Sunday, 27 November 2011

Let's not take for granted a lack of dogs "running at large"

Next Friday, 2 December 2011, I will be presenting new research stemming from our group's investigation of the overall health impact of designating urban public space for off-leash use. The presentation will be part of an international symposium on human-animal studies that is an initiative of the University of Calgary's Department of Anthropology.

My focus is on the City of Calgary's Responsible Pet Owner Bylaw. One important rule in that legal text and others like it is that dogs are not allowed to roam about freely. In legal-speak, dogs are not allowed to be "running at large." It's been that way in Calgary since the late 1800s.

Today, dogs "running at large" are not longer a significant problem in Calgary, which has been confirmed by systematic data collection for our research project. Yet as recently as the 1970s, complaints about free-roaming dogs were a thorn in the side of Calgary's city council and administration. This social problem is important for public health in terms of dog bites, zoonotic disease prevention, physical activity promotion, and perceptions of others and of environments. .

Yet we shouldn't take for granted a lack of dogs "running at large." In central Italy, for example, free-ring dogs are perceived as a social problem with public health and animal welfare dimensions. More than 1 in 10 of the respondents in this study (13%) self-reported allowing one or more dogs belonging to them to roam freely.

All that has happened in Calgary since the 1970s to reduce dogs "running at large" is a significant achievement for public health. Roles in the change process have been played by City government, by the Calgary Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty toward Animals, by teachers, community associations, and dog-owning citizens.

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