Photos by Toby Golus
You arrive home and there’s barely enough time to turn the key in the lock and inch the door open before a four-legged bundle of slobbery love accosts you with wet kisses to say hello. Something takes over and before you know it, you’ve forgotten the daily toil, and for a brief moment, you’re present, enamoured and smiling. Welcome to the wonderful, often messy, but never dull world of dogs.
Whether you’re a seasoned pet parent, a new owner or an inquisitive onlooker, the general consensus when it comes to living with a four-legged friend is that they have the power to change lives. Studies have shown that interacting with animals (dogs in particular) causes a drop in blood pressure and a spike in oxytocin—a feel-good hormone that helps us to cope with stress. Simply meeting a dog’s gaze can help one feel relaxed and at ease.
Yet for non-pet owners, choosing to invest in a furry creature that has the potential to tear your house apart, while burning a hole in your wallet, can sound incredibly unappealing.
And, in a city like Barcelona, there are more reasons to be sceptical. The lack of green spaces, small apartments, and a densely populated urban environment where neighbours are often too close for comfort, make for a compelling argument against dog ownership.
However, we all must coexist in peace, and with approximately 144,000 dogs and 28,000 cats living in Barcelona, the city strives to make the lives of both pet and non-pet owners as seamless as possible. In recent years, the Catalan government has launched a host of new initiatives, including fines for owners whose dogs are off-leash as well as new transport rules allowing dogs to ride the metro (outside of rush hour). Recently, Barcelona’s City Council also began the first phase of a strategic plan to create more spaces for dogs, to ensure that every district in the city has at least one specific area of approximately 700m2 for them to run around, easy access to water, and bag dispensers so that owners can quickly clean up after them. All with the objective of improving the relationship between the city’s four and two-legged inhabitants.
Tindog: The dog spin-off of Tinder.
This app is an ideal way for dogs to connect with other ‘like-minded’ canines within a close radius. If the owner’s also lonely, the app has the option to specify if you’d like to make human friends as well.
An animal lover since birth, Natalia Laing recalls how she begged her mother daily for four years to buy her a dog, until one day her mother caved in and Missy came into her life. More than 20 years later, the Australian native and her wife continue to fill their family with pets, and upon moving to Barcelona, they bought two Miniature Pinschers, Zac and Hunter.
“Your dogs pick you. You do not always pick them,” smiled Laing. “We saw Hunter from the street. He was in a pet shop window and was dying and I felt like I had no choice but to get him.” Six years later, Laing said Hunter has become her soul mate.
In Catalunya, there are many animals awaiting human mates. Spain struggles with the highest pet abandonment rate in Europe, with approximately 110,000 dogs and 35,000 cats found each year. Every summer pets are left to fend for themselves as owners go on holiday, many often having bought their animals on a whim or as Christmas presents. Six months later, the novelty has worn off and they are left on the streets.
In Catalunya alone, there are around 35,000 dogs and 8,000 stray cats roaming free. The difference between Catalunya and the rest of the country, however, is that the majority of strays are picked up by shelters, whereas in other parts of Spain, less than half of the animals are rescued.
Founded in 2013, Adopta Un Amic is a young, not-for-profit organisation that prides itself on connecting the right owner with the right animal. With offices in both Granada and Barcelona, the NGO claims that it finds a home for every dog or cat that passes through its doors. It also ensures that the animals are healthy, something Laing said her pet store puppies were not.
“Zac was sick when we got him and very weak with a liver condition. Had we not bought Hunter he would have died as he was being starved to death to make him appear younger.” Laing says she’s now sworn off pet stores for good.
A Royal Decree in 2002 restricted a number of potentially dangerous dog breeds. Potential owners must be over 18, not have a criminal record, obtain a license that certifies their mental and physical health and have liability insurance to the tune of €120,000.
American Pitbull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Dogo Argentino, English Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Rottweiler, Akita inu, Brazilian Mastiff, Tosa Inu.
For aspiring owners, something to consider when choosing where to buy is that not only are shelter animals often healthier, they’re also cheaper. Prices are usually around €100-200, whereas in pet shops they can cost anything between €500-1000.
