Pet Access and Urban Animal
Quality of Life and Public Amenity
The benefits derived from pet ownership have been researched extensively since
the 1970s. There is no doubt that a close relationship with companion animals is of
benefit to the emotional and psychological development of children, provides much needed
companionship and support to the elderly, assists in the recovery rate of patients
suffering from serious illness and decreases the rate of minor illness, and may
substantially reduce the risk of heart disease. Pets-as-therapy programs around the world
have highlighted the benefits of assistance dogs, horse riding for sufferers of cerebral
palsy and other disabilities, and the use of companion animals with mentally disturbed
children and adolescents. With such strong support for the benefits of pets it could be
suggested that pet ownership should in fact be actively encouraged by governments and
health authorities, and it is not inconceivable that pets may be prescribed for the sick
or disturbed in the future.
However the increased pressures of urban consolidation high stress lifestyles
and a lack of understanding of the behavior of companion animals is responsible for an
increase in the problems associated with the care and management of companion animals.
In this paper I will present the finding of a research project commissioned by
the Petcare Information and Advisory Service and conducted by CONTEXT Pty Ltd and
Environment & Technology Policy Unit of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
This project looked at the perceived problems associated with pet management in urban
areas and solutions to these problems. From this study it is apparent that a simple
solution is not possible. More responsible pet ownership can only be achieved through a
combination of community education, increased awareness of the benefits of pets and the
rights of pet owners and non-pet owners, more attention to development and planning to
include provisions for pets, and suitable punitive measures for those who deviate from
acceptable standards of animal treatment.
The association of the human species with animals dates back to the prehistoric
emergence of the species Homo sapiens. While we tend to view the early relationships
between mankind and animals as being for purely utilitarian reasons, it is interesting to
note that the species that were chosen, or chose, to become the companions of man had very
similar social habits to the human species. The dog for example is a gregarious, pack
animal with a well-structured social order that ensures the welfare of the group while
providing security and protection for the individual. It is little wonder that the dog is
the most popular companion animal today, and one of the first species to live closely with
Companion animal ownership is not a solely western phenomenon, nor is it only
seen in so called civilized cultures. On the contrary, the care and indulgence of
non-productive animals can be shown in virtually every culture from the New Guinea
Highlanders, through the native American tribes to Australian Aborigine and Anglo-Saxon
Why do humans, in so many different circumstances, seem drawn to animals and
share their lives with pets?
Human Behavioral Needs
The basis of the relationship between people and pets is attachment. Attachment
is a firmly accepted component of human evolutionary behavior. Attachment is the behavior
of the young. Its complimentary behavior in the adult is care-giving or nurturing.
Psychiatrists in the 1970s began studying the nature of the attachment between
people and pets. Alasdair MacDonald wrote: "Pets are less threatening and more
controllable than human attachment figures. At the same time, the combined qualities of
warmth, touch, non-threatening movement and sound produce a simple analogue of human
attachment behavior." Dr Kenneth Keddie said: "Animals bolster the pet owner's
morale and remind him that he is, in fact, a special and unique individual."
So we must accept that the basis of pet ownership is not a quirky eccentricity
but has a sound behavioral explanation. This information has been used extensively in a
variety of pets-as-therapy programs around the world. Whether dealing with socially inept
children, emotionally disturbed adolescents, adults recovering from severe illness or the
elderly and alone, companion animals have played a significant role in reducing stress and
increasing the feeling of self-worth.
In our everyday "normal" lives pets play an important role also.
Despite the trend towards urban consolidation, more and more people tend to lead isolated
lives. The number of single person households is increasing rapidly, as is the number of
crimes against women and the elderly. The role of pets becomes increasing important in
Herein lies the dilemma. While there is probably a greater need for pet
companionship than ever before, the changing urban landscape is creating an environment
that makes pet ownership more difficult.
Urban consolidation decreased size of private open space (backyards) and
increasing competition for public open space (parks) places enormous pressures on dog
owners in particular. Similarly for the non-pet owner, closer proximity and increased
contact with other peoples' pets seems inevitable.
Urban planning, education programs for pet owners and non-pet owners alike, and
the development of realistic and enforceable animal control laws are the key to
maintaining the balance between the needs of the majority of our community i.e. the pet
owners, and the welfare and rights of others.
Analysis of Problems Associated with Companion Animals
In 1989, a report, Approaches to Pet Management for Local Government, was
commissioned by the Petcare Information and Advisory Service. The research was
co-ordinated by the Environment and Technology Unit of the Royal Melbourne Institute of
Technology. This report identified certain areas of concern:
- barking/howling dogs
- cats calling at night
- parrots & cockatoos screeching
"Barking dogs are by far the most common cause of animal-related
disturbance handled by the Victorian Neighborhood Mediation Centers. Barking dogs are also
a common cause for complaint to municipal councils. Councils receive a lesser number of
complaints about noisy cats; these are mainly a problem in the mating season and at
night." (CONTEXT Pty Ltd et al 1990)
FOULING OF PUBLIC PLACES
Fouling by dogs and cats in public places causes concern from a public health
viewpoint (zoonotic infection such as round worm and toxoplasmosis), and because of the
unpleasant experience of dodging droppings on footpaths and in parks.
