Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 August, 2008, 12:00am

This week: dogs in public housing

Last Sunday there was a protest by public housing tenants demanding that the government change its laws and regulations to allow them to keep their pets in their public housing flats.

I noted the photo published along with an article in the Post the next day included a familiar face - it was one of my regular clients who owns a dog with congestive heart failure. It would be a tragedy if she had to give up her beloved pet.

There is a regulation set by the subsidised housing committee of the Housing Authority that bans dogs in public housing estates while allowing tenants to keep small household pets such as guinea pigs and desexed cats. It is their conclusion that these other small household pets do not pose a health hazard nor cause public nuisance. I find the whole regulation discriminatory and self-contradictory. It is discriminatory because it is unreasonable to say all dogs will cause a public nuisance and keeping dogs will definitely result in a public housing hygiene problem. It is akin to racism, grouping people of one ethnicity and generalising about them and then rounding them up and killing them or exiling them.

It is inevitable that there will be some people who live in public housing estates that vehemently dislike dogs and will make their voices heard. I agree that if a fellow tenant is making a nuisance of himself, that these complaints should be heard - and, for example, if the complaint is about a persistently barking dog then the situation needs to be rectified. This is usually not the case with owners of dogs whose neighbours have complained. The neighbour may not like dogs and, knowing the public housing rules, makes a casual complaint to the security guard whose job it is to respond.

There is no room for sympathy here and the complaint is too easily made without thought for the consequences for the neighbour's family and the dog itself. I am not suggesting the complaint is wrong under the regulations, but I am suggesting that often there was no public nuisance caused nor was there a real hygiene problem, just someone with too much time on their hands or a personal dislike of dogs.

The regulation is contradictory in several ways. To say a cat is more hygienic than a dog is not always true. A cat is indeed rather clean but could well be larger then a petit chihuahua, Pomeranian, poodle or other small breeds. The cat will produce more faeces than a smaller dog. Even a medium-sized or large dog can be very clean and cause no public health problems.

I have five dogs and three cats at home and neither guests nor neighbours have complained that my home is emitting doggy odours. I am in no way condoning dog owners who allow their pets to make a public nuisance of themselves by allowing them to soil public areas without cleaning after them, or dog owners who never trained their pets at a young age not to bark incessantly, or those who keep their dogs in horrible conditions that do make them smell.

In previous articles I have condemned these people who give responsible pet owners a bad reputation. Another contradiction in the regulation is that it singles out the public housing sector.

If public hygiene is such a strong issue then shouldn't the government protect the people living in private housing as well? Of course it is not a real hygiene issue in most circumstances - it is just a lazy and inhumane regulation that makes handling dog complaints easier by getting rid of all of them. It also highlights the lack of respect for animal life.

I don't like filling this column with a long, whining tirade. So here is the simple solution. All that needs to be changed in the regulation is to allow dogs in public housing providing there are warnings and marking penalties for those that receive a legitimate complaint of public nuisance or causing a hygiene problem. The number of dogs allowed per household should be limited and compulsory annual veterinary check-ups, vaccinations and spaying and neutering should be enforced. Instead of printing pamphlets to warn people not to keep dogs, they could print pamphlets that teach owners about toilet training and basic dog husbandry that should minimise destructive behaviour.

One other hidden problem is animal welfare. Even with the regulation in place there are hundreds if not thousands of animals that are kept despite regulations. These dogs are rarely taken outside for fear of someone finding out and hence are unable to socialise or exhibit normal dog behaviour. These dogs also get minimal veterinary attention and never get enough exercise. This sort of imprisonment, especially for a medium-size or large dog, can be considered a form of animal cruelty. The government cannot ignore this form of animal cruelty and should find an amicable solution that is reasonable and fair.