COMMENT:

Auckland Council resolved nearly a year ago to unanimously support pets being allowed on all modes of public transport. The ball has been in Auckland Transport's court to pick up the challenge and make this a reality.

As time passes, my worry is that AT will follow the conservative lead of Wellington and insist that all pets are contained when travelling on public transport. My plea is for Auckland to lead New Zealand and follow the norm of public transport providers in the progressive cities of Europe which allow smaller pets like cats to be contained but permit dogs on leash access during off-peak hours.

I spent a few weeks in The Netherlands and the UK last year where owners can travel with dogs on a leash on trains and buses and ferries. Public transport takes dogs and their owners everywhere and it is normal to see dogs on leash in airports, markets and plazas and under tables in pubs and bars. What is New Zealand so afraid of?

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Auckland Transport has a wonderful opportunity to introduce public transport to another huge community. Auckland is not Wellington, where there are only 10,000 registered dogs. Auckland has 102,000 registered animals. If AT opts for containment, they will exclude all dogs too big to fit in a carrier, which would be about 90 per cent of all Auckland's dogs.

There is more point in trialling on-leash dog travel than contained dog travel. It would prove to everyone that dog owners are responsible and that there is no risk. Owners know their dogs and are in the best position to decide whether they should ride on a bus or train and how best to do that to keep the dog and the public safe.

Public transport travel for dogs benefits everyone. The dogs benefit from getting used to being in different social situations. The better socialised our dogs are, the better for everyone. People benefit from having animals around. We keep pets for a reason. They are great company and feel good to have around – who hasn't had their day brightened by an encounter with a friendly cat or dog?

Access to vets at the moment requires a car journey with the dog. It would be really helpful for owners on low income to be able to take the dog on the cheaper public transport route.

Another key reason for taking pets on public transport is to reach farther-flung beaches and dog parks. To date this generally means a car journey and a battle for parking with other dog owners. I take the bus Monday to Friday. I only use my car on weekends to take my two small dogs to parks and beaches. If I had access to public transport with them, I would use it - one more car off the road.

To the naysayers, I say this: owners know their dogs. They will not put people at risk if their dog isn't ready for public transport. The only dogs we will see on leash on buses are the ones that dog owners know can be trusted to behave around all people and other dogs. Responsible dog owners want people to love our dogs.

So I say, come on Auckland Transport, allow dogs on leash on board Auckland's buses and trains - you really have nothing to fear.

• Dr Casey is an Auckland Councillor and owner of two small dogs.

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