One thing you can hardly fail to notice if you visit Prague is the number of dogs in the streets. According to recent statistics, nearly 40 percent of people here in the Czech Republic own a dog, which is more than in France, Britain or Germany. More than 20 percent of those who don’t have a dog yet are actually thinking about getting one in the future, suggests research by the Median agency. So, why exactly are Czechs a nation of dog lovers? And what do they expect from their furry friends?
It’s a quiet Wednesday evening in Prague’s district of Pankrác. The locals are either away on holidays or at home, watching TV. The only people who seem to be outside at this hour are dog owners. I ask a couple of them to tell me about their pets:
“It’s a great companion. It’s like a baby. It’s a completely unselfish love. Well of course he expects to get food. But anyway, he doesn’t care whether I am pretty or ugly, young or old, fat or thin, he simply loves me and I love him…”
“You spend a lot of time with the dog, you go out with him and even when you live alone, you are not lonely, because you have someone to talk to. It’s true that you have to get up early in the morning every day to walk the dog but he gives it back to you….”
As more and more dogs move from the countryside to the cities, their status is changing. They are not expected to guard property or hunt foxes any more; they have become fully-fledged members of the family. Roman Skála is a Prague based veterinarian:
“I think that there is quite a long tradition in this country of keeping dogs at home. Here in Prague it is typical because people like nature but there are not many wild animals in the city, so they keep dogs instead. Why Czechs in particular? I think there is no special reason. It’s very similar to other countries.”
Vladimíra Tichá, a spokesperson for the Czech dog breeders' union offers this explanation:
“I think here in the Czech Republic it is easier to have a dog because it is qualified as an object and therefore no one can tell you what you can or cannot do with it. Owning a dog is much easier here than perhaps elsewhere. For example landlords have almost no way of preventing you from keeping a dog in the apartment.”
The main reason why people get dogs, says Mrs Tichá, is because their relationships with other people are getting worse:
“People want a non-conflicting being, which greets you in the evening, doesn’t criticise you and doesn’t want anything from you. The second reason is that there are many old people living in Prague and they are often lonely. For them a dog is a partner and also a way to meet new people.”
The most popular dog breeds in the Czech Republic remain the German shepherd and the dachshund. But in recent years, Labrador and golden retrievers are breathing down their necks.
“You can see that people want family dogs but their choice is also affected by fashion. When they were showing 101 Dalmatians, their number increased and now it’s going down again. Nowadays, you can see Jack Russell Terriers in various TV adverts and people ask for them more, as a result.”
Czechs are also willing to spend increasing amounts of money on their pets. They might complain about recently introduced doctors’ fees, but when it comes to paying for say a new collar, they don’t hesitate.
“It’s definitely getting better,” says the owner of a dog parlour at Prague’s Žižkov, while shaving her customer, a Yorkshire Terrier. “I think people started to realize that dogs represent them. I have a customer with a shiatsu dog who brings him regularly to get a pink Mohican-style haircut… People start to look after their dogs. And I am not talking only about clothes, she says, but also about cosmetics and quality food.”
This is not a wild beast but a dog called Sam engaged in a harmless game with his owners. Hanka and Petr, a young couple from Prague, got him about two years ago after a long and often heated debate:
“We went to this run down apartment building where he was living with Hanka’s friend and he went for his daily walk to a small park next to a freeway. But he was still so happy and full of life. So I grabbed his head and I looked into his eyes, and I asked him. Are we going to be friends? And he said yes. So I decided to get this dog…”
So you didn’t have any clear idea which dog you wanted…
“We went to a refuge for abandoned dogs for a couple of times. It was quite moving but it was not enough to persuade me. But then Hanka’s friend sent out an email asking all of her friends who could look after Sam.”
When you were discussing whether to get a dog, what were the reasons for and against?
“Hanka did not have the experience of what it’s like to have a dog. So I tried to explain her that she really has to go out with him every day for about two or three hours and it’s quite demanding. But we manage, somehow.”
Why did you want to get a dog in the first place?
“We couldn’t have a dog when I was a child because my mom is terribly afraid of dogs. But is funny is that Sam taught her to like dogs. So she doesn’t ask me how I am doing but she asks how Sam is doing.”
Don’t you find yourself in a situation when the dog doesn’t allow you to do things you were used to do?
“I was really surprised because I realised that I can do really everything I want to do. It’s like having a child. You ask your friends or parents and somebody will help you.”
“It’s a shared responsibility. So it might be taken as some kind of
test whether the couple is able to take care of something together…”
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