Should dogs be allowed in public spaces? New debate emerges

Australia is a nation of dog lovers and between us, we’re caring for over five million pooches.

Every weekend, beaches, parks and other public spaces are full of boisterous dogs enjoying the freedom and excitement of being out in the world.

Whilst many dog owners would love their pets to have even more freedom, there are plenty of others who would happily welcome more restrictions.

Taking dogs while shopping and on public transport

This debate was reignited when a larger dog fatally mauled a smaller dog, at a Bunnings store in Brisbane earlier this year.

Bunnings is one of the few retailers in Australia where dogs are permitted but only if dogs are “secured safely in a vehicle, on a lead, wearing a muzzle or carried.”

In the fatal Brisbane attack, the dog involved was not on a lead nor wearing a muzzle.

Bunnings continues to allow dogs into its stores and its guidelines have not changed.

A dog sits on a train platform in front of a stopped train.
A debate is raging about whether dogs should allowed everywhere humans are. Source: Getty Images

For Agnes Beugon, the publisher of Australian Dog Lover/Australian Cat Lover Magazine, the question of whether dogs should be allowed in more public places is “simply ludicrous”.

With so many dogs in Australia, Agnes would like to see more places where owners can take their pets.

She believes the dog attack at Bunnings happened “because one irresponsible owner ignored store policy.”

What about other public places where dogs and humans may end up in close proximity?

Three thousand Sydney dog lovers have made their views clear, signing a petition protesting a rule which will effectively ban dogs on ferries unless they’re in a carrier.

A dog looks up at its owner in a park.
Dogs will no longer be allowed to be taken on Sydney Ferries. Source: Getty Images

The restrictions, effective as of the first of July, means you’ll no longer be able to simply take your dog on to a ferry, on a leash or being carried.

In fact, this has always been the rule, but it will now be enforced to bring ferries in line with rules for other public transport in New South Wales.

Dogs in pubs and cafes

Many dog lovers would love to share brunch at a cafe or a beer at the pub with their beloved pooch but, unlike other countries around the world, there are limited pet-friendly options in Australia.

In the UK and elsewhere in Europe, dogs are welcome in pubs and some cafes. In Paris, it’s not unusual to see dogs in fine dining establishments.

A man sits reading with a dog in a cafe.
Many cafes are now welcoming to dogs, but not everyone agrees. Source: Getty Images

With a couple of exceptions, few cafes and pubs in Australia do allow dogs on their premises, however, those that do, are frustrated by the restrictions placed on them.

The Doghouse Cafe, in Melbourne’s inner-city Collingwood, describes itself as a “human-friendly dog cafe offering grooming services and tasty food for dogs”.

As much as it loves to welcome its canine customers, due to council regulations, the dogs can’t be inside the cafe and have to stay out in the courtyard.

Two women feed a dog chips in a restaurant.
Some dog owners love to take thier pooches everywhere. Source: Getty Images

While some pubs welcome dogs, they are only allowed in outdoor dining areas, with publicans risking a fine if they allow them inside.

A recent crackdown in Sydney, on pubs allowing dogs inside, has prompted a renewed push to change the laws in this area.

Man’s best friend? Not necessarily

Not everyone agrees dogs should have more freedom when it comes to sharing public spaces, often seeing them as a nuisance and sometimes even a threat.

There are many beachgoers who don’t want to interact with dogs and object to being accosted by a boisterous dog when sun-baking.

They also hate it when dog owners don’t pick up after their pets and seeing the beach littered with faeces.

Local councils in popular beach areas around Australia are dealing with more volatile disputes, between dog owners wanting more freedoms for their pets and other beach users opposing it.

Wildlife lovers are also concerned about greater freedom for dogs, particularly in environmentally vulnerable areas.

A 2019 study by Deakin University and BirdLife Australia, found some owners were so bad at controlling their dogs in on-leash areas, they were putting vulnerable birdlife at risk.

The study called for no dog zones to replace on-leash in certain areas in close proximity to native animals and birdlife.

With Australia having one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, the debate between dog owners and those who’d prefer to see their freedoms restricted is likely to continue. How the conflict will be resolved, remains to be seen.

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