Melbourne and the Gold Coast are among Australia's most pet friendly cities according to new research, but compared with the rest of the world we have a way to go when it comes to pet inclusiveness at a local level.
A kelpie hanging out the passenger window is a comforting sight most Australians know well. We've grown up with Dr Harry and pride ourselves on the idea that animals are our best friend.
But unfortunately, new research suggests this attitude fails to be reflected by local government, which may well be contributing to the decline in the Australian dog and cat population.
Launched by veterinarian Dr Chris Brown, the 2015 Pet Positives Score is based on nine pet friendly criteria that contribute to a pet friendly city or state.
“Pets are not just an amazing personal trainer but they are almost like a life coach and to take that one step further, they’re essentially life extenders too,” Dr Chris Brown told The Huffington Post Australia.
Brown wanted to highlight our cities’ attitudes towards pets -- with the thinking that, the more pet friendly a city is -- the more likely somebody is to own a pet for themselves which is proven to have a number of different health and wellbeing benefits including new research last week saying dogs could reduce a child's risk of asthma.
“It’s to do with the facilities that are available to pets and basically, how inclusive we are in enabling pets to be a part of our lifestyle,” Brown said.
“We looked at whether there are dog-friendly, off-leash outdoor areas, the availability of beaches for dogs to run freely, whether cafes are allowing pets to be inside with dining customers and the availability for renters to have pets,” Brown said.
Renters in Strata managed buildings often run into issues with having pets due to the current Strata building schemes in place -- which differ state by state, each with different by-laws. But in general, tenants wanting to have a pet will need to gain permission from the owners corporation. However, some do not allow pets at all.
According to Fair Trading New South Wales, if your Strata scheme by-laws allow for pets, you will need to make a written request to the owner corporation.
In Queensland, many complexes have eased long standing No Pet policies following a string of rulings in favour of pet owners that found current blanket bans were “unreasonable”.
Brown said scores came in surprisingly low across the board with Melbourne and the Gold Coast the most pet friendly locations, while Sydney, regional Queensland and regional South Australia came in at the bottom of the leader board.
"Australia is seemingly behind the rest of the world especially when you look at places like Europe which caters for pets in hotels, restaurants and even bars," Brown said.
Brown said the findings were particularly frustrating due to the number of people he sees who are trying to solve separation anxiety in pets, destructive behaviour and barking when they are left at home.
“The way around that is to make the animal’s life more interesting and allow them to have more opportunities for exercise and socialising,” Brown said.
“Now, while every single council wants to reduce how many pets are out there barking and being destructive in their backyards, they don’t seem to be taking the measures to actually do something about it,” Brown said.
However, there are some working with communities to provide a more inclusive environment for pets.
In the City of Port Phillip in Victoria, dogs can play off-leash all year round at five different beaches with Council extending off-leash hours at another beach following community consultation last year.
The City of Whitehorse in Melbourne appears to be more pet friendly than other areas, allowing people to have up to three dogs and cats, while the large majority of councils allow only two without extra permits.
According to Council website, there are 19 untimed off-leash areas for dogs in the City of Whitehorse compared to 14 in Sydney’s Randwick, eight in Waverley (Bondi) and four in Woollahra and dogs are not allowed on any of the beaches within the Waverley area.
Brown said having more exercise areas available for pets where they can run off-leash is crucial and would mean they’d be burning off excess energy they’d otherwise have to burn off through barking or being destructive, as a result of their restricted lifestyle.
“Owners are having to drive 20 minutes to find a park where their pet can run freely, which makes exercising them a chore,” Brown said.
“The more we can exercise pets the happier they’re going to be and the result of that is they don’t just have better physical health, but emotionally and mentally they’re happier,” Brown said.
Brown said the research highlights the attitudes of cities and councils -- who are the main regulators -- doesn't match up with the public attitude towards pets -- which is that we love pets and we want pets involved in our lives.