Sometimes you don’t even need to go as far as a shelter; with so many cats and dogs running wild, you can find new family members even when you’re not looking for them. “We found Perla under a tree and Sammy by the river near my parent’s house,” said Catalan native, Rosa Condal Valentines of her two Terrier mixes. Having recently added to their growing brood, the 47-year-old and her partner currently have four pets in their chic Raval flat; two dogs (Sammy and Perla) and two cats (Daisy and Alfie), all of whom they found and rescued in and around the small village of Bellcaire d’Urgell, where she is from. Although Condal admits that four pets is a lot of work, she doesn’t see how they could have done it any other way. “They were abandoned and needed a home.”
The sale of dogs in pet shops is legal in Barcelona, although it is illegal to display animals in the window. Some of the most popular breeds currently include Mini and Big Pinchers, Jack Russells and smaller dogs like Chihuahuas. Those considering getting a Pitbull should be aware that it is illegal to own one unless you have a license.
So once you find your ideal companion, does it really make sense to own a dog in Barcelona? “It’s been great for me,” said Condal. “Sammy’s a country boy but we brought him to the city and both he and Perla adjusted no problem.” As a relatively new pet owner, Condal believes this is a perfect place to raise animals and that the city is dog friendly. “I’ve taken the dogs into the bank, the hairdresser, and even the grocery store let me leave them at the entrance one time when it was raining,” she smiled.
- En Aparte. A lovely French-style bistro in the Born. Lluís el Piadós 2.
- El Filferro. Gastro-tapas bar in Barceloneta. Sant Carles 29.
- BioCenter. Delicious vegetarian locale in the Raval. Pintor Fortuny 25.
- Cornelia and Company. A trendy concept store and restaurant in the Eixample. València 225.
- Federal. With two locations, one in Poble Sec and the other in the Gotico, this is a great breakfast/brunch spot that’s very dog friendly. Parlament 39 and Passatge de la Pau 11.
- Park Ciutadella. This is Barcelona’s oldest and most popular public park with plenty of space for dogs to run around off-leash.
- Joan Miro Park. Perfect if you live around Sant Antoni, this park covers four city blocks and has a lot of space to go walking.
- The Gardens of Villa Amelia. Beautiful private gardens that were remodelled and turned public. Ideal if you’re close to Sarria-Sant Gervasi.
- Poblenou Central Park. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, there’s a lot of greenery surrounded by the city’s new ‘Silicon Valley’, in Poblenou.
Yet for others, living with a dog is too limiting. Cat owner and animal lover, Fiona Brooks said that after pet-sitting a friend’s puppy for four days, the trial run proved that she and her husband weren’t prepared to make the commitment. “We decided against it purely based on the fact that we like going away a lot and it’s harder to find someone to look after a dog than a cat.”
Photo by Toby Golus
Although Brooks maintains that Barcelona is a great city for dogs for those whose lifestyles are conducive to it, her main issue is that owners don’t pick up enough after their pets.
“It’s very irritating for people who don’t have dogs,” said the 32-year-old personal trainer. As someone who spends most of her days in parks around town, she’s weary when it comes to training on the grass as she’s afraid she’s going to put her hand in poo, something that’s unfortunately become quite commonplace. “It’s disgusting,” she said.
In response to the ‘fertiliser’ problem, the city has enacted a law that slaps a €1,500 fine on owners who don’t immediately pick up after their pets, although looking at the pavements around town, it doesn't seem to be having the desired effect. Barcelona has yet to go as far as cities like Tarragona and Zaragoza, which are planning to use a DNA database of registered dogs to match it with droppings found on the street, so that they can identify and track down the owners.
Eighty-five-year-old and long standing Gotico resident, Carlos Martinez, says he’s not only sick of stepping in poo in the streets, he’s fed up with his neighbour’s dog who ‘does his business’ in the stairwell.
“If you’re going to have a dog, you have to train it,” sighed the Andalusia native waving his cane in frustration. In addition to the mess, he says he can’t take the barking either. “From 6am until I go to bed, all I can hear is that dog howling, from three flights up,” he lamented.
Photo by Toby Golus
When it comes to owning dogs in this city, space, or the lack thereof, can be a problem. Not only are apartments small, often with paper-thin walls and very little privacy, but there is also a shortage of green spaces.
Staunch animal lover and long-time dog owner, Mariah Quesada said she deliberated for a long time before deciding to get a dog, simply due to the lack of greenery. “I was really resistant to the idea,” said the Seattle native who has grown up with animals her entire life. “In general there are a lot of small spaces, small apartments and plenty of cement.”
