Animal Talk with Tammy Ven Dange

As the Canberran population ages, increasingly residents are becoming more reliant upon public transportation. However, it’s not just the older demographics that are in this situation. In fact, all signs point to Canberra having fewer cars on the road as public transport facilities such as the tram and bus services plan to make public transportation more convenient and affordable.  

Despite this, currently there are no provisions in the ACT to allow pets on public transportation. Previous debates on this topic in 2015 found resistance as people had visions of dogs running wild – which doesn’t have to be the case!  

All places that allow pets on public transportation have specific rules that must be followed. These may include:

  • The need for animals to be in appropriate containers or for larger dogs to be muzzled; 
  • Based on non-peak times or capacity;
  • Appropriate care and control of the animal by the owner including cleanliness;
  • Appropriate behaviour of the animal; and/or 
  • Restricted locations where the animals may sit or be held.

Before moving to Canberra, I lived in Los Angeles where well-behaved pets were welcomed almost everywhere including under the passenger seat of planes. In Australia, we currently have three states that lead the country in such policies: NSW, Victoria and SA. Unfortunately the ACT does not have these policies, despite leading the charge in almost every other area impacting animal welfare in Australia.

The long-term adoption of such policies prove that humans and animals can share space on public transportation without significantly impeding  others’ rights. 

At RSPCA ACT, we have a different reason for wanting to see a change in the ACT. Our team receive numerous phone calls regarding pets needing emergency vet treatment from owners that don’t have cars. Under the Animal Welfare Act 1992, owners have a duty of care to provide treatment for illness, disease and injury for their pets. Failure to provide this treatment could lead to not only criminal charges, but ultimately the unnecessary suffering of an animal that could otherwise have been avoided.  

So what happens if a pet owner without a car wants to bring their pet to the vet?

Right now, the owner only has limited  options if they are unable to call upon a friend or family member for assistance. They could take a taxi or Uber if they can find a driver that will allow for a furry passenger. Alternatively, there is a pet ambulance service available but this can be expensive. If all else fails, our inspectors have to pick up the animal from the residence which is only possible if there is a medical emergency.

The reality is that a responsible owner should take their pet to the vet for non-emergency reasons too. Vaccinations, check-ups, general behaviour advice and dentals are just some of the non-emergency reasons that a person may need to visit their veterinarian.  

Should the lack of a personal car prohibit their ability to be a responsible pet owner? Seems like a silly excuse to me when there are plenty of successful cases elsewhere that prove that pets on public transportation can work for everyone. 

  • Tammy Ven Dange is the CEO of RSPCA ACT.  Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @tvendange.
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