Friday, October 3, 2014

Dogs on beaches? - Dr Liz's Veterinary Opinion

Not a day goes by, that the smell of beachy wet dog reaches my nostrils.  Some days it comes from my own dog, Piper, but most times, it is from the beautiful dogs who come in to see me, Dr Liz the mad vet of Bellambi.

"The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog".  Ambrose Bierce.
My family dog Piper at the beach (when she was a puppy).

I could virtually guarantee that all of my colleagues who have their veterinary hospitals in coastal towns, experience the same thing I do.  Bliss, isn't it?

As you go to palpate the dog's abdomen, your nose is up against the wet fur, filled with the aromas of the beach. You can feel the positive energy and happiness that surrounds the dog, and you are buoyed up by it too.  In my mind is a vision of freedom, running around madly, exploring this, checking out that....

In my mind I see the waves and rock-pools that were explored probably 10 minutes earlier by that dog.  The dogs senses are overwhelmed by the joy that nature has provided us - what dog doesn't love to roll in "dead bird" or something else equally as pungent.

Piper at Bass Point - ooh, that must smell nice (to a dog) - Piper was only 4 months old, so yes, she was "on a lead" at the time - she now runs leash free, and boy, she looooooves it!

Nothing puts a smile faster on my face than a happy pet!

"To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace. - Milan Kundera.

My veterinary hospital is also on a road that ends up in a path, that in 5 minutes you are at the beach, and another 5 more you are at a "green zone" off leash access area of the beach (Bellambi Boat Ramp). Every day, I am waving "Gday" to many of my dog friends and their owners as they trot on their way down or back.

And sadly, if the Wollongong City Council review of the "Dogs on Beaches" policy goes ahead, Bellambi Boat Ramp will be permanently a "No Go" area for dogs - dogs will be banned 100% of the time.  I have to admit, I am wondering why this dramatic change.

Getting back to the "beachy" smell of these dogs... what every dog had in common was the big smile on their faces, the happy wagging tail, and a look in their eyes that says "can we go again.... please? Cause that was fun!" 

Such a happy smile on a dog's face, puts a big grin on mine.
Our  previous dog, Teddy - he captures the happy smile I love.

From a veterinary slant....whilst their temperatures may be increased due to their activity, these dogs are usually in a healthy weight range (note - they are not obese or fat)  Their hearts are healthy and strong.  They are usually well muscled, with a great coat. Sometimes, the sand and salt can be drying on the skin, but nothing that a rinse, and a bit of doggie conditioner wouldn't solve.

I call these dogs, my "beach bunnies", as they run, frolic, explore, sit, swim.... and are happy and content with life, as they are always with their  family.... that is the most important thing to them.

From a human angle?  I would suspect the health benefits would be the same. Aren't thousands of our tax money spent by governments to encourage us to be out and about?  But when we want to go out and about with our dog, we can't because our government wants to stop us from doing that with the one thing that encourages us to get out and about?  Our dog?

"A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk."  O.A. Battista

So many dogs (not), so much space, yeah!  Free time to explore!

Many pet owners even use the beach as their dog's "reward" for having to put up with the indignity of  full check up at the vets, despite all of the home made treats we give. As we always aim for fun at our vet hospital, this works for me too.

What I love about our animals?  -  the beautiful relationship between two different species - a pet and their loving family.  They are able to communicate with each other through touch, a look, through shared experiences of togetherness, love and fun.

They are as if they are family.... well our dog's are part of our family, aren't they. I have always believed in, and advocated for mutual respect, trust and affection between dogs (or any pet) and us.  Many of you  know that I also advocate for compassion and kindness to all, as these are the two most important things my animal friends have taught me.  (oh, and tolerance too).
Benji with Dirk  = I call them "twins"! They are like family!

If our world just had a pinch of the compassion, tolerance and kindness that our dogs have, then it would be a whole different (much better) world! 

"As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others"  Audrey Hepburn

All dog owners should have access to an "off leash area" that is within 10 minute walking time from their place of residence.  

Yes, I know I am dreaming.

Why such easy access?

From what I know is a usual typical work out at a local gym - a 10 minute warm up walk, then 30 to 50 minutes or longer heart pumping exercise, then a cooling down time.

In our day and age of environmental impacts, getting into our cars, and being forced to drive to an off leash area, is plain stupid. Unfortunately, where I live (In Mt Brown), that is exactly what we (meaning my daughter, Tegan) do/does  with our dog Piper. We have no choice.

She has to get into her car, and drive 20 to 30 minutes to get to the beach (Bass Point or Port Kembla), or to a park (Flinders or elsewhere).  So yes, people can and do, do that.

 Some people, like my family, have no choice because of where we live if we want our pet to experience free range, uninhibited, do whatever they feel like, smell whatever they want, stimulation.

  We do that because we see the look on our dog's face as she zooms around, darting here, there, exploring, meeting new friends - the joy on their faces as they found the latest "dead bird", and make it "theirs" all day.  
One of Wollongong's "off leash" parks (no fences, and fortunately, no other dogs - have you seen dogs play together in a park - they play "chasies" or "tag" - and in an unfenced area, likely to run onto a busy street and get hurt. Our beaches have a "natural" fence which is the ocean on one side, and the sand dunes on the other.

Leash walking is as exciting as walking on a treadmill.
One day, my daughter was in a car accident - she had Piper (our dog) in the car, and she was heading to Port Kembla off leash beach.  So yes, this issue of driving to access off leash areas is personal... deeply personal!

With the arguments that "so many dogs are on our beaches, it has to stop",  comes the consequence that these same pet owners love their dogs so much, they will jump in their cars, wasting money on petrol, pushing fumes into the environment, and adding traffic already onto a congested roadway, just so their dog can experience freedom and joy.

