Putting our best paw forward

Opinion: Rental law changes for pet owners will expand the benefits of the human-animal bond

The Victorian Government’s positive change to rental laws will benefit many people and animals — it’s a common-sense change we wholeheartedly support.

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Melbourne is home to more than one million dogs and cats, with around 65% of households having a pet—there’s little doubt animals are part of the fabric of our city.

This is why the steps taken by the Victorian Government to relax residential tenancy laws to make pet ownership more attainable for renters are important for so many people.

As an organisation that has been championing the benefits of the bond between humans and animals in Melbourne for more than 80 years, we at Lort Smith see this as a welcome move that will deliver immense benefits to the health and wellbeing of Victorians.

Our hospital and adoption centre are located in North Melbourne, surrounded by an ever-growing density of apartment buildings and student accommodation. This has given us a unique insight into the restrictions forced upon many would-be pet owners.

Local residents often visit our adoption hub to spend time with the animals, some even become volunteers, because they can’t have pets at home and miss the valuable emotional connection of interacting with a cat or dog.

This human-animal bond is very real and can have a huge impact on our health and emotional wellbeing.

For example, The American Heart Association says pet ownership is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and psychologists have identified a link between pet ownership and happiness.

There is also a connection between pet ownership and a wide range of emotional health benefits for children, while Australian researchers have concluded that people with pets build stronger ties to the local community, leading to more positive connections with their neighbours.

These benefits are significant, and too many of our fellow Victorians continue to miss out, simply due to the nature of their living arrangements.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Despite misplaced assertions, there’s no reason at all to consider pet owners as bad or risky tenants—in fact, the opposite is probably true.

A well-trained and properly-cared-for pet, with an attentive owner, will cause no more wear and tear to a residential property than a human. If the pet in question is a cat, rabbit or smaller dog, in many cases the impact would be considerably less.

From a landlord’s perspective, pet owners could be the ideal tenants. US research suggests people with pets stay in rental properties for longer, while in Australia. many renters have said they would be happy to pay a premium for properties that allow pets.

Pet owners have already demonstrated a heightened sense of responsibility and willingness to make a long-term commitment by taking on care of another living being. This is the type of attitude that should be highly prized in a prospective tenant.

As well as being a beneficial policy for the people who live in rented homes, these changes will have a significant positive impact for animals too.

Lort Smith estimates that around a third of the animals we receive in our adoption centre are surrendered due to restrictions on renters. This figure is probably similar for other local organisations who take in lost, abandoned or surrendered animals.

While Lort Smith will never euthanise an animal capable of being re-homed, too many others simply don’t receive another chance to find a home.

People’s relationships with their pets are strong and deep—sometimes becoming more important than those with close friends or even family members. This means people are being forced to say goodbye to much-loved companions if they move into a rental property with more restrictive pet requirements.

When you consider that families with children are now the largest household type in the rental market, the forced loss of a family pet will be an even more devastating experience for many.

There is such benefit to be gained from the human animal bond, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage and nurture it for all members of the community.

By Fiona Webster, CEO of Lort Smith, 2020

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