Vienna’s four-footed citizenry

In Austria’s capital, dogs are people, too.

by Sarah Casagrande 

VIENNA, Austria – Isanto, a Doberman pinscher, walks along the sidewalk while his caretakers, Natalie Johnston and Katharina Pfleger, sit on a bench each nursing a cigarette. Some people stop to pet Isanto, but most simply ignore him as he goes about his dog-sniffing business.  

In Vienna, an off-leash dog wandering the city center is considered normal.

Anna Maya’s dog, Luna, is allowed on Vienna’s
public transportation, but only if he has a
ticket, too. It’s the law.

“Most people love him,” Johnston said. “He is a very loving dog, always walking up to people. All he needs is cuddles.”

There are 623,000 dogs in Austria, many of which live in the capital city of Vienna, according to the European dog population management website, CAROdog. Here, dogs are allowed in almost every park, building and restaurant, and they can travel on the subway as long as a ticket is bought for them, too.

Pfleger said that at her workplace, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, dogs are allowed in the lecture halls.

“People here are very dog-friendly, and lots of people have dogs,” Susanne Sarwaryn, owner of the pet boutique Katz & Hund in Josefstadt, Vienna’s Eighth District, said. ”They do a lot in the city for the dogs, like (providing) dog zones and places where you can get your dog bags for free.”

Advantages of city life

While there are challenges to having a dog in Vienna, the city provides things to make owners’ and dogs’ lives easier. For example, there are 169 dog parks and more than 3,000 dog waste dispensers in Vienna for owners to use, according to the City of Vienna website. These facilities are paid for by an annual 72 euro tax imposed on dog owners.  

“The dog parks are really nice (in Vienna),” said Sarah Haupt, who trains her mixed-breed, Frodo, with dog trainer Petra Frey. “They even usually have places for people to water their dogs.”

Proper pet training is crucial in Vienna, where it is important for dogs to be well behaved in public. Frey, who founded DogDialog in Margareten, Vienna’s Fifth District, said that Vienna has a huge dog school culture. She started her business after volunteering at a local shelter eight years ago.

“I really wanted to know how the brains of dogs work, and how to help them in a positive way without force,” Frey said.

Size matters

Less urban areas in Austria tend to have larger dogs that are less trained and, therefore, allowed to be more boisterous than city dogs.

“I hear if you go to the (city’s) outer districts, it gets a little bit tougher,” Haupt said. “The dogs are less educated or trained, and they are also usually a little bit more aggressive.”

Sarwaryn’s long-haired Chihuahua, Max,
is Katz & Hund’s de facto mascot.

On the streets of Vienna, there are few large dogs in sight. Sarwaryn said that smaller breeds of dog are more common in the city, with certain breeds trending as popular or faddish. Her own dog, a long-haired Chihuahua named Max, serves as the de facto mascot for Katz & Hund, Sarwaryn’s dog boutique.

“For me it’s easy, because he’s a small Chihuahua; it’s easy to get around,” Sarwaryn said.

Haupt said that she’s glad her Frodo is medium-sized, because when she sees smaller dogs in public, she fears that she will step on them.

“If I take [Frodo] to a café, he can just fit in a small corner,” Haupt said. “If I take him to the subway, I can put him between my legs and everything’s fine.”

Large dogs can also be a problem because of the fear they sometimes instill. Pfleger said that she has had issues with people being afraid of Isanto.

“The first impression of our dog is, ‘Oh my God, he’s big, he’s black, he’s a Doberman. Maybe he’s dangerous, maybe he’ll bite me,’” Pfleger said. “It’s just about making people feel comfortable.” 

Dog difficulties

For small dogs, the problem is becoming overwhelmed, Frey said.

Dog trainer Petra Frey said she chose her
profession after volunteering at a local anima
shelter, where still helps out now,eight years later.

“There are many rescue dogs being brought into the city, as well,” Frey said. “That is a problem for many dogs, especially when they come from eastern Europe and they’ve never been in a big city before.”

Frey said she has dealt with many problem dogs. One of her more memorable cases was a miniature pinscher that had issues with anxiety, frequently barking at people and dogs in the streets.

Frey had the owner place a bag on the ground for the dog to crawl into whenever he felt overwhelmed. She said that the dog and owner are doing so well that they regularly come to Frey’s social walking events in the city.

“I think that this is just one of the beautiful stories that I can tell,” Frey said.

But not every dog gets accustomed to life in Vienna. Loud noises, hordes of people and lack of open space can prove too stressful.

“In some cases, I have to say ‘Give him away. You can’t keep this rescue dog from Hungary who has never been” to a big city, Frey said.

Judging by appearances, most dogs do just fine. Dogs and their owners roam the city every day, and even those who do not own a dog can benefit from their presence.

  “Where we live, there is a dog zone where people just come to play with the dogs if they don’t own one themselves,” Johnston said. “They love it.”

See photo gallery of dogs of Vienna here.

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