Auckland councillor Cathy Casey sizes up what life is like for the city’s dogs and their owners – and finds there’s plenty of room for improvement.
In the world’s great cities, dogs are well integrated into everyday public life. Amsterdam has some of the world’s most liberal dog policies and everywhere a Parisian goes, a dog can go too. In both cities, dogs travel easily on public transport and are welcomed in cafes and shopping centres. So how does Auckland stack up in the “dog-friendly” stakes? Do we get a wag or a growl?
Can dogs travel on public transport?
Auckland has made great strides with train travel over the past few years. After a trial period first using containment in a bag, Auckland’s rail network now allows dogs to travel alongside their humans as long as they wear a muzzle and travel during off-peak hours. Muzzled access is a good step but on-leash access as in Europe has to be the way forward.
However, the majority of people using Auckland’s public transport network take the bus and sadly, dogs (except for service dogs) aren’t allowed on buses at present. Auckland Transport is being supportive, however, and is still investigating a bus trial.
Ferries have long allowed dogs on-leash to travel on the outside decks free of charge. (Interestingly, Waiheke Island bus services welcome dogs aboard on leash.)
Are there lots of green spaces for off-leash dog exercise?
Auckland has over 2,500 parks and beaches where dogs can be exercised off-leash. The council website lets you search for parks that allow off-leash exercise and it should not be hard to find one near you. In addition, there are 23 designated dog exercise areas in parks like the very popular Meola Reef Dog Park.
Is dog registration easy and affordable?
Both first-time registrations and renewals can be done online via the Auckland Council website. Cost for registration varies from $66 for community service card holders to $148 depending on the category of dog. (Service dogs are free.) You can reduce the registration cost by getting a Responsible Dog Owner Licence and having your dog neutered. All funds collected from dog registration fees go towards the cost of dog control services.
Are dog rules fair, acceptable and easily understood?
The Auckland Council Dog Management Bylaw was refreshed in 2019 and one of the outcomes of the review was greater consistency and clarity of rules for dogs across the region. In particular, where there are summer restrictions on dog access, the restricted rules apply between December 1 to March 1 from 10am to 5pm across the region. Previously, there was a range of local variations which made understanding and compliance with the rules more difficult for dog owners. Signage in some areas could be better.
Are there any dog events?
There is a lively dog-event calendar in Auckland with year-round events such as the Pet and Animal Expo, Ambury Park Open Day, Eukanuba Tails & Trails, Doggy Day Out, the Rainbow Dog Show, and the Big Swim. This year some events were cancelled due to Covid-19.
Auckland Council’s animal management team participates in all dog-friendly events aiming to build skill and knowledge of dogs among the public as well as dog owners.
Is there year-round beach access to have off-leash exercise and a swim?
There are few beaches in the Auckland city area where dogs can be off-leash all year round. Most Auckland beaches are well used by the public, and beaches use the time and season rule to restrict dog access in the summer to early morning and after 5pm. Two exceptions to this rule are Kakamatua in the west and Onehunga Bay Reserve on the isthmus, where dogs can swim at any time.
Are there any dog agility parks?
Auckland has three purpose-built public dog agility stations located at Craigavon Park in Blockhouse Bay, Corban Reserve in Henderson, and Manuka Reserve in Bayview. There are also a few privately run clubs and courses available.
Can I take my dog with me to do the shopping?
Currently, for smaller high-street-type shops, it is a bit of a lottery since the decision is down to the manager. Some shops are welcoming and accommodating, while others (including malls) refuse entry to dogs.
Big-box retail shopping is often more dog friendly, meaning your pooch can help you pick out your DIY tools, your plants for the garden, your barbecue or your outdoor furniture.
Can I take my dog into a cafe or a bar?
Again, dog entry is down to the owner/manager. While there are some cafes and bars that encourage dogs and their humans in their outside seating areas, it pays to ring ahead and find out if the cafe or bar will allow a well-behaved dog on the premises. Under the Food Act, animals are allowed on premises where food is prepared as long as food safety is not compromised. Don’t be disappointed if it’s a no.
Auckland has a long way to go to catch up with the dog-welcoming eateries of Rotterdam. When I visited in 2014, I counted six pooches in the restaurant during our family lunch.
Are the streets friendly for dogs?
No matter how dog friendly a city might be, there will always be places where dogs are not allowed. In these circumstances, dogs need to be left securely and safely. Usually, the solution is to tie the dog to a piece of street furniture, although this leaves them at the mercy of the elements and at risk of unwanted approaches by people and other dogs.
More dog-friendly solutions could include providing sheltered dog tie-up spots with water. There have been innovations overseas where lockable, temperature-controlled kennels are available to give dog owners peace of mind.
Total score: 56/100
There are plenty of good things happening for dogs and their humans in Auckland. There is a clear set of dog rules, a registration system that is affordable and easy to use, dedicated dog exercise areas across the region, and lots of fun events that are dog friendly. The Auckland parks network also provides a lot of opportunities for off-leash exercise.
While in recent years there has been positive progress getting dogs onto trains, we need to lose the muzzles. For Auckland to rise up the dog-friendly stakes, we definitely need to get a paw in the door on buses.
While big-box retailers are generally welcoming of dogs, as are some cafes and bars, there is generally a lack of interest in providing dog access.
Sorry, it’s a C+ for Auckland. We could do a lot better to lay out a welcome mat (or a water bowl) for the city’s 106,000 registered dogs and their humans.