How does Zagreb fare as a dog-friendly city? Rather well, concludes new arrival, Stuart Jameson.
Without a doubt, dogs are up there with the most vital acquisitions on the planet, something you really shouldn’t be able to live without. I put them up there with a hoppy craft beer, Liverpool FC, fish and chips, and Radiohead’s OK Computer on vinyl. Incidentally, I will take this opportunity to request that if anyone knows where you can get UK style fish and chips in Zagreb to please let me know and I can cancel my order for a crate of Scottish haddock and twenty tins of mushy peas.
I was on the subject of dogs. Man’s best friend, our four-legged furry companions that should really be included on the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, such is the necessity for having a pooch in our miserable lives. Angels – thy name is Dog. What would we possibly do without the dogs of Instagram, #pupper, or a million and one memes and videos of the little darlings doing crazy and quite frankly hilarious things?! This post settles the dog versus cat debacle once and for all. Dogs are better. End of.
So, there I was, hopping around the world without a dog. You see, I had to make the very unfortunate decision to put my dog, Jack, to sleep – shortly after the passing of my parents. He was old and tired. He had Cushing’s disease and arthritis in his tail. He was probably only going to be with us another year at best. Nonetheless, even after losing mum and dad, when that big dope put his head in my hands and went to sleep for the last time for his journey to that doggy retirement home in the sky – I was beyond consolation. I retired into the house and wasn’t seen or heard for several days – save perhaps for the wailing you might have been able to catch on the wind around the time Jack would usually have been snuffling my face and sleeping on the end of my bed. It was the straw that broke the camels back, and I packed up everything and left shortly after.
In managing to acquire a partner many years later, I discovered – to unapparelled rapture – that she came with a dog. Two companions for the price of one! However, although I did my very best to get away and continue my travels, I couldn’t stop thinking about those big, brown eyes, wet nose, and that look she gave me when lying on my chest as I snuggled down to sleep at night. And that was just my partner. This cute little pooch would just stare so inquisitively into my peepers it was as if she wanted to be me. When I left she was depressed, mooching and moping about the house in a trance, but upon my return, she barked so hard she lost her voice and then pissed herself. Then, once more with abject glee, she would bound onto my chest as I settled in bed and gaze longingly into my soul with an unspoken, unconditional love. Either that or she’d realised with her animalistic senses that I don’t have much longer to live and it’s some kind of warning. Regardless, I found myself again in the loving paws of a pooch – and it felt oh so very good.
Now, you would have thought that the sort of euphoria a dog can bring humankind would be appreciated by all and sundry – but alas, that, unfortunately, isn’t the case. First of all, there are the cat lovers. At least their hearts are in the right place and they’re moving in the proper direction – it’s just the wrong animal. But then there are people around the world who have a genuine hatred for our furry companions, which I find difficult to fathom. Margot – our little bundle of joy – is a Kyrgyz mutt. She was rescued from the streets of Bishkek by my partner three years ago, and has grown into the lovable little pooper she is today. And when I say rescued – I mean saved from a potential life of abuse, swift boots to the bum, and children poking her with sticks. When I was taking the tiny mite for her daily stretch, you would have thought I was walking a demon beast from the devils own satanic pound. Enormous, fully grown men (of the cave variety) would yelp and jump as this harmless little runt would trundle along the path – oblivious to the fact she was parting the public like Moses through the red sea. