Newspaper Portrayals, Local Policies, and Dog-Supportive Public Space: Who's Wagging Whom?
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Dog-walking promotes physical activity and positive social interactions, and thus dog-walking has implications for people's physical and mental health. As a result, experts in public health have endorsed designing and managing public space to support dog-walking. Nevertheless, the presence of dogs in public space is subject to negotiation and can be controversial. Generally, municipal governments or local councils exercise political jurisdiction over both dogs and public space. As a case study, we systematically collected and analyzed a local newspaper's portrayals of issues relating to dog-walking in public space. Our purpose was to understand how public and policy agendas were being represented by local media, during a period of time when local policies on dog ownership and dog-supportive public space were being reviewed and revised. The analysis involved three phases: 1) thematic content analysis; 2) issue framing analysis; and 3) policy analysis. Thematically, we found that social conflict predominated. In terms of issue framing, local policy and individual dog owner behavior were both problematized. Over time, the policy agenda evolved to emphasize the design and management of public space, especially park land. Policy-makers presented this emphasis on public space as a proactive strategy to reduce social conflict and to promote compliance with existing rules on dog ownership. When it comes to promoting dog-walking to benefit animal welfare and human health, our findings underscore the importance of paying close attention to local policies and media coverage. In fact, we found that endogenous conflict and public controversies can actually represent significant opportunities to bring about positive changes in the lives of humans and nonhuman animals.
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