Allow Dogs To Accompany Their Owners In Victoria's Alpine Resorts

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For many years I have grown up visiting Mt Buller, but over the last few years since getting my dog Mya, I have been torn between visiting a place that is important to me, and my responsibilities as a dog owner (Dogs are generally prohibited).

This wasn’t always the case. In 1972 local legend Hans Grimus was photographed riding a chair lift at Mt Buller with his best mate Captain; a German Shepherd. So what changed? Typically most people think it is because mountain resorts such as Falls Creek, Mt Buller, Mt Hotham, Mt Baw Baw and Lake Mountain are national parks. In fact, this is not the case, unlike mountain resorts in NSW, Victoria’s mountain resorts are actually classified as alpine resorts, and in 1996 began being governed by a separate set of rules. The Alpine Resort Regulations provide a legislative framework for the management of dogs in alpine resorts, by prohibiting them unless a permit is issued. The legislation is fairly general, so who receives a permit is reliant on policies set by individual alpine resorts (http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_reg/arr2009371/s45.html if you would like to review the legislation).

This means that Victoria’s alpine resorts can allow dogs within them, so why don’t they? Well in actual fact they do; most resorts will issue a permit that requires dogs to be kept on a leash and under the owner's control to ensure they aren’t a danger or unreasonable disturbance to people and wildlife. The only problem is that these permits are only available to property owners, residents and certain stakeholders, so meeting eligibility requirements is very difficult.

So why do alpine resorts restrict the issue of these permits? I asked several resorts and the gist we were told was:

  • To protect native wildlife from being attacked by domestic dogs and to reduce the likelihood of attracting a wild dog to the area after a domestic dog has urinated on a track.
  • To protect the public from dog bites and hygiene issues associated with faeces and fleas.

Our mountains offer a unique beauty, which is home to species such as the endangered Mountain Pygmy Possum, which need to be protected. Alpine resorts have invested a great deal of time and money protecting them (they run breeding programs and baiting programs to protect them from feral animals), however, in 2018 some alpine resorts approved more than $23 million worth of developments and encouraged over 400,000 people to visit over a few months. I wonder if domestic dogs are the greater threat, or the resulting trash left behind or environmental impacts from these developments?

It must be acknowledged that incidents with domestic dogs have occurred in the past. Mt Buller advised us that a person was bitten in 2013, however, the circumstances surrounding this have not been disclosed. But over the past five years, there has not been a report of a domestic dog attacking a person or wildlife at any of the alpine resorts that we spoke to, and use of leashes should mitigate such risks. The majority of people, who would go to the effort of taking their dog away with them, will be responsible and keep their dogs under control and clean up after them. Some might say there is a greater risk to people and wildlife through increased vehicles than if the policies surrounding domestic dogs were relaxed.

The current situation seems to be based very much on fear and hasn’t kept up with modern attitudes that domestic dogs are now more often than not, considered members of the family and far more socialised than what they would have been in the past. Sadly some resorts haven’t reviewed their policy in regards to dogs in alpine resorts for over ten years. Mt Buller last reviewed their policy back in 2006, which currently states that permit applicants must obtain “written consent from a body corporate or management." This is in direct conflict with a 2016 VCAT ruling that prohibits body corporations from restricting owners or renters from being able to have a pet in their dwelling.

So what might happen if the alpine resorts were to relax their policies in relation to domestic dogs? A good answer to that is the situation at Dinner Plain which is located in the mountains, only a 15-minute drive from Mt Hotham, and above the snow line. In 2018 Dinner Plain issued 575 permits for dogs that included both short and long term stays. Dinner Plain has offered people the opportunity to travel to the snow with their dog and go snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and general snow play. In 2018 they had no formal complaints lodged about dogs being in the mountain village and are not aware of any incidents where a person or wildlife have been attacked over the last 10 years.

We would like to see happen:

  • Victoria’s Alpine Resort Boards expand the current permit system to both short and long term stays.
  • For a single visit permit and a seasonal visitation permit to be created.
  • For a proportion of the permit fees collected, to go towards the administration costs, providing adequate facilities within the resort, programs for protecting these environments and animal welfare.
  •  For dogs to be permitted on leash in all developed areas (excluding designated alpine ski / snowboarding areas).
  • For a proportion of cross country ski trails at resorts to be made dog-friendly whilst dogs are restrained on a leash.

There are numerous examples of mountain resorts overseas and at Dinner Plain, where this has worked successfully. As Australians, we like to think we are a progressive nation, but when it comes to the furry members of our families, we are behind many nations. A recent study found 1 in 4 people with pets hadn’t travelled in the last 5 years because of a lack of accessibility. With appropriate controls and facilities, there is no reason why the success elsewhere, couldn’t be the case here in Victoria, Australia.

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