FORMER MLA Mary Porter is still passionate about making a difference in the Canberra community, even from her Lake Macquarie home where she has retired with husband Ian and dog Lola.
As patron for the community committee Pets and Positive Ageing, Mary will return to Canberra on April 26 to chair the event titled “And my dog comes too… new approaches to living with our pets”.
“We wanted to do something about the fact that when an older person goes into aged-care facilities they often can’t take a dog or cat with them,” Mary says.
“When a person goes into an aged-care facility two things happen.”
Firstly, Mary says, a pet is either put down or given to somebody.
And secondly, the owner and the pet grieve, which is detrimental to an old person’s health.
“Owning a pet on the other hand is very beneficial,” Mary says.
“Research even shows that they lower blood pressure, so having to break that relationship is not good.”
Since the committee started in 2014, the conversation has expanded and focuses on bringing pets into many public spaces, such as hospitals, public buses, galleries, offices and cafes.
“We’re working towards educating people about the need to have a pet friendly society,” Mary says.
“In Europe you go into a shop and there’s a dog. Everyone seems to think it’s quite normal.”
Mary isn’t expecting support from the whole community, but believes that’s more reason to start a conversation about pets in public spaces.
“When you open up a discussion like this, people are more likely to listen,” she says.
“This way you get all the different views, how people feel and their fears. Then we can adjust plans taking into account these fears.”
As a person in her seventies, Mary has experienced the many benefits of having Lola, her Irish Wolfhound cross.
“Lola gets me out of the house twice a day to walk her, even when it rains,” she says.
“But also I get to meet people because of her.”
When the couple first moved to Lake Macquarie, near Newcastle, they didn’t know anyone in their immediate community.
“People will stop and talk to you about your dog,” she says.
“It was amusing when we first got here, people would forget to tell you their names.”
But Mary’s experience as a pet owner isn’t always positive.
“Whenever we travel it’s been difficult because we can’t always find places that are pet friendly.”
Even one of Mary’s sons, as a young person, had issues finding a rental that accommodated for pets while he and his partner were building.
“It will be good for young people to have these opportunities, too, it’s not separate.
“If we had regulations in the ACT and NSW that said you are required to have an outdoor area for a dog (in a cafe, for example), that would be really good.
“But it would be very hard to police those sorts of things.
“It’s really up to the local community and, as places become more aware, I think they’ll do it.”
Book by email for “And my dog comes too… new approaches to living with our pets” to firstname.lastname@example.org or via eventbrite.com.au