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Photo by: Lee Woolcock
Jaime ‘Santi’ Vidal Guzmán
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Benny and Lucky
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Luna is apparently the most popular dog name in Barcelona! Keep clicking for two more...
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Yasmin de la Vega is the proud owner of Gucci, a 17 year old Pomeranian who moved to Barcelona from the US five years ago.
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Dom and Andrea have sent us a picture of their new puppy Gus, a cross between a German Shepherd and Belgian Shepherd.
Champ wakes up around 8am, stretches out, scratches behind his ear and licks his own nose.
Next order of business: find human and look expectantly at the door for a morning walk. If Champ is lucky, he and his human head around the block for a half hour, and if he is luckier still he may get some ‘off-leash’ time at the park with his friends…
Champ is a Jack Russell terrier living in Barcelona, but is he content to live in a small flat in the big city? Probably, as long as he is walked twice a day and gets his food. What if Champ was a large dog, like a golden retriever? Most of us believe that larger dogs suffer in the city, too big for small apartments and depressed from lack of exercise. Not true, said Jaime ‘Santi’ Vidal Guzmán, a dog trainer.
“People think that because they have a big dog it needs to be running around all day. Actually, dogs need very little exercise each day. In the wild, when dogs aren’t hunting they are resting; conserving energy. Many times people with large dogs over-exercise them which causes the dog stress.”
This is good news for the 300 dogs hoping to be adopted at Animals Sense Sostre, an animal refuge and adoption organisation located just outside the city. “Most of our dogs are medium to large, and most people from Barcelona adopt small dogs from the refuge because they feel they don’t have the space for a German shepherd or Labrador,” explained volunteer Leire Díaz Balado who spends her free time at Sostre. “But think about it this way—at the refuge the dog lives in a tiny cage and only gets walks a couple times a week, so your small flat will seem like a palace to it.”
Díaz has a point, and adopting from Animals Sense Sostre is a good deal for both owner and dog. Man’s-best-friend costs €100 (male) to €150 (female) from the shelter, and comes with all vaccines and a microchip for tracking. Most of the dogs at Animals Sense Sostre are found in the street or brought in by owners. Families going back to the UK often abandon their pets, which end up at Animals Sense Sostre. “A lot of foreigners leave their dogs with us, especially the English,” said Díaz.
Illegal breeding is another reason Animals Sense Sostre receives dogs. Some people interested in making money by breeding dogs buy what they think is a pure-bred puppy on the black market. Everything is fine until the pup grows up and the owner realises he has been duped, that the pup is not a pure-bred at all and is, in fact, mixed with some other similar breed. Many of these mutts are dumped at Animals Sense Sostre, meaning those who would like a dog that resembles a French bulldog but is without a pedigree will find a friend at the shelter.
Abandoned dogs that don’t end up at Animals Sense Sostre or one of the city’s other animal refuges eventually go to the pound. Currently, Barcelona is planning to build a state-of-the-art animal shelter on Montjuïc near Sot de Migdia. Some estimates have put the construction budget as high as €7.5 million. “A lot could be done at Animals Sense Sostre with that kind of money,” Díaz commented. However, for many it seems that only a certified doggy will do.
For those who can’t be satisfied with less than a genuine Yorkie, Chihuahua or Westie, Mister Guau (pronounced ‘wow’) Center has the biggest selection in Barcelona. Grouped by size in large glass cages, puppies at Mister Guau scamper around in sawdust, charming on-lookers. The most expensive puppy at Mister Guau is a caramel-colour Chihuahua for €2,500, and the cheapest a discounted yellow Labrador retriever for €400. “I have two Chihuahuas: Lola and Mary,” said Marta Rodríguez who is one of the owners at Mister Guau, and whose father started the business in 1995, watching it grow from a small shop to a chain with six stores and 98 employees.
Mister Guau Center’s clients are not the same sort of people who might adopt from Animals Sense Sostre, and it is clear that their dogs and products are high-end. Besides selling dogs, Mister Guau also offers every service imaginable for one’s pup including: dog-sitting (at a dog retreat in the countryside near Sitges), a walking service, lost dog help, obedience training, dog ‘match making’ and a hair salon where some dogs get streaks of hot pink added into their fur. Mister Guau also has an adoption service, and at the time of this writing there were 30 dogs on their list. “Sometimes people buy a dog from us and then a few months later they realise that they are allergic to the dog. We help them find the dog a home free of charge,” Rodríguez explained.
It may be that would-be owners find themselves allergic, or it may be that they find that they are not cut out to train their puppy correctly. Both Leire Díaz and Santi Vidal agree that the number-one issue when it comes to owners abandoning their dogs is poor training. “When I see a badly behaved dog, I don’t blame the dog, I blame the owner,” said Vidal, who founded his company, Blue Nit Dogs, in 1997, and when not training drug and bomb-sniffing dogs is dedicated to teaching dogs and owners how to get along. “I never use the word ‘no’ with dogs. My method is 100-percent positive reinforcement.”
As a trainer, Vidal makes home visits and spends a day with dog and owner, watching their interactions. He then gives some tips and follows up to see if his advice has been implemented. He has six large dogs of his own (huskies and Irish setters), and said that consistency is key to keeping pups happy—when the routine is disrupted, dogs feel confused.
However, life happens and sometimes Fido has to be left alone for a weekend, or even longer. Entirely new industries have arisen to meet the needs of urban dog life. While services like dog-walking and pet hotels have existed for a while in Canada and the US, the concept is just gaining momentum here.
Foreigners like Susie Hunt from Zambia, whose business Fido’s Playground offers everything from daily dog walks in Montjuïc to dog-sitting at the client’s home, and Canadian Mike Freeman, who runs Pepe’s Dog Walking service, have had a popular response to their offers of daily dog care. Likewise for the area’s only dog hotel, Dos Rosas, run by Brian Livingston from the UK, who has been in Spain over 30 years. The dog hotel is located in the hills behind Mataró, 40 minutes from the city, with plenty of open outdoors for a dog to run in during the day, and comfortable rooms for the evening’s rest. And, Livingston guarantees, there are no cages.
For those who want some puppy-love but don’t have the time/space/money for a pet, consider volunteering with Animals Sense Sostre where dogs need to be played with, walked and fed. There is a lot to think about before taking home a pup, but it is reassuring to know that the city has plenty of resources for Champ, Pepe and Fido.
Mister Guau Center www.misterguau.com
Animals Sense Sostre www.animalssensesostre.org
Blue Nit Dogs www.bluenitdogs.com
Dog hotel—Dos Rosas www.residenciacaninadosrosas.com
Fido’s Playground email@example.com
Pepe’s Dog Walking www.pepes.homestead.com
For info about taking pets to the UK