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Toward a Campaign for a Dog-Friendly Society
- Membership Dog-friendliness is primarily the concern of dog owners, and it is dog owners and dog owner groups who must join together both in order to assert their political and economic clout, and also to share their experience and expertise. However, this campaign should welcome those who make common cause with us: the pet food and pet products manufacturers and retailers, veterinarians, pet trainers, the travel industry, physical and mental health professionals, and so on.
- Geographic Scope Logically, the campaign for dog-friendliness should be international. The problems are world-wide. Canadian dog owners are confronting the same intolerance as Americans, and in this respect the border is irrelevant. Furthermore, there are practices in Europe and Australia that we should try to emulate in our own communities. Third, we should aspire to export the concept of dog-friendliness -- not just prevention of cruelty -- to developing countries where dogs are treated as vermin.
- The concept: In order for the campaign to mean anything, we must have a definition of "dog-friendliness" on the community level. (There is no need for the definition to be carved in stone: on the contrary, it should be regularly updated.) This definition will allow us to generate an action agenda. It will also allow us to concoct a rating system that can be used to press individual community governments to make appropriate changes; and it will be useful to communities in promoting themselves as tourist destinations and as desirable sites for people and businesses.
What are the attributes of a dog-friendly community? DogFriendly.com has a short list of criteria used in its ranking of the "Top 10 Dog-Friendly Cities of 2005." This list focuses primarily on the needs of travelers, but it is concise and focused.
- To find quality dog-friendly places.
- To find a complete package of dog-friendly places for travelers including lodging, attractions, outdoor restaurants, hikes, beaches and stores
- To find places that welcome well-behaved dogs of all sizes and breeds.
- To find cities that welcome both small and large dogs on public transportation (buses, subways, street cars, ferries, etc.) or are easy to drive around and to park in.
- Find cities that do not unreasonably regulate well-behaved, leashed dogs in public places.
This year DogFriendly.com added the transportation criterion, reasoning that it was important as a means of reducing dependence on private cars; in this case, dog-friendliness makes common cause with eco-sensitivity. In another departure from earlier ratings, DogFriendly.com this year considered Canadian candidates for inclusion in the Top Ten Dog-Friendly Cities list -- but then rescinded Toronto's #9 spot after Ontario passed a breed-specific law.
While DogFriendly.com clearly has a broader perspective than tourism amenity values, a campaign for dog-friendliness (in general) would likely cast an even broader net. Here is our own rather more extensive laundry list of criteria for a dog-friendly community:
- Adequate opportunities for off-leash recreation
- A healthy and active dog owners association
- Accessibility of all public outdoor spaces to leashed dogs
- Accessibility of public transportation to leashed dogs
- Availability of accommodations, restaurants and basic facilities for people accompanied by dogs
- Availability of rental housing for families and individuals with dogs
Dog-Friendly Housing: creating a design protocol
Dog friendly communities span the spectrum from existing neighborhoods with a mix of owner occupied and rental units to planned communities which specifically cater to dogs and their owners. Dog friendly housing can be created through the renovation of existing spaces or by the construction of new ones. Dog friendly housing must, of course, be built with both humans and their canine companions in mind. Design elements and materials that are durable, easily maintained and aesthetically pleasing are crucial to the comfort and well being of all occupants. Design solutions that counter dog related problems, such as noise, odors, destructive or dangerous behavior, are also essential in dog friendly housing.
Design considerations are critical in the development of all housing, but are perhaps most important in rental housing where pet owners are often turned away or forced out of housing. One of the primary reasons that dog ownership is either avoided or terminated is that people are unprepared to deal with many of the issues encountered in dog ownership. Some of the reasons relate directly to the environment in which the dog is housed. Dogs can be noisy, create odors and be destructive or dangerous if not properly housed and cared for. Dogs are often excluded from rental properties for these reasons alone. Many dogs are relinquished or re-homed for destructive or nuisance behaviors that might have been prevented through careful and appropriate planning.
Homeowners, landlords, tenants, design professionals and building contractors can create home environments that alleviate dog related problems. Simple design solutions can help prevent behaviors and, in turn, improve community relations. Solutions include proper sound insulation, barriers such as gates, doors and window treatments or solid fences and the use of durable and easily maintained materials.
While conducting research for a book about creating dog-friendly homes it became clear that there is very little scientific research on how dogs behave in human environments, although research data exists pertaining to dogs that are kenneled in laboratories and animal shelters. I discovered differing points of view on how to deal with behavior issues such as barking, aggression and destructive behaviors. Clearly, rigorous research needs to be conducted on dog responses to the built environment in order to help create the best design solutions for behavior problems.
What design strategies and modifications can help facilitate more dog friendly housing? Can these design strategies and modifications be used in rental units, owner occupied housing and commercial establishments such as hotels, restaurants and retail spaces?
