Inclusive Parks For Pets: One Step Closer to Becoming an Animal Friendly City

We are excited to hear that more than 60 Inclusive Parks for Pets opened in various districts in April, bringing the total number of such parks to over 100. After a decade of research and lobbying effort, the SPCA is delighted to see Hong Kong finally move a step closer to becoming an animal friendly city, where park users with or without pets can enjoy park facilities together in an inclusive environment.

We are proud to see such an achievement and would like to humbly share our lobbying journey with you.


With the SPCA headquarters located just across the street from the Wan Chai waterfront, our team and the homeless animals at our adoption centre have been able to enjoy the recently opened pet friendly, Wan Chai Temporary Promenade with other members of the public. The seafront walkway is yet another excellent example illustrating the changing attitude and pet-friendly policy in Hong Kong in relation to the usage of the public open space.

Every day the Wan Chai Temporary Promenade is alive with joggers, people taking a stroll, and families walking their dogs. Everyone enjoys not just the open space but also the views and ambience surrounding one of the most striking harbours in the world.

Increased access to public open space is what the SPCA has been advocating since the early 2000s, in light of the fact that activities carried out in public spaces, such as physical exercise and social interactions, can have great physical and mental health benefits for both humans and dogs.


The SPCA Lobbying Journey

According to the Census and Statistics Department, over 138,000 households kept more than 197,000 dogs in 2005. But from a research conducted by the SPCA in the same period, only eight parks were dog friendly. Apart from the disparity in demand versus supply, equal accessibility and location were other challenges.

Having identified these issues, the SPCA started advocating increasing pet access to public open space through an inclusive approach whereby all open spaces would eventually be partially, if not wholly, pet friendly.

To advance the cause, SPCA's representatives took every opportunity to engage in public consultations on the planning, development, design and management of new public open spaces.

A major step forward was made in 2007 with the introduction of the very popular temporary, pet friendly waterfront promenade in Wan Chai, which adopted a notably inclusive and less restrictive approach. It was a successful working example that could be used as a reference for future projects.


Your Voice Has Been Heard

In 2008, the SPCA conducted research on the user pattern of the temporary Wan Chai facility (inclusive pet-friendly) and compared them to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront (not pet friendly). It was found that the Wan Chai facility was more valuable as a community asset, with people visiting more often, staying longer and having more social interactions with other park users. This suggests a well-located inclusive pet-accessible public area with fewer restrictions can promote greater user interactions, compared to a public area with no pet access and more restrictions.

We also surveyed users' attitude towards pet access at both venues with both non-dog owners and dog owners. There was a high level of support for increasing pet access to public open spaces. A total of 98% of respondents welcomed the presence of pets in public facilities, and most people recognised the importance of animal exercise areas.

Further research conducted by the SPCA in 2011 indicated a continuous high approval rating for increasing pet access to public open spaces. In that research, we also noticed that the general public would like to see better distribution of pet accessible spaces across the city.

Over the years the SPCA has talked to the Government, private bodies involved in urban planning, district councillors and lawmakers regarding the public open space issue. We shared with them our vision, expressing our support for an inclusive approach to public open spaces across the territory. We also highlighted the success story of the original Wan Chai Temporary Promenade and related research results, overseas examples and different approaches to integrating pet access into public spaces.

In addition, the SPCA's welfare and behavioural teams have been able to offer pro-bono advice to various projects regarding design features and factors that need to be considered when developing and implementing pet friendly facilities.

Suggested Features for Dog-Friendly Parks

A secure, off-leash zone in a public space is surely a nice thing to have, but design features catering to dogs and their owners are just as essential. Yet whatever is to be added, 'keeping it simple' is a rule of thumb.

Most dog owners are just happy to have pet-friendly areas where they can walk with their dogs on a leash, or meet up with family and friends together with their pets. Their expectations are similar to other users in terms of seating or resting areas, shade or shelter from the weather, and safety and hygiene. During the hot summer months, access to water points is especially important.

We are delighted to see that the inclusive community approach is increasingly embraced in Hong Kong. Recently, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department announced an inclusive park programme that aims to open up more of its managed facilities to pet owners.

Following on from the excellent example of the West Kowloon Cultural District, various harbour-front areas and promenades on along both sides of Victoria harbour are in the process of opening up and becoming more pet friendly.

However, an important point to note is that user rules in different public areas may vary, and so dog owners should understand and follow the rules of the areas they frequent. They also need to be responsible and considerate to all other users. And note that when we talk about pet accessibility to public facilities, the main focus is on dog access. It is not advisable to take other types of pets to such facilities for the sake of their welfare.

 

Advice to dog owners:

  • Be responsible and considerate.
  • Follow the rules of the area you are using.
  • Keep your dog on leash unless it is in an off-leash zone, or if the area allows your dog to be off leash.
  • When your dog is off leash, keep it under control. It is especially important to keep it away from other on-leash dogs to avoid stressing them out.
  • Keep good hygiene - clean up after your dog.
  • Be aware of your dog's physical condition lest it suffers from a heatstroke under hot weather.
  • Be sure to license your dogs and renew it once the licence expires. Keep the contact details listed on the dog licence updated, as the licence can be used to prove your ownership of your pet whenever necessary.
 

Advice to non-dog owners

If you or your children wish to interact with a dog you don't know, ask for the owner's permission first. Some dogs may be frightened by strangers and react.

 

Advice to other pet owners

The SPCA doesn't advise other types of pets to be taken to dog friendly public areas as they may not be socialised and acclimatised to going to such areas. It is unlikely that they will enjoy the experience. Moreover, there may be additional risks and safety concerns.