FOMDAC – Pet owners as a Resource For Council by lindash

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									             FOMDAC – Pet owners as a Resource For Council

                      Relations between Pet Owners and Council

Background

Like most Australians, I grew up in the company of animals - and animal poo.
Combining a farming background and more than 30 years in veterinary practice, virtually
my whole life has been spent interacting with animals and cleaning up after them, from
platypus to elephants. Now there’s a summit of poo!

I am in a unique position to see both sides of the problem. As a practicing veterinarian,
my clients are the dog owners whose animals may litter our public open spaces. In my
work with the Local Laws department I am working with the AMOs trying to address the
poo problem. As a dog owner myself, so I have an intimate understanding of the
realities of being a responsible owner, plastic bag in hand.

The introduction of the Domestic (feral and Nuisance) Animals Act (DAA) during the mid
1990s brought an erosion of traditional rights and increasing level of restriction on the
activities of dog owners and their access to public open space with new leash laws,
confinement and less access to off leash exercise areas. These restrictions were a
necessary response to community concerns and real problems.

As a result of the introduction of the DAA, municipalities had to draft new Local Laws for
animal management and control (including the dog poo problem). The Manningham
Commissioners duly established a steering committee of council staff and a few token
residents including myself to draft the new local laws. When at the second meeting the
Commissioner convening the committee told us we were the most co-operative
committee she had ever chaired and that we were close to approving the prepared draft
I knew we were in real trouble. There was no way it was that simple.

It took the residents a few meetings to hit their straps, but then we really gave them hell.
It was at times a rocky road, but it had a good ending – a balanced Local Law that is
accepted and observed by dog owners. I believe that if we look at the process we
followed and the ongoing relationship that now exists between animal owners and the
Council there are lessons that other municipalities could pick up to use in a range of
animal management situations including faeces control.

Why Include Animal Owners

Residents are entitled to be part of the democratic process. Apart from reasons of
equity, it is logical that all stakeholders should be involved in the process of developing
regulations. Without input from all groups the content is rarely correct. Participation
results in ownership of the results and regulations are more likely to be accepted where
the community is involved in the development process. People who feel alienated,
marginalized or disenfranchised are unlikely to comply or be co-operative.
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We have had examples of municipalities having to revoke draconian animal control laws
because they were leading to mass civil disobedience.

The style of animal management has changed radically in the past 10 years, with much
more emphasis on negotiation and education of pet owners. There are also changed
concepts of how services should be delivered. Whilst there is still a requirement for
enforcement, this is much more as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Input
from and co-operation with residents is an important component of this type of process.


The Process

The challenge was to develop a new Local Law that would be accepted and observed
by dog and cat owners, bearing in mind that this local law would impose further
restrictions and take away some of the rights traditionally enjoyed by pet owners. Pet
owners had to recognize that there were real problems such as dog aggression,
environmental damage and poo pollution, and to accept restrictions.

There was also a need to get council planners to understand the pet owners’ point of
view. There needed to be more of an appreciation of how important having a pet is to
animal owners, of the amount of time they spend in animal related recreation, and a
recognition of the proven health benefits they gain from pet ownership.

In many respects, pet owners have been marginalized in the animal control and
management debate. Pet ownership has historically been so common in Australia that it
has literally been taken for granted. There was no need for a group to advocate the
rights of pets and their owners when these were not under threat. However, the
reduction in the rights of pet owners has not been accompanied by any mechanism to
safeguard the remaining rights and needs of animals and their owners. In many
respects they have become the invisible stakeholders in public planning, budget
allocation and decision making processes.

Animal owners are not some fringe minority – the majority of ratepayers (85% of
residents and 45% of households) have pets, and elected councils ignore them at their
peril. Like other citizens, they are entitled to equitable access to public open space and
to enjoy public amenity. Pet owners don’t like getting shit on their shoes either any more
than anyone else.

