartment in the area or on holiday?
How easy is it to eat with your pet after exercise at a nearby café/restaurant?
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of legislation by the government that reflects the benefits and popularity of pets. There also appears to be a lack of lobbying to improve convenience for pet owners.
Mars Petcare surveyed all Australian capital cities and gave them a score for pet-friendliness. Dog-friendly attributes included outdoor off-leash public areas, animal management and welfare, council process and dog legislation, pet-friendly accommodation conditions, and availability of business that provide service for dogs. Using these attributes, the most pet friendly cities were ranked and Melbourne and Gold Coast were equal first and Brisbane 11th.
In England, Europe and the USA taking pets on the national rail network is common practice. Uber has also recently launched uberPET. A pet-friendly ride option that allows owners to bring their pet into their taxi service
During a telephone enquiry, TransLink said pets aren’t allowed on their public transport networks. TransLink said pets have to have an animal assistance pass. Meaning trained dogs that assist disabled people are accepted, but unfortunately pets are excluded.
In 2018, Brisbane City Council received around 45,000 enquiries for pet permits and registrations. Despite the popularity of pets there’s still a dearth of choice within the Brisbane real estate market. A search on realestate.com.au this week for rental properties in Greater Brisbane revealed there are only 735 pet-friendly properties out of 3,879 properties available in total.
Getting pets down to exercise areas is usually a car dependent activity and urban planners are trying to encourage us to reduce car usage.
Positive Response Dog Training, owner Dee Scott says she hears lots of frustration from owners that would love to take their dogs on public transport. Gaining access to shopping centres and nearby pet amenity can be very restrictive for dog-owners. Running errands or stopping quickly for a coffee with Fido isn’t straightforward.
Orion Springfield Central earlier this year was the first Australian shopping centre to open an on-site off-leash dog park.
Dee said people on public transport need to be reassured that dogs are safe. She said, dogs need to be vaccinated, not carrying diseases and clean – this is a positive PR exercise for pet owners. There should be a pet certification requirement for dog-owners, she said.
‘PIAA currently runs pet first aid courses around the country; we have also partnered with Animal Medicines Australia to produce a responsible pet ownership document for the general public,’ says Pet Industry Association of Australia, CEO Mark Fraser.
RSPCA Dog School, Michael Beatty said they’re committed to ensuring both owner and Fido live a happy and enjoyable life. Michael says classes ensure the pooch knows how to behave in public, and also within a dog-friendly park and beach area.
‘Dogs Queensland run events to encourage dogs to socialise with other pets and people,’ said events manager, Jessica Wright. We frequently run pet events such as dog-friendly markets, dog sports and dog shows within the Brisbane metropolitan area, she said.
We can all lessen restrictions placed on pet owners by making pets more included in everyday life. Initiatives like events by Dogs Queensland demonstrate the advantages of greater inclusion of pets within the community. In general, greater inclusiveness should lead to better government policy action for things like pets on public transport, and responsible pet ownership may encourage more pet-friendly cafes and pet-friendly accommodation.
Rather than looking at the fears and letting the negatives decide how pets should be managed in public. Hopefully we’re aware of the advantages of having pets in society. So more cafés and amenities allow for having pugs around, which adds to the ambience and cultural experience.