Prof. Nancy Chwiecko
Interior Design, School of Design
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, NY 14623
- Availability of excellent and affordable veterinary care
- Availability of reliable and regulated doggie day-care and walking services
- Availability of doggie bag dispensers and waste disposal receptacles in commercial zones. Water bowls outside business in the summer, or dog-accessible fountains.
- A municipal emergency plan that includes provision for evacuation of people with their pets.
- A municipal plan for assisting other communities in times of disaster which includes provision for rescue and fostering of refugee pets
- Municipal oversight of all laboratory research on dogs
- A no-homeless-pet program that includes a "no-kill shelter" (whatever that means), low-cost or free neutering, fostering services, and public information about the need for obedience training and advising against purchase of animals as holiday gifts.
Dog-Friendliness would reduce pet homelessness
While most efforts to cure the problem of homeless pets -- both dogs and cats -- focus on reducing the supply of new pets (through neutering programs) and the supply of homeless pets (through rehabilitation, fostering, and euthanasia), pet-friendliness could reduce the incidence of abandoned pets by stabilizing the demand. A great number of pets are abandoned simply because the owners find they have miscalculated their ability to care for them. They have to move, and find no pet-friendly apartments. They get pregnant, and are persuaded the pet will be a danger to the infant. They need to travel or are otherwise engaged for a brief time, and have no one to take care of their pet. They get a pet for their children, and find that the entire responsibility reverts to them.
In every instance, a more pet-friendly environment could deter abandonment. More education about pet-ownership. Pet-daycare networks. More pet-friendly rentals. What's needed is not just tolerance, but co-operation. Positive reinforcement. People who like people who share their love of pets.
Remove the stress, and more people will find ways to keep their cherished companions.
- Public school programs to inculcate respect and affection for pets
- Special municipal programs to recognize the importance of dogs in the community. How about a Dog-of-the-Year award presented by the mayor? A dog-days festival? Howl-o-ween? Public art? (For Ithaca, we have suggested a statue to commemorate Odysseus' faithful and long-suffering hound Argus who recognized Odysseus when he returned home to Ithaca in disguise after the Trojan War, who wagged his tail and lifted himself from a trash heap to lick Odysseus's hand, and then died.)
- Absence of breed-specific legislation
- A municipal ordinance against continuous tethering of dogs (See DogsDeserveBetter.org)
- A municipal "fair value for cats and dogs" ordinance that sets reasonable compensation level for wrongful death or injury (instead of the "replacement value" dictated by English common law, which treats dogs and cats like any other chattel)
Fair Value Ordinance???
We believe that breed-specific laws and exclusions (from insurance, for instance) are unfair in the same sense that racial profiling and ethnic stereotyping is unfair. Whatever the actuarial evidence, there should be a presumption of innocence in the absence of proof of guilt. The way to mitigate the hazard of dangerous dogs is to make it very costly to own one, and the way to do that is to attach a high monetary value to pets. (How about $10,000 as a baseline, with more for special cases?)
We would assume that most dogs that are involved in attacks on humans have a history of attacks on other dogs and on cats. If such attacks were severely penalized (and their owners compensated for pain and suffering as they deserve to be), there would be strong motivation for the owners of dangerous dogs to control them effectively or get rid of them. Additional motivation could be provided by prosecuting the owners of repeat-offender dogs for criminal negligence.
An ordinance placing a high monetary value on companion animals would undoubtedly be opposed by veterinarians and others who contend that it would raise the cost of malpractice insurance consequently of veterinary care. To them we ought to say, "Too bad!" Why should a few negligent and incompetent veterinarians be exempted from repercussions for the damage they cause? Just as in every other aspect of our life, the option to litigate is the only thing that ensures consumer rights -- and just about every other kind of freedom.
Back to the dog-friendly list. This list needs to be sorted out and prioritized. A scale should be devised (for example, 0 to 100), with points granted (or subtracted) according to whether a community meets or fails to meet each criterion. Who would make the calculations? Members of the local dog-friendliness campaign committee (or dog owners group, if no campaign committee exists) could do the calculations, subject to authentification by the Dog-Friendliness Evaluation Committee of the regional campaign committee. The list of criteria and would probably have to be reassessed periodically: in other words, it is not necessary to postpone the ratings until we have contrived a definitive system. Instead, we give it our best shot, go public with it, and iron out the wrinkles somewhere down the road.
- The pledge: The Dog-Friendly Community Pledge should be short. For example...On behalf of the City of Ithaca, I recognize our great debt to dogs as companions and allies. I ask every official, agency, group, business, and individual citizen to do what you can to make ours a truly dog-friendly community.We do not need to force the entire list of dog-friendly criteria down anybody's throat. People will know where the pledge comes from and what it refers to.
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