They demand recognition of animal ownership as a right and dog based activities as
legitimate uses of public open space. They have the reasonable expectation that their
municipalities might provide funding for the provision of facilities to enable them to
enhance and enjoy their relationships with their pets through animal based recreation,
exercise and education.
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Complaints need to be kept in perspective. When you are dealing on a daily basis with
animal problems it is easy to forget that you are dealing with a minority. We know that
most animal owners behave responsibly and that the majority of pets are well behaved.

The trade-off for increased restriction and new leash laws was a requirement that
regulators provide sufficient off leash exercise areas. The major conflict during
committee negotiations centred around the delineation of these off leash exercise areas.
There were tensions, especially with environmental lobby groups, but the end result is a
very comprehensive, fair and equitable regulation that is well accepted by the local
community.

Friends of Manningham Dogs and Cats (FOMDAC)

As well as the committee process, the residents on the Steering Committee played an
important role in facilitating public input into the workshops and discussion groups during
the development of the Domestic Animals Strategy.

This group of residents evolved into Friends of Manningham Dogs and Cats (FOMDAC)
with the mission
To promote responsible pet ownership; to represent and advocate the legitimate needs
of dog and cat owners; and to provide a resource for council and other representatives
of the Manningham community on issues involving dog and cat ownership

FOMDAC has assisted in the implementation of the Strategy with the formation of dog
walker groups in the major reserves and participation in Community festivals to spread
the responsible pet owner message. We were also heavily involved in the poo bin trials
described by Malcolm. We have produced a booklet documenting the benefits of pet
ownership for councillors and senior management and are currently working on
schemes to enable frail and elderly residents to continue to keep their pets at home.

There were obviously times when we would have liked to achieve more, or for things to
happen more quickly, and no doubt there were times when the council thought we were
a pain in the proverbial. However, the result is that we now have a more mature
relationship with the council based on mutual respect and understanding.

Manningham now recognizes animal owners as a legitimate stakeholder group and
FOMDAC is accepted as speaking on their behalf, not only on animal control and
management, but also on a range of issues that affect animal owners such as public
open space, health, and sport and recreation. For example, we recently produced a
policy document on the keeping of pets in environmentally sensitive subdivisions that we
hope will become Council policy.

I believe that groups like FOMDAC can be a genuine resource for councils in
implementing animal control regulation, educating fellow pet owners and in developing
public policy.
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I am a firm believer that you achieve far better results if you take people with you, rather
than imposing regulations from on high. Most animal owners are responsible and will
“do the right thing” if they can see why regulations are required and are given some
support. I think this is very important when it comes to picking up dog faeces – people
are far more likely to comply if you make it easier for them to do so.

Conclusion

The DAA moved animal management issues forward, but left the definition of details up
to individual councils. This did not address the significant problem of individual council
cultures. The Manningham experience has been that the inclusion of pet owners in the
policy development process has resulted in a fair and reasonable Local Law that
addresses the issues and has public support.

The track record of FOMDAC demonstrates that as well as representing and advocating
the legitimate needs of dog and cat owners, animal owner groups can also be a valuable
resource for councils in implementation of local laws and education of other pet owners
in responsible pet ownership. They provide a quick and efficient vehicle for the
transmission of information back and forth between animal owners and councils.

I would like to compliment Manningham Council for their foresight in being prepared to
genuinely include residents in addressing the real issues, and for their patience and
understanding along the way. I want to particularly thank Errol Wilkins, Head of Local
Laws, for his enlightened support of animal owners in Manningham. Finally, I would like
to dedicate this presentation to the memory of George Crawford. George was with
FOMDAC from the very beginning and was a tireless worker for the animal owners of
Manningham. Whilst I would not want to besmirch his memory by talking about him in
the same breath as dog shit, there is a certain connection with a Dog Poo Summit given
that the provision of poo bins as described by Malcolm Scheele was a project dear to his
heart. We did it George!




       Dr Ted Donelan
       September 2003

								
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