Odour is likely to occur where a number of animals are confined to a small yard.
There is little documented evidence as to the extent of this problem; however it does
highlight some of the difficulties facing owners when they must dispose of faces and cat
- dogs worrying livestock and wildlife
- cats hunting native birds and mammals.
The evidence suggests that both these problems are likely to occur on the
fringes of urban settlements. More data on the extent of the impact of owned, domestic
cats, as opposed to unowned, wild or feral cats, must be tabled before any conclusion can
be drawn. Recent surveys of bird watcher's clubs in SA on the number of prey brought home
by domestic cats appears to be biased in that there is no indication of whether the cat is
the primary cause of death or is merely a secondary predator of injured or sick animals,
or a scavenger of dead creatures.
- dogs attacking people or other animals.
There has been a great deal of interest in the dog attack issue over the past
two years. Unfortunately this has not been helped by the media and highly emotive claims
from unsubstantiated sources. In reality, "from 65 to 93% of dog attacks occurred in
or near the dog owner's home" (Podberscek & Blackshaw 1990). Despite popular
opinion, stray dogs are rarely aggressive towards humans (Beck 1979).
It is important to note, however, that the most common behavioral problem seen
at the University of Queensland Veterinary Clinic is aggression (42%) towards people,
dogs, cats and chickens (Podberscek & Blackshaw 1990). This problem is obviously a
vexing and important subject.
While there are around 100 zoonoses that may be communicated to humans from dogs
and cats, they are of minor importance in Australia where rabies is not prevalent.
WANDERING OR STRAY ANIMALS
- dumped (once owned)
- Never owned
- partly dependent on humans for food, shelter etc, but not intentionally supported by
- feral animals that live away from human settlements and do not depend on humans for
DAMAGE TO PERSONS OR PROPERTY
Damage to people or property is a problem closely associated with wandering or
stray animals; however owners walking pets may not demonstrate sufficient control to
prevent dogs from impinging on the rights of others.
COMPETITION FOR OPEN SPACE
Parks and other public open space are popular among dog owners for exercising
their animals. Two issues can be identified in regard to these areas: on the one hand dog
owners may feel there is inadequate provision of open space close to home, and on the
other hand the use of such places by dogs may interfere with their enjoyment and use by
other members of the community.
Evaluation of Solutions
Children must obtain a basic grounding in the care and management of companion animals.
They must be taught to respect all animals and to realize they have a responsibility to
care for pets. In schools this can be effectively achieved through the Pet Pep program
which should be in every Australian primary school by the end of 1993. Younger children
however must also be targeted from as early as possible through their parents and
- Adults - pet owners
The expectations of pet ownership and the associated responsibilities have changed
rapidly. In the past two decades it has become unacceptable to allow a dog to roam the
streets or defecate in public areas. Pet owners often ignore these attitudinal changes in
the community. Educational material aimed at pet owners must aim at raising the awareness
of these changes and assist them in being able to meet the more demanding expectations of
a far more vocal non-pet owning group.
- This education process can occur through:
- human interest/current affair programs
- regular stories in print.
Highly successful community seminars can be held at local venues with speakers like the
local vets and the animal control officer (ACO). Incentive to attend such seminars can be
generated by pre-publicity, free gift or bonus eg decreased dog registration fee for
iii. information booths
This popular concept can access the general public in shopping centers, local festivals
and other community activities. The booths must be approachable and staffed by trained
personnel who can answer queries.
There are a number of pet education videos available for all age groups. Local libraries
could stock these as could veterinary
surgeries and council offices.
Clear posters and signs indicating acceptable behavior are essential e.g. a graphic
depicting dog's droppings with a slash through it (AFIRAC 1986:65). This signage must be
accompanied by supportive action by councils to provide for the disposal of faces.
Multilingual, easy to understand information brochures should be provided for
dissemination at all possible venues. Letter-boxing such leaflets could be effective.
- The community
The status of pets in the community must be promoted. It should be unacceptable to
denigrate the importance of the people/pet relationship or stipulate areas that are exempt
to pet owners. The education of the community to accept pet ownership as an integral and
important right of its members must be achieved in conjunction with raising the
consciousness and concern of pet owners for others.
"The identification of pets is an important factor in animal control"
(CONTEXT et al 1990). While there are ongoing discussions about the effectiveness of
microchipping as permanent identification, it does not answer the overriding requirement
that identification is easy to read. Collars and tags are still the most effective (and
cheapest) method of identification although they have the disadvantage of being easily
It is far more effective for ACOs to be able to return a wandering pet directly
to its owner rather than take it to a central pound area that may be a long distance away.
