They’re everywhere: tall ones, small ones, fluffy ones, short haired ones, silly ones, scary ones, fat ones, skinny ones. Not just dogs, but also what they leave behind. What’s being done about doggy do-do in Prague?
“Happiness is a warm puppy,” declared Charles M. Schulz, creator of the world-famous cartoon pooch Snoopy. Judging by the stats, it seems most Czechs would agree. A recent survey by Novinky.cz found that they own two million canines. When you consider that that number is equivalent to a fifth of the country’s human population, you realize just how prevalent man’s four-legged friend really is in this country.
While they may grumble about coughing up 30 CZK to see the doctor, when it comes to their pet’s health, Czechs are ready to pay out: according to the GfK agency, they spend more than two billion crowns a year on veterinary services and a similar amount on pet food.
Czechs are willing to pamper their pets too. Almost every district of Prague has its own dog beauty salon; Czech canines even have their own name days. This may be a cunning commercial ploy to get their owners to splash out on silly gifts, but it does show the extent to which as far as Czechs are concerned, Bobík, Lajka, or Rex are not mere animals, but just another regular member of the family.
When it comes to pet ownership, there are key cultural differences. I am still puzzled by the fact that most Czechs think it’s acceptable to let their mutt loose without a lead: not just in the park, but also when taking a stroll along the pavement. I hate it when a hound runs up to me and starts sniffing at my ankles or, worse still, sticks its snout up my skirt.
Doggy saliva is another hazard – no-one wants to have their outfit covered in slobber, even if it does wash out. And is it just me or is it strange to see so many pooches in restaurants and pubs? What about hygiene?
Speaking of which, there’s the issue of doggy do-do. However positively disposed you are towards our four-legged friends, no-one enjoys stepping in a steaming pile of poop. Yet despite all those green disposal bins supplied with free brown, erm, doggy bags, some owners persistently fail to clear up after their pets. In Prague 7, a witty ad campaign had cardboard cutouts of famous historical figures pointing to the offending excrement and pleading “Neserte na nás” (“Don’t shit on us”). This may have raised the odd chuckle, but it failed to improve cleanliness. Matters have become so serious that Prague 7’s district council is considering DNA testing feces at the scene of the crime in order to track down the responsible pooches. Scooby Doo, eat your heart out.
When it comes to this kind of crappy behaviour, emotions run high. Here’s a sample of angry rants from the Expats.cz ‘dog poo’ thread:
“I think an appropiate punishment for sloppy pet owners should be to walk around the parks blindfolded with bare feet. See how they like it!” suggested one furious Vinohrady resident, sick of coming home from a run with his sneakers smeared in shit. “I favour the old rub their noses in it approach, only do it to the owners, not the dogs,” posted another. “I fantasize about carrying a shovel around, scooping up the dog crap and flinging it at the dog’s owner,” an incensed Praguelodite raged. “If they approach you in screaming protest, whack them with the shitty shovel.”
There is one man who is ready to take matters into his own hands: Super Vacláv. This pot-bellied Czech dons a comic book style superhero get-up to tackle the menace of poop on Prague’s streets. When the caped crusader spots someone too lazy to clean up after their pet, Super Vacláv smears the owner with his four-legged friend’s faeces. This poop fighter’s antics are captured on helmet cam and then shared on websites like Youtube (regarding the authenticity of Super Vacláv and his videos, well…).
While Super Vacláv’s vigilante style justice is certainly comic, isn’t it ultimately just attention-seeking silliness? It may all seem trivial until you realise how much taxpayers’ money is devoted to clearing up after people’s pooches: nearly half of Prague 7’s 20 million crown annual cleaning budget is spent on disposing of canine waste. Reading that statistic makes me tempted to chuck a few turds at the offenders myself.
Dogs cause just as much grief with the noise from their mouths as the smelly substances they produce from their behinds. When left alone all day in small apartments, some dogs go barking mad – literally. A recent thread on Expats.cz highlights both the problem and the lack of any obvious solution. If you have the misfortune to live in the same building as a constantly yapping mutt, then it seems there’s little you can do other than have a word with the owner. However, when it’s making a racket during the hours of 22:00 to 06:00, a period of legally protected quiet time known as nočni klid, then you’re within your rights to get the authorities involved.
I don’t want this to be a purely pooch-bashing piece. The many pluses of pet ownership are widely acknowledged, including stress relief and improved life expectancy. If you’re an expat, there’s another important potential upside too. Integrating into a foreign country isn’t easy – if you don’t work in a Czech environment, then getting the opportunity to interact with the locals in any meaningful way can be tough. Taking your dog for a stroll is a great way to strike up a conversation with the natives and can even lead to making new friends.
If you’re still having doubts about the benefits of canine companionship, perhaps Milan Kundera’s musings on the topic will help change your mind:
“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.”
Kick back, do nothing, smell the roses. Sounds lovely. Can we just introduce one little exception? Please save just enough energy to clean up after your four-legged friend. No-one wants to spend their time in paradise dodging dog turds.
Do you ever notice a dog owner not picking up Bobík’s droppings? Do you take any action? Next time, why not try reminding them: “Pardon, myslím, že jste za sebou něco zapomněli” (“Excuse me, you seem to have left something behind”). Or perhaps something a little less polite…