Dogs: Vienna’s First Class Citizens

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I cannot count how many people have said to me since arriving in Vienna that people here, “Treat their dogs better than their kids. If a dog dies and goes to canine-Heaven, it must be in spirit a lot like Vienna. Perhaps there is a bit more greenery in some parts and a little less heat in the summer, but overall, the city is a dog’s dream. One of the biggest culture differences we noticed coming to Vienna, which affected us positively since we own a dog, was that you can take dogs almost everywhere. Restaurants, bars, public transportation, you name it. There are just a few places in the public realm where they are not allowed, either by law or by habit, most prominently grocery markets and bakeries. It is logical that you do not want the Labrador tearing down the aisle ripping into the biscuits and chocolate, so I can’t see a problem with it. Even with that small setback, the city and its people serve the canine.

Walking on StreetThis is a peculiar concept to many, especially coming from North America. So, in my habit of understanding culture and interactions within cities, I decided to capture this Austrian habit by way of a “day for a dog,” starring, of course, our dog. Enjoy the cultural commentary as well as the pictures.

Vienna tends to rise late all week, but it especially does not get going on Sunday. While the city may not necessarily be charging ahead, though, many of its people are by way of a fabulous tradition not uncommon amongst Europeans in general: breakfast. And long ones, at that. In addition to the meats, cheeses, eggs, coffee, and tea, no breakfast is complete without fresh bread from the local bakery, of which there are too many to count. So, on Sunday mornings, a steady stream of people march into the bakery to get their brunch goods, and if you do not get there early there may not be much left. Additionally, bakeries are open on Sundays while markets are not, so the best food is had in them.

Outside BakeryHere is where the journey on four legs begins. Waking up early on Sunday morning, one must get their Schneken or Croissants before the items disappear, but the dog also has to go out. What do you do? Naturally, take the dog on the walk to the bakery. This poses another problem, though, since most bakeries are small shops without much space and, as mentioned before, most do not allow dogs. Hot on the trail of solutions, the Viennese devised a cunning scheme. Outside nearly every bakery you will find a hook in order to tie up the dog while customers gather their carbohydrates inside. Most are well-behaved, though some start to get a bit agitated after a time. Owners are always greeted to wagging tails as they emerge and untie their dog for the walk home. It took our dog a few times to get used to it and not bark incessantly. That is surely frowned upon, as it is a sign of distress from a very high-class citizen.

Bag SignAs the Sunday shapes up to be quite a nice one, the Viennese head for the trails in, around, and outside of the city. Though Vienna has one of the highest percentages of green space as urban areas go, not too much of this is actually in the city center. Instead, you have to go out to the hills for the open areas. This creates an odd dichotomy. In this city of ultra dog-enthusiasts, finding a green space that a dog can call its very own a few times a day is incredibly difficult. Other than markets, bakeries, and museums, the most obvious place that dogs are not allowed is on the grass. Signs all through the inner-city mark off the green spaces as non-Hund territory. What is a dog to do then? Well, of course, go on the sidewalk. Between cars, under tires, beside doors, you name it. Picking up after the dog is not the most prominent trait of the Viennese either, and most sidewalks reflect the population density of the dog population, in a by-product sort-of way, quite well. The city has actually begun a large campaign with signs everywhere stating, “nimm ein Sackerl fur mein Gackerl,” or, take a bag for my, well, choose whatever word you wish there. It seems quite time for it, as the city is dirty enough already.

On UbahnWith so few blades of grass to eat within the city center, on a nice day it is only humane to take the dog to the open area. As an older and denser city, many of these areas are easily accessible through public transport, a fantastic concept. So, families pile into cars, subways, and streetcars to head for the hills, dogs in tow. On public transportation, there is a rule that all dogs must be leashed and muzzled, but unless both dog and owner look like flea-bitten scoundrels, most owners can get away with using only a leash. Most dogs just saunter on as part of the crowd, and if they are well behaved, take a seat underneath their owner’s seat. If not so well-behaved, they may become feisty and bark or whine for a lap. This surely creates a problem, because if you are seen disciplining your dog to sit on the floor, you are a bad dog owner. Conversely, if you allow them to run all over, you are a bad dog owner. Essentially, people will take the time out to comment on anything you are doing wrong with your dog because, well, it’s a dog.

Arriving at your destination outside the city for a run or hike or ride, all one sees is a sea of families and dogs. Nothing quite takes off the stress of the week, in this place with an incredibly high standard of living, quite like a walk in the countryside. The tradition is steeped within the Viennese, with stories of the city’s great citizens such as Freud every weekend heading for the hills. Most dogs are behaved and off-leash while out, though the owners who are afraid to have their dog encounter other dogs keep them close. Strangely, as many dogs in the city are not fixed (too cruel?), many owners are hesitant to let dogs get too close for fear of fighting or, well, other acts. No matter whom they encounter, though, all of the dogs that are hostage within the city limits all week long are more than excited to get out and enjoy the countryside, albeit still within the district limits of Vienna.

Under TableNo better way to top off a grand day of hiking outside than taking down some wine inside a Heuriger. Most times, you can walk in a Heuriger and not be sure if it is a restaurant for people or dogs. The canines are always scattered everywhere: under tables, in the aisles, on benches, and in chairs. Other restaurants are accepting of dogs, but the traditional Viennese wine house, with its farm roots, is literally littered with dogs when busy. Most just sleep under the table since they have been walking all day, but occasionally you will get a feisty one that barks and acts up, spurring frowns amongst some of the other patrons. The dogs may have it better than the people anyway, as they breathe the cleaner air on the ground away from the smoke!

Thus, after the owners wash down some young, usually tart, wine, it is time to head back home. Now, here is an aspect of the dog life I have not yet been able to fully clarify yet. After being out all day, our dog must get a bath. He has always picked up more dirt in an afternoon in Vienna than in a month in the U.S., owing to the habitually dirty streets and public transport found throughout the city. So, he gets a bath. Now, our dog always gets attention and petting from strangers when outside of the market or bakery alone, but most other dogs do not get these random pets. He certainly looks habitually cleaner than most dogs in Vienna, so I wonder how often dogs are usually bathed. Think about them trouncing around the countryside, and then hanging out on restaurant floors and in subways all day, and you too would want to bathe your dog before it comes in the house.

So, after a long and stressful day, Sunday night is spent curled up on the couch, only to get up and do it again as soon as possible. Even with a bath, life is not bad for Vienna’s first-class citizen

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