Dog owners enjoy a number of physiological, psychological and psychosocial benefits.
Dogs inhabit the same environments as their owners, and as cities grow and change, it is important they are planned to accommodate dog ownership. Australian cities are generally experiencing a process of transition towards higher density, with increasing numbers of people living in apartments rather than houses.
As well, the way we are travelling around cities is changing, with more people seeking to leave behind the parking and congestion problems of cars to opt for the use of public transport. This poses the question, how can we ensure dogs – and all the benefits they bring individuals, families and our society – are not left behind in these processes of change?
World-leading expert on dogs and transport and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sydney School of Architecture Design and Planning Dr Jennifer Kent says: “First, we need to ensure there is adequate, public, open space in our cities so that people feel compelled and comfortable taking dogs out of their apartment homes and into natural places for walks, play and socialisation.
“Second, we need to ensure people can travel around our beautiful cities with their dog, without having to be dependent on the car for this purpose”.
Dr Kent notes that in Australia, and particularly in our largest city, Sydney, people are restricted from taking pet dogs on trains and buses – unlike most cities in Europe and the United Kingdom, and increasingly cities in the United States, which allow leashed dogs on public transport.
“This antiquated policy limits people’s ability to be in public with their dog, and perpetuates the car use that is so problematic today,” says Dr Kent.
“Our research shows how easy it would be for transport agencies in Australian cities to ease restrictions on the carriage of pet dogs on public transport. For example, people with dogs could be limited to travelling at off-peak times, and dogs would always need to be leashed and under the control of their owner.
“We have also shown that while some people have concerns about potential for mess, or smell, these can be allayed through education and regulation. In fact, our research shows most Sydney-siders seem supportive of the shift”.