By Rida Babar
With pets being an unspoken part of the Australian identity, it is no surprise that a bill has been forward by the Animal Justice Party (AJP), which stated that bylaws in strata schemes which prohibit animals should be removed.
While there are not a number of details released about the bill at this stage, affected groups including the Strata Community Association, politicians, and animal adoption agencies have been outspoken on their stances.
The Cat Protection Society (CPS) is an organisation within NSW with the primary aim of taking stray cats off the streets and rehoming them. Kristina Vesk, the CEO of CPS, revealed her thoughts on the bill.
“Pet friendly accommodation is something that we have been campaigning on for years.”
The CPS is in support of the proposed bill, as the passing of it would likely mean a larger number of animals including cats could be rehomed as more owners would be inclined to adopt a furry friend.
“People love pets. Pets are a part of the family, and these bans are a form of discrimination that says ‘if you live in an apartment you’re not allowed to have a part of your family’. You can create good rules surrounding communal living, so that the impact on other people isn’t negative.
“During lockdowns, so many people are discovering how important pets are and that’s why so many places are adopting and fostering more pets than ever because the sense of companionship and mental health benefits is enormous.”
Speaking on the impact of the pandemic on cat adoptions, Ms Vesk said, “I’m worried when the economic hardship really hits home, that shelters are going to see a lot of pet relinquishment because people may still have the money to look after their pet but they may not be able to find a place to live with their pet.”
She also compared the current crisis to her experience in CPS during the Global Financial Crisis and the number of people who were forced to give up their pets during that period.
“The feedback we’re getting from other shelters is that adoptions have increased. For us, because of the size of our shelter and the COVID-safe procedures put in place, it’s not possible to increase our adoption rate. We’re doing adoptions by appointment only, deep cleaning after each appointment, and having one family in at a time. In turn, this has meant that there are only so many cats we can rehome in any given week, but we know there’s a lot of demand because we have got a lot of people on a waiting list.”
Emma Hurst, a representative member of the AJP, who owns a cat herself, said that the recent ‘Colin and Boo’ and ‘Jo Cooper’ cases, both surrounding pet owners who battled for the rights to live in their home with their pets, showed that this is a “situation no one should have to face.”
These cases and the media attention around them finally brought the issue to parliament.
“It’s something that’s been happening in the background for a long time.
“This is really only looking at strata management schemes. It’s not really about people renting properties, it’s about people who own properties within a strata complex and have retrospective bylaws in place which prohibit animals.
“The amendment we put up was that animals cannot be unreasonably prohibited, but there is some flexibility for strata complexes.”
The size of an animal in comparison to the size of the living space would be an example of an exception from the bill’s proposition, according to Ms Hurst.
The Strata Community Association (SCA) is not in support of the bill at this stage.
Speaking with Chris Duggan, President of SCA, he said “it [the bill] takes the choice away from the owners.”
“Within reason, individual buildings need the power to exercise their democratic rights and set their own rules.
“This has only been compounded recently with all the reviewed appeal decisions which have allowed and disallowed pets in strata, and this further amendment which has been proposed is rather unhelpful because it bypasses all the other rules of law that apply to strata.
Our concern would be if this gets up, then it’s a trojan horse for other amendments to be put into legislation which could bypass the democratic process.”
While Strata is not in support of the bill at this stage with the limited information released, the Labor Party, Christian Democratic Party, Shooters, Fishers & Farmers Party, and the Greens Party are all in support of the bill.
Jenny Leong, MP of Newtown and member of the Greens Party, when asked about the party’s support of the proposed bill, revealed her thoughts.
“Pets are part of people’s families, and with more and more people living in apartments, it is crucial that our laws adapt to the changing needs of people – and that means ensuring people who live in apartments are able to have pets.
“While there are some circumstances where having a certain type of pet in a certain type of accommodation may not be appropriate, we need to make sure that blanket bans on pets are not permissible.”
“With the NSW Parliament moving to accept e-petitions, I am very pleased to be the sponsor of the first online petition under this new system – it is clear from the thousands of people who have already signed it that this is an important issue for many people living in our city.
“We need to ensure people who rent as well as people who live in apartments are able to make a place their home – and for so many that means being able to have a pet.”
The bill will be considered in Lower House by mid-September.