High profile veterinarian Dr Chris Brown has kick-started a campaign #keepauspetfriendly to reverse the downward trend of pet populations in Australia and raise awareness that our Nation is not very pet friendly.
In a heartfelt open letter to Australia that aims to encourage action Dr Chris Brown said:
'Most of our cities and towns have now become so non-inclusive of pets, that embarking on a simple walk is more akin to a stroll through a mine-field of potential fines, infringements and criticism. Or they're simply not welcome at all. For example, there are entire suburbs that simply ban cat ownership. My worry is that without someone speaking up, we might just regulate them out of our lives."
The letter available on Dr Chris Brown's Facebook page - cites pet-friendly rental properties, transport, cafes and outdoor spaces as key aspects for improvement.
Dr Chris Brown warns that if we don't act now, we might lose our best mates from our lives along with all the benefits this friendship brings.
'For the first time ever, the Australian pet population is in decline. Our cities score very poorly in their level of -pet-friendliness' and we're falling way behind Europe and North America who seem so much more willing to integrate pets into their communities."
'So it's time for action. The research shows pets make us happier and healthier in countless ways. We need more pet-friendly parks and transport. We need to make it easier for people to own pets – especially those people who are currently being prevented because of their housing arrangements or lack of pet-friendly facilities or businesses," said Dr Chris Brown.
The initiative will be underpinned by a social media campaign across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #keepauspetfriendly.
Academics are also getting behind the campaign to ensure future generations do not miss out on the benefits of pet ownership.
Mia Cobb, expert in human-animal interactions, said: 'Research shows that pets can help us exercise more, visit the doctor less, improve our heart health, reduce anxiety, offset loneliness and help us make more friends. Pets also help aid development and increase immunity in children."
'Unfortunately, the enormous benefits pets bring to our community are too often overlooked," said Mia Cobb.
Dr Chris Brown's open letter can be viewed in its entirety here: www.facebook.com/dcbpets
You can register for updates on the campaign and find out more by visit www.petpositives.com.au or by visiting the #keepauspetfriendly Facebook page.
Question: What is the #keepauspetfriendly campaign?
Mia Cobb: There are many benefits of pet ownership, however recent research has shown Australian pet populations are declining. One of the reasons for this decline is that Australian cities and states are not pet friendly enough, so #keepauspetfriendly is tackling issues around improving that in areas such as pet friendly rental accommodation options, public transport, open spaces and workplaces. Keep Australia Pet Friendly (#keepauspetfriendly) aims to reverse the downward trend of pet populations in Australia. A key focus for us is encouraging community members, councils and planning officials to work together to ensure pets are kept in mind when planning, developing and improving public spaces.
Question: What do you hope to achieve from your involvement in the #keepauspetfriendly campaign?
Mia Cobb: I'm a scientific researcher and my work focuses on how dogs and people interact. My role in #keepauspetfriendly is helping share all the wonderful science that shows how pets can be good for our physical, metal and social health. If we can help the general community have a better awareness of just how valuable pets are to our personal and community well-being, and inform decision makers who influence legislation surrounding our cities and public spaces to be more friendly toward pets, that would be a wonderful achievement.
Question: Why was the campaign originally started?
Mia Cobb: There are many benefits of pet ownership, however recent research has shown Australian pet populations are declining. One of the reasons for this decline is that Australian cities and states are not pet friendly enough, so #keepauspetfriendly is tackling issues around improving pet friendly rental accommodation options, public transport, open spaces and workplaces.
Question: Why is our Nation not very pet friendly?
Mia Cobb: When you compare Australia to countries in Europe, or Northern America, we're so far behind! Those places have embraced all the benefits that pets can offer by making the majority of their public spaces, public transport, and even hotels, pet friendly. Pets are wonderfully socialised (because they get to go everywhere and see everything!), the behave beautifully in public places (because it's normal for them!) and owners respect the privileges offered by demonstrating responsible pet ownership (the streets aren't flooded with poo, because owners pick up!). It's just normal to see pets having access everywhere, and by comparison, Australia is lagging behind.
Question: What are the proven health, lifestyle and community benefits of pets?
Mia Cobb: There are literally thousands of scientific studies examining the effects of pet ownership on people. Some of the benefits studies have shown include pet owners being shown to exercise more, have greater self-esteem and make fewer doctor visits than non-pet owners. Pets have been proven to help aid childhood development and help build immunity, especially in children. There are social benefits as well, with pet owners shown to make more friends. Pets can also help older people tackle loneliness. Unsurprisingly these social benefits have also been linked to how pets can help build our local communities. Research also shows pet ownership can actually help improve our cardiovascular health by helping us reduce our everyday stress and better deal with social anxiety and stressful situations.
Question: How does having a pet reduce anxiety?
Mia Cobb: When we have a pet that fits our lifestyle and meets our needs, it can actually give us really meaningful social support and that has some really great benefits for our health. The benefits in terms of social support from that relationship can be as meaningful to us as the relationship that we might have with a friend or a family member. For myself personally, my young dog ensures I'm physically active every day, which we know helps reduce stress. But he also makes me laugh with his antics and patting animals can help reduce our heart rate and also increase happy hormones like oxytocin – a hormone involved in bonding and stress reduction.
Question: What advice do you have for the suburbs that have banned cat ownership?
Mia Cobb: I think it's important that they listen to their community members and reconsider their position.
Question: How can cafes become pet friendly?
Mia Cobb: It can be as simple as a doggy bowl of water at the front door. I've visited amazing pet friendly cafes and even pubs overseas. Providing enough space for people to park their dogs alongside their seat is a handy trick, too.
Question: Could vet bills be a reason for the decline in pet ownership around Australia?
Mia Cobb: The research behind the Keep Australia Pet Friendly project suggests the decline in pet ownership around Australia is more likely related to factors like a lack of pet-friendly rental accommodation and dog friendly outdoor spaces. In just 12 months, cat populations have declined by 200,000 and dog numbers have dropped by 100,000.
Interview by Brooke Hunter