Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Living with pets: interview with Dr Emma Power

pets and people
Dr Emma Power, cultural geographer, lecturer and champion of companion animals - with a superhero surname to match.

Emma Power is a cultural geographer who spends her time looking at the way we live with companion animals. A big factor in relinquishment of animals is difficulty in housing them in urban environments. Finding a decent place to live in Sydney - or any city really - is hard enough, but it can be super hard when you cohabitate with non-humans. 

I'm going to put my cards on the table here and fess up (be prepared to be thoroughly unsurprised): for me, a home without animals just isn't a home. I think its important that we grow up with humans and non-humans alike. According to Dr Power's research, I am not alone.

Who are you and what do you do?

I am a cultural geographer and Lecturer in Geography and Urban Studies in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at the University of Western Sydney. My research focuses on issues of housing and home. This ranges from questions about what home means to people and how people make home, to broader concerns about housing access and housing security. A particular focus of my work is about the place of animals within the home. My current research is looking at the experiences of people renting with pets in Sydney, and the experiences of real estate agents who have let properties to pet owners.  I have recently completed a project about the experiences of people living with dogs in strata apartments. A second research interest is in ageing and access to housing in an ageing Australia.

Can you tell us about any non-human animals who have been influential in your career path?

I was very lucky to grow up in a family that included a number of companion animals, including Blackie a Labrador cross, Holly and Mistletoe the cats, three guinea pigs and a rabbit. I now have two dogs (Paddy and Lewey) and a cat called Ferdinand. Most of these animals have come from shelters or been dumped: Blackie was found in a cardboard box as a four week old puppy, Paddy was left at a pound, and Lewey and the cats were strays. This experience of having animals that other people could not look after has prompted my interest in the factors that contribute to the very high rates of pet relinquishment that we see in Australia – access to housing is one of these issues.

These animals have also changed my home and my habits in numerous ways. Paddy is a high energy terrier – taking him on his daily walk not only gets me moving, it has also helped me to get to know lots of people in my neighbourhood. These types of experiences have informed my research into the ways that dogs impact on people’s sense of community across a number of housing contexts. 

pets people and accommodation

You have done a lot of research around renting with pets. Why is this an important issue?

Australia is a nation of pet owners – around two thirds of us have companion animals. Renting is also very significant. Approximately one third of Australian households rent and the proportion of households identifying as long-term renters is growing. However, it can be difficult for people with pets to find secure, long-term rental housing that is pet-friendly. This is an important concern because it has implications for the housing security of pet owners. Moving house and issues around housing security are one of the key reasons that people relinquish their pets to shelters, so the issue has both social and animal welfare implications.

What are the major barriers to renting with pets?

The biggest challenge that people face when renting with pets is access to pet-friendly housing. Only very tiny proportions of all rental housing are advertised as pet-friendly, which means that access to housing is often highly competitive for pet owners. People often move several times during the life of their pets and therefore face this challenge each time they move.

Any ideas on how we can move forward/solutions?

There needs to be greater dialogue between pet owners, the real industry and property investors to understand the experiences and concerns of each group. My current research, which is funded by Mars Petcare, is an important step in this process. At the ACAC Think Tank on 11th June I will present some of the first results of this research, and convene a workshop that will look at practical responses to this pressing issue. 

dogs and renting

Has anyone here had an issue finding pet-friendly accommodation? How do pets enrich our lives? Smallanimaltalk wants to hear from you!