Foreign dog owners say having a dog changed their experience of living in Czechia

Susan Ondrasek with Hershey, hiking in the woods near Srní

26 August is International Dog Day – and in celebration of this momentous event, our reporter and resident dog lover Anna Fodor decided to venture out around the city to talk to foreigners who have dogs about what it’s like living with a canine companion in Czechia.

The Czechs are a nation of dog-lovers – that is evident to anyone who has spent more than a few hours in the country. In Prague you can see dogs everywhere you go; not just in the parks and on the streets, but also on the public transport, in cafes, restaurants, and bars. Once or twice I’ve even spotted a dog in the cinema.

Even the usually stern Czech police have a soft spot for dogs, as was revealed when they showed their warm fuzzy side and a sense of humour in a Facebook post about dog Misi, who decided to ride the Prague metro by herself. According to the post, after being picked up by the police, Misi waited patiently in the policemen’s office for her owner at first, but then jumped up onto a chair.

Diego and his wife Romina have a quite incredible number of dogs – six | Photo: archive of Diego A. Acosta

“She was very interested in the map on the computer monitor, maybe she wanted to plan her next trip,” the police wrote.

This was incredibly not Misi’s first but her second solo trip on the metro. After being collected by her owner, the police write that Misi “said goodbye to us and seemed to say with her eyes, see you again next time.”

Diego and his wife Romina | Photo: archive of Diego A. Acosta

For foreigners living in Czechia, dogs can open up a whole new side of the people and country to them. Czechs are sometimes perceived by foreigners as being a little cold and reserved, or even rude and unfriendly on the more extreme end, but as any foreign dog owner will tell you, that all changes once you have a dog with you.

Diego and his wife Romina are from Argentina and have been living in Czechia for six years. They have a quite incredible number of dogs – six, all rescue animals – who they live with in a big house with a garden in the village of Velká Dobrá near Kladno.

Amanda Tully and Sagan | Photo: archive of Amanda Tully

“We travel with them in the car and go to hotels and people are really nice to us there – even when we call them and tell them we’re coming with dogs, they say it’s fine – then we tell them we have six. Maybe they take a second before they say yes, but they always say yes, and that is crazy beautiful.”

Some foreigners even say having a dog has helped them learn Czech. Amanda Tully from Denver, Colorado in the US, has been living in Czechia for five years with her dog, Sagan, first in Zlín and then in Prague.

“Sometimes people will walk up to me because he’s an interesting breed – Australian cattle dogs aren’t very common here in Europe. So people will come up and ask in Czech, ‘What breed is he? How old is he?’ and in the beginning I had no idea what they were saying. But it helped me learn!”

One thing I hear from all the dog owners I speak to is that what they love about having a dog in Czechia is being allowed to take their furry pal almost everywhere.

“Here there’s a lot more freedom to take your dog places, especially without a car. Here it’s easy to get around with a dog on trains, tram, metro, so you can travel anywhere. And also going to restaurants and bars is really nice – in the US there are a lot of restrictions about that.”

Dave and Klara | Photo: archive of Dave Ruzius

Another very common theme is that their dogs help them to break the ice and get talking to Czech people on the street in a way that allows them to have interactions they wouldn’t otherwise have. Dave Ruzius is from the Netherlands and has been living in the Czech Republic for 17 years. He says he had already picked up Czech at work before getting a dog, but getting a dog certainly helped him feel integrated in his local community in Prague 6.

“Especially here and in Ladronka I know all the people with dogs – I know the name of the dog, I don’t necessarily know the name of the owners. But we all talk to each other, we are all like ‘OK, I haven’t seen you for a while.’ Czechs are dog-loving people – kids come and pet Klára and I always talk to the owners and we exchange food tips and what have you. It’s really fun.”

Dave also says that it’s not just the fact that Czechs like dogs and allow them in a lot of public spaces where they wouldn’t be allowed in other countries – the quality of the relationship with their dogs is also different. Before he adopted his current dog, Klara, he had another dog, Poppy, who passed away a few years ago.

“She walked off the leash always – here it was normal, but in the Netherlands it was a bit frowned upon, that type of relationship – even my own friends would be like, ‘What is this?’ But definitely the relationship between Dutch people and their dogs is different than Czechs with their dogs. There it’s really a pet – here it’s more of a life partner.”

Susan Ondrasek with Hershey,  hiking in Czech Switzerland | Photo: archive of Susan Ondrasek

Susan Ondrasek from Texas, who lives in Prague 3, also says that owning dogs has allowed her to break the ice with her neighbours.

“I’ve met so many people in my neighbourhood because of my dogs. You get to meet a lot more people when you’re out walking with them.”

And another advantage, a few of them tell me, is that dog ownerships has allowed them to discover new places in their adoptive country that they might not otherwise have discovered.

“The fun thing is that it makes me try to find more parks – I had no idea there was this really lovely park one block from us. I just took him out for a walk and saw a little path and thought ‘where does this go?’ and then I found this wonderful park. I also take them camping with me, which is really fun. I’m always looking for rustic campsites – where the dogs aren’t a problem and we can go in the water. So it’s made me search out parks and campgrounds.”

Susan Ondrasek with Hershey and Shiloh,  camping in Slapy | Photo: archive of Susan Ondrasek

Susan has two dogs: Hershey, an 11-year-old, brown, Staffordshire-pointer mix; and Shiloh, a 15-year-old, white, American Eskimo (or Spitz). Shiloh’s rear legs have been paralysed for over 10 years, but that hasn’t stopped Susan from loving him and giving him the best life possible, even taking him from the US to the Czech Republic with her when she moved.

“He became a paraplegic when he was five years old, for no reason that we know of. We went for a walk, everything was fine, I fed him dinner, I came back, and his rear legs were paralysed. The vet did an X-ray and he said he couldn’t see any reason.”

Susan Ondrasek with Shiloh and Hershey's butt in Vltava river,  camping near Slapy | Photo: archive of Susan Ondrasek

Despite his disability, Shiloh is a very happy dog who likes to play with Hershey and to go on walks where Susan pushes him round in a special stroller for dogs, which she says garners positive reactions from passers-by.

“It’s so cute when I have him in this stroller, all the kids are like ‘look! A doggy in a stroller!’ The thing is, when he’s in his stroller like this, everybody sees him and they go ‘oh what a cute little dog in a stroller!’ They don’t see the handicapped dog.”

Susan is also the founder of the Doggie Community Prague Facebook group, which is a place for English-speaking dog owners to ask questions and seek advice:

Susan Ondrasek with Shiloh,  in Vltava river,  camping near Slapy | Photo: archive of Susan Ondrasek

“It was my idea – I met a woman on Facebook and we were walking our dogs together and we said, ‘you know, there should be a group for people to get together if they want to meet other people with dogs’. I laugh because when we got 100 people we were like ‘Oh my gosh, we have 100 members!’ And now there’s over 3000, which boggles my mind.”

Now the group is about a lot more than just meeting for communal dog walks, Susan says.

“It’s really great because people will ask, ‘I need a veterinarian’ and I’m always asking, ‘what area of Prague?’ because there’s so many good vets in the city now. And people can sell stuff – let’s say, ‘I bought a harness that doesn’t fit my dog, I’m just gonna sell it or give it away.’ So it’s really more than that now, which is really exciting to see.”

For all these reasons and more, it seems that for dog owners - and for dogs - Czechia is a great place to live.

Author: Anna Fodor
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