With all of this 20 to 30 minutes of driving - increases the risk of a car accident or worse.  Yes, its personal.

 Actions and consequences.

In a day and age of "sustainability" reducing our dog's access to beaches is not an environmentally appropriate direction to be taking. 
Do you hear what I'm saying?

Dogs are not damaging our beaches, people are.

It is irresponsible people who don't pick up after their dog, who say "f.. u" when asked to do so, who don't watch what their dog's do or how they act, who shout out "It's Ok, my dog's friendly" (when your own dog is just minding its own business).

 Last time I looked, our dog's don't talk like that.

Which brings me around to responsible dog ownership.

 What does a responsible pet owner look like? It might surprise you that the picture in my head is probably a bit different to yours,  and I know it is not the same as what our governments think.

So let's start with the governments - they say it is someone who gets their dog desexed, microchipped and pay their registration fees. The dog must be on a lead at all times when off private property, and only off leash at locations and times that they specify. You must pick up after your pet at all times. Etc Etc Etc with a lot of rules and regulations.

Before you read on, stop and think - what is a responsible pet owner in your mind?  Think about the person who you don't think is a responsible owner, and then one whom you think is?

In my mind, a responsible pet owner is one who acts to ensure that their pet remains healthy and happy all the time.  This is the one who wants to spend time with their pet, who doesn't see them as a money pit, or "just a dog".  They are the ones who will wake up each 3 hours to put eye drops in, or give the injections twice a day if needed.  They are the ones who are there "for better or worse", like any other long term, solid partnership.

This is the one who knows the benefit of a great relationship with their vet. I am not saying this because I run a vet business, but I know that the pets that I see on a regular basis are happier and healthier.

 Simple fact.

These dogs may not always live longer than the dog that never goes to a vet, as we all know someone who owns a dog who is 18 years old with the last vet visit was desexing.  That, in any mans language, is a long time between vet visits.

But at least, the dog with regular vet visits doesn't have rotting teeth with pus, skin sores, muscles wasting away with joints as stiff as anything.  These are the dogs that makes a poor vet's heart ache when we see them.

The responsible pet owners of my mind  take their dogs with them on their holidays if they can (not always possible - I wouldn't take a dog to Bali, for example, nor to countries that choose dog as a food item). 

My first dog, Burek on holidays with us at Ulladulla (around 1978)

Basic things like "picking up after your dog" is, well basic.  It goes with the territory.

These owners ask questions from their vet about "what is the best thing for my dog's (insert problem here)", instead of asking their best friends cousins daughter who did a 4 day stint of work experience at a vet hospital when they were in Year 10, five years earlier (whilst you may think I am joking, I'm not). 

These same owners do not turn around to their pet and say "you'll have to get a job to pay for this flea stuff", but say "you are worth every cent as you give me things money cannot buy.  You are family."

A responsible pet owner thinks about ways to keep their pet happy, through social interaction with others (if this is what the dog enjoys - not all dog's enjoy this, so shouldn't be pushed into it); through different forms of exercise or activities - such as the beach, agility, fly ball or traditional dog obedience.

See, for me, a responsible pet owner is one who thinks through the eyes and heart of their pet, because they are 100% responsible for that pet's life, in more ways than one.  Their pet cannot go out to buy food, the worming tablets, the flea products, or walk into a vet when they are feeling unwell.  Our pets rely on others (i.e you, the responsible pet owner) for these things.

"Dogs have given us their absolute all.  We are the centre of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust.  They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. "  Roger Caras

As for allowing our dog's access to our beaches? 

No secret what my position is here.

The beach is not for every dog, and not every dog should be forced to an off leash area if it is going to increase their anxiety.


Most pet owners don't take their dogs to places that their dog does not enjoy (including visiting the vets, which is why vets, like me, work hard to make the vet visit enjoyable and fun).  


Yes, our dogs and their families, deserve nothing less than free access to some beach space. 

Our dog Piper (as a puppy) - yes she is on a leash, but a very long one.
She was only very young then.

Simples, dimples!

I would suspect that our dog's are cleaner than most humans, as they tend not throw tinnies, glass bottles or chip wrappers on the sand, they aren't the ones leave fish hooks around, nor burn fires. I've yet to see a dog light up a cigarette, and then throw the butt into the sand dunes.

Yes, they may poop, but I do recall in my youth, many of my human friends doing the same in the sand dunes too... grossed me out then, and now at the thought!   I am sure there are few toddlers out there who have done the same. 

So lets ban teenagers and toddlers from the beaches?  (just joking!)

Those pet owners who take their dogs to the beach on a regular basis, aren't in my consultation room asking for help about their dog's barking or destructiveness. 


Because these dogs  rarely have these problems.

Those pets who get regular mental and physical exercise are not the ones that turn up as "strays" or end up filling up the council pound because they have escaped for a bit of fun.

What is the number one noise complaint to council?  Barking dogs.

What is the number one activity of the Ranger?  Picking up stray or escaping dogs.

And that is with our existing areas.  

We need MORE "green zones" not less.

And Councils logic is to reduce and restrict even further the access to beaches by dogs and their families? This would inevitably lead to more barking and escaping dogs. 

Actions have consequences.

"I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons".  Will Rogers

(except wear a green "Unleash our Beaches" Bandanna - Go Green!)

I am Dr Liz, the Mad Vet of Bellambi.  One of the many joyous things I have learnt in the last few months, is how many awesome dog owners there are out there.  There will always be people who hate dogs or any other animal in any society, but thankfully, they are greatly outnumbered by the ones who get the connection with our animal friends.

I know I am "preaching to the converted" here, but thanks for reading.

Now go out there, and have some fun with your dog!