Friday 24 May 2019

Are businesses in your area dog-friendly?

Most people enjoy the company of dogs in public places
Most people enjoy the company of dogs in public places

Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

There's a cultural trend sweeping across the western world, affecting Ireland as much as other countries such as the UK and the USA. The trend is summed up in a phrase: "dog friendly".

Traditionally, dogs have been kept separate from humans. They've been our pets, they've spent some time in our homes, but they've often been kept outside at night, and when we go out for a day trip or for an evening, they've definitely stayed at home.

This is changing. People now see their pet dogs as part of their family. Dogs now live in our homes, even in our bedrooms, day and night. We like to treat dogs as if they are little humans in many ways. People even call themselves "pet parents" instead of "owners". Increasingly, people like to include their dogs in whatever activities they get up to.

If they are going walking in the countryside, they'll take their dogs for a walk at the same time. If they are heading to a tourist attraction, they'll often phone first to find out if they can bring their dog. If they are going to the pub for a quiet evening, they like to take their dogs with them. And these days, even if they are going to a low key type of restaurant, they may enquire if it's OK if they bring their dog.

Dogs are great company, and they're also wonderful social enablers. If you go for a walk with a dog, it's easy to stop and talk to another dog owner with their own pet. Dogs take the focus off ourselves, allowing us to have easy conversations with fellow dog owners.

This summer, the latest type of happening to go dog friendly is the music festival. In the past, music festivals have banned dogs. It's tough enough dealing with 50000 partying humans. The thought of hundreds or even thousands of dogs as well is just too much to handle. There's so much that can go wrong, from poops, to dogs running free, to dog bites, to dog fights, and plenty more besides. It's far easier just to say "no dogs" and leave it at that.

This attitude is changing in line with the dog friendly trend. Many music festivals are now allowing dogs to attend, and some are even focussing particularly on their dog friendly credentials (in the USA, there's a festival known as "Woofstock"). And as long as positive steps are taken to make such events dog friendly, there's no reason why not. Examples of simple actions that can be taken include plenty of drinking water points, cooling water baths in case dogs overheat, rules that stop dogs from being exposed to very loud music, and regulations to stop dogs causing a nuisance to anyone who's nervous about animals.

Ireland has been slow to adapt to this dog friendly trend, but our culture is rapidly changing. Until recently, Irish legislation supported the broad concept of "no dogs". This was typified by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) which quoted "Paragraph 22 of Regulation 25 of the Food Hygiene Regulations 1950" as the reason why dogs should not be allowed in pubs and restaurant.

In recent times, it had become increasingly obvious that this regulation was out of date: there was no evidence that the presence of dogs in these places caused any human health issue whatsoever. So it was a relief when, in November 2017, this paragraph was revoked. The new 2018 rules mean that dogs in Ireland are now allowed into food premises such as restaurants and cafés if the business owner so wishes. The only stipulation is that proper procedures are in place to prevent dogs from having access to areas where food is prepared, stored or handled, as per EU regulations.

This means that if the owners of a business want to allow dogs onto their establishment, there is nothing to stop them. It's a personal choice. And it's a choice that many businesses are making, for sound economic reasons.

A recent survey showed that 36% of households in Ireland have a dog. This places Ireland high up in the international rankings; our nearest neighbour, the dog-loving UK, only a dog ownership rate of 24%. The research has also showed that public attitudes are changing and people are becoming more open to incorporating dogs into everyday life including allowing them into cafés, public houses, workplaces and on public transport. The change in policy by the FSAI is timely, matching this cultural trend to include dogs in daily activities.

Last summer, Dogs Trust launched their Dog Friendly Ireland campaign, highlighting the small but effective changes that can be made in many different aspects of public life to make Ireland more accessible to dogs and their owners. This year, the charity is taking their dog friendly campaign a stage further, launching the first ever national 'Dog Friendly Ireland Day'. This will take place on 22nd June 2018, tying in with a dog-themed garden, 'On Cloud Canine', at Bloom Festival in Dublin.

Do you want your business, or businesses that you know in your neighbourhood, to become more dog-friendly? This is a good time to encourage them to do so: tell them about "Dog Friendly Ireland Day" so that they can be ready to highlight their business's dog friendly credentials on June 22nd.

The company of dogs can bring out the best in humans, so in 2018, join the trend: think dog-friendly!

Wexford People

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