This approach also facilitates face-to-face counseling on the problems associated with
roaming dogs and the penalties incurred.
"Registration is one method of animal control. Legislation requires that
the animal (dogs) be registered with the local government authority with information
identifying the name and address of the owner. Mandatory registration aims to facilitate
the control of animals in the community, to promote the animal's welfare, provide for
punitive measures against irresponsible owners and provide revenue for the implementation
of local animal management programs." (CONTEXT et al 1990)
The Social Development Committee (1989) in their report on the role of companion
animals in society pointed out that although there is adequate provision in the Victorian
Dog Act for the control of dogs, it is not being effectively enforced by all
municipalities and that there is a significant number of unregistered and unidentified
dogs. This is supported by unpublished data obtained by the Petcare Information and
Advisory Service who indicates that registration of dogs across Australia runs at less
The problems of compliance with registration requirements has been discussed at
length by all those involved in urban animal management, and short of door-to-door
registration drives on a six-monthly basis there appears to be no workable solution.
A national Central Animal Registry is in operation through the Royal
Agricultural Society of New South Wales. This registry is based on microchip
identification techniques. There have already been several documented cases of lost dogs,
with no visible identification, being reunited with their owners through the Registry.
While such a scheme has been heralded by some as the key to urban animal control in the
future, its role is still limited.
A central registry, whether on a state or national basis, will not address the
pressing issues of returning wandering pets to their owners before they become a
"welfare case". The welfare of the animal is far better served if it can be
quickly returned to its owner with a minimum of fuss and trauma. A central registry, at
this stage, will mean a straying pet will be removed to a central pound while its owner is
traced through the massive central register; surely this means an increase in the stress
placed on both pet and owner.
PLANNING FOR PETS
Urban consolidation is leading to a decrease in the size of private open space and
increased pressure on public open space. With this in mind it becomes obvious that housing
developers should consider designs that will facilitate the owning of pets. A current
project by the Petcare Information and Advisory Service has incorporated the skills of a
town planner, architect and animal behaviorist to produce some recommendations for
developers, builders, architects and local government.
- Numbers of pets
Many municipalities have enacted by-laws that limit the numbers of companion animals
permissible on each premise. There is a need to have some consistency between these
"Participants in the Local Government workshop (1989) considered owner education to
be the best method of dealing with the problem (barking)." (CONTEXT et al 1990)
Education to prevent the public nuisance factor associated with inappropriate behavior of
dogs such as excessive barking would include advice on appropriate breeds of dog, home
environment design, easy access to basic obedience training with some form of incentive
scheme, and behavioral modification training for those people who already have a problem.
- Open space usage
Dogs that are uncontrolled are the most common problem in public open space. This problem
can be overcome by leash laws and obedience training (so the dog walks properly on the
leash). Park planning should incorporate water and toilet facilities for dogs.
Free-running exercise areas for dogs are suggested by some behaviorists however these
should not isolate the pet owner nor deny them the right to access in the general park
areas. Children's play areas should be fenced and dogs not permitted in them.
"Doggie toilets" have proved successful in France where fouling was a severe
problem. Toilet facilities may be installed in high usage parks; however the provision of
disposable pooper- scoopers in all parks and bins designed for this refuse should be
considered. Signage in parks should ensure that park users are aware of the requirement to
clean up after their pet and provide information on the location of pooper-scoopers and
- Other facilities
The introduction of various public amenities in urban environments could enhance the
quality of life of the companion animal. AFIRAC (1986) suggests some facilities that could
be introduced by local government authorities:
- Shops that prohibit entry to dogs could have tethering hooks located outside, and some
shelter from weather.
- Drinking water could be made available at various locations.
- Shallow wading areas could be provided for dogs to bathe.
- Large sandy areas could be provided for dogs to mark and play in.
Companion animals must not be regarded as a luxury, but as an integral part of
every Australian household. The benefits and advantages of pet ownership to the community
overall, as well as to individuals, are enormous.
Because companion animals are so important we must be supportive of responsible
pet ownership and innovative in the ways we approach the problems encountered in urban
animal management. It is unacceptable to suggest that increased fees and harsher
restrictions will solve these problems.
Recommended specific trials of:
- use of microchips as a means of identification
- mandatory free registration
- voluntary registration used in conjunction with education programs
- use of a nationally standardized dog warden scheme where the warden is an adviser
to the community, not just a dog catcher or law enforcer
The Petcare Information and Advisory Service recommends:
- The support of Pet Pep
- Community seminars and dog training programs
- Improved housing design and more effective use of public open space
- The promotion of the ACO as an adviser and friend for those with pet problems
rather than merely a dog catcher
The implementation of appropriate penalties for pet owners who transgress from
the acceptable management of companion animals, based on a code of practice. These
penalties should include educational and training programs.