Although there are parks in and around town, neighbourhoods aren’t always within close proximity to sprawling lawns. Despite the fact that Barcelona’s in the midst of expanding its dog-friendly zones, currently there are only 105 areas for dogs, most of them averaging 300-400 m2. For those who think the beaches are a viable option—they’re not. The sandy coastline is out of bounds with a ban between April and October and a strict ‘on-leash’ policy during the winter months.
Yet after weighing up the pros and cons, Quesada decided to bite the bullet and eight months after adopting her seventh dog, Olive, her doubts have dissipated. Although she could do without the six-storey walk up to her apartment three to four times a day, she admitted that she’s been smiling and laughing more since her feisty ‘Salchicha mix’ came onto the scene and that she manages to get to the park quite often. On the whole, she feels that she wouldn’t be the person she is today without having grown up with animals.
“Exposure to them makes you more compassionate,” said the 38-year-old. “Animals have offered me companionship, love and laughter and they’re also a source of security when you’re feeling vulnerable.”
And Barcelona’s renowned ‘dog guru’, Maud Zinck Van Den Berg, agreed, saying that the connection between dogs and people is very important and ultimately it doesn’t matter where you raise them. What it really comes down to is meeting their needs.
“I don’t care how big or small your apartment is and I don’t think the dog does either. What matters is what you do with them in that space,” explained the 29-year-old Dutch child psychologist who’s been living and breathing animals since the age of eight. Van Den Berg maintains that the key to a happy dog is ‘brainwork’ such as teaching them tricks, doing exercises and playing games, as well as knowing what kind of dog suits you and your lifestyle. “If you have a Border Collie they need to work. If you put her in a small apartment or a massive house but do nothing with her, she’ll be bored because you’re not giving her what she needs.”
“Guidance,” said Van Den Berg, explaining that even before teaching commands and tricks, owners need to learn about their behaviour in order to fully ‘get’ them. “Dogs spend all day trying to understand us, so if you can understand them, you’ll have a partner for life.”
Making sense of why these creatures do what they do takes a lot of time, energy and patience, things that potential pet owners need to consider before taking the leap. Life with a pet also requires more planning and can lose an element of spontaneity and freedom.
Then there’s the cost factor. On average, for a relatively healthy dog, the first year of ownership will cost €1,000—all domestic pets in Spain must be identified by microchip, and various vaccinations, including rabies, are compulsory. Each subsequent year hovers around €500, and that doesn’t factor in unexpected, late night visits to the emergency room, which can cost €180 for an overnight stay and between €50-100 for any x-rays, blood work or additional procedures.
This is something Laing and her partner know all too well. During the past year they watched as their oldest dog Zac fought kidney disease. “We had him on a special diet, we tried alternative medicine, and he was going to the vet every three weeks for blood tests,” said Laing. In the end it was clear he had had enough and the couple made the painful decision to put him down.
Photo by Toby Golus
As the city continues taking steps to encourage a pet-friendly vibe, potential laws are on the horizon to shut down stores selling animals that come from puppy mills; the idea being to control the city’s animal population while discouraging unlicensed and often inhumane breeders. Another prospect in the works is the introduction of an easily accessible dog friendly beach. Currently, a petition with 31,000 signatures is circulating with owners promising to, 'keep the beaches clean and behave responsibly regarding any possible inconveniences pets can cause'.
Whether either of these laws come to fruition has yet to be seen, however, it’s the complicity and desire for mutual respect between owners and non-owners, that’s helped turn Barcelona into one of the most dog friendly cities in Europe.
For those toying with the idea of adding a furry family member this year, take comfort in photographer and writer, Roger Caras’s, words: “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” Just make sure you’re ready for the commitment.
- Website: An excellent urban guide for all you need to know for pet owners in the city.
- Book: ‘Barcelona Con Perro’ (2014) by Micaela de la Maza.
Dog and cat adoption agencies
- Save A Life.
- Gatos en Adopcion.
- Barcelona Gat I Gos.
- 8 Patas.
- Grooming Services
- Peluqueria Canina.
- Pilar Garrido.
- Maud Zinck Van Den Berg. Dog trainer & sitter with plenty of land near her house, excellent for dogs to run around. firstname.lastname@example.org
- DogBuddy. The dog equivalent of Airbnb where you can find suitable dog sitters for short or long periods of time.
- Fido’s Playground. If you’re at the office all day and can’t break away to walk the little one, this dog walking service is ideal. They usually only need a day’s notice and can travel almost anywhere in the city. They also provide dog sitting and dog training services.