Is man’s best friend leading a dog’s life?

It would be hard to find a country where the saying “a dog is man’s best friend” is more apt than in the Czech Republic. According to available statistics close to 40 percent of Czechs own dogs – little dogs, big dogs, fury dogs, lapdogs, assistant dogs, guard dogs and status dogs – very often dogs that markedly resemble their owners. So what is the life of a dog like in the Czech Republic?

Judging by the growing number of services available for them in big cities you’d say it’s a cushy existence. There are dog salons offering manicures, shampoos, haircuts and massages. Dog hotels with exclusive services for pampered and homesick canines whose owners are on business trips, a dancing dog club for dogs with an ear for music, pet stores at every corner – and now even bakeries which go to great length to find out just what dogs love. I found one near the Vltava river in the centre of Prague and watched the owner attend to a customer –discussing at length the benefits of elk, salmon and fruit in a dog’s diet. A long way away from the days when people simply gave their dog the left-overs.

Woman: “I came across this bakery quite by chance. The owner here recommends liver biscuits so we’ll try those and we want to switch to a new brand of dog food after buying the same stuff for years. If our dog takes to it then we’ll get an economy package. He’s worth every crown I spend – only a dog gives you such a heartfelt welcome when you come home”

Bakery owner: “You know what they say lady, if you want love for money –buy a dog”.

Loyalty, unconditional love and companionship is what most Czechs look for when choosing a dog. And Rene Juzek knew without a doubt that opening a dog bakery was a smart decision. Three months on there is a constant stream of customers ever-ready to spend money.

“I wouldn’t say they spoil their pets –they just try to compensate them for the love they get –and often dogs give them more love than human beings. So what can you do to return that love – you play with the dog or give it a treat.”

And tasty treats is what Rene offers in big supply. He makes his own dog biscuits –guaranteed free of preservatives – and caters to all tastes. Dogs that come in with their owners get a free sample on the doorstep and usually come back for more.

“Our recipes are secret – of course the biscuits contain some meat which is essential and then there are other ingredients including fruit and vegetables. Blueberries, blackberries and so on. The meat is mostly liver, salmon, tuna fish and game – deer and wild boar. And nuts and fruits – most people think dogs won’t eat those but when they give them a try they are amazed to find that their dog loves the taste.”

So how does he know what dogs are partial to? Rene says there’s only one way to find out and since he has a dog breeding station he doesn’t need to go far to ask.

“It’s all a question of trial and error. At the outset we got some recipes from a friend in Canada who is in the business and then we just experimented with what’s available in this part of the world. Obviously getting elk imports would be too expensive but we have deer and other game. We also experimented with various spices and fruits and got the dogs to take a vote on the outcome. Every Sunday there would be a tasting session. When you offer a pack of dogs 4 bowls with different biscuits and they all crowd around one you know you have a winner.”

According to Rene nine out of ten dogs would recommend his biscuits and judging by how fast they are selling he’s not bragging.

So is the life of a dog in the Czech Republic as idyllic as it sounds? According to the Prague Society for Animal Rights Czech laws on the protection of animals leave a lot to be desired – and leave dogs, cats and other species vulnerable to cruelty. Hanka Janišová is an animal rights activist and an active member of the society:

“You know I would say in general that in Czech law animal rights are miserably inadequate – not just as regards dogs and cats but farm animals as well. Of course, the situation here is much better than in countries to the east of our border, but our animal protection laws are toothless and leave a lot of room for cruelty. Dogs are less vulnerable in this respect because Czechs are sensitive to their wellbeing and we get a lot of calls from the public informing us about cases of animal cruelty that are not actually an offense under Czech law – for instance a dog tied to a doghouse all day on a very short leash and not fed regularly. Unless the vet finds the animal is badly undernourished there is nothing he can do. Even if the doghouse is a mess, overheated in the summer, freezing cold in winter and the dog is clearly suffering.”

Under the present law you would have to kill an animal for it to be investigated as a crime, or to have killed an animal in the past and subsequently maimed another. Other forms of cruelty are regarded as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine. Reporting a case of suspected cruelty to the police requires photo documentation or the testimony of an eyewitness. In short, not an ideal state of affairs for the wellbeing of man’s best friend. Moreover, the country’s outdated animal rights’ laws regard a dog as property with a special status–rather than a living being, which leads to bizarre circumstances – a dog bought from a breeder can be returned within the usual two-year guarantee period if the owner finds a hidden deficiency – such as a genetic bone anomaly. When news of this emerged in the media recently the public bombarded the government demanding a legislative amendment. Hanka Janišová says that to her knowledge the possibility of returning a dog as deficient goods is nonsensical and has not been put to use.

Photo: Michal Malý, ČRo
“When you get a dog –even for a lot of money from a breeder – within a very short time that dog becomes a member of the family. Now imagine that in a year or so that dog develops serious health problems – a genetic bone defect or heart defect that require considerable expenditures. I would venture to say that no normal person is going to take that ailing dog back to the breeder and demand their money back –especially when they know the dog would be put down.”

The government is now working on an amendment to the law that will give animals a special legal status. The Society for Animal Rights says this is a step in the right direction but changing an animal’s status alone will not protect it, if it is not given certain rights and tougher laws against animal cruelty are not put in place as well. Until that happens no amount of pampering and love can make up for the fact that legally dogs –and other animals - are very much at the mercy of their owners or anyone else who may want to harm them.

For more information on animal rights in the Czech Republic go to www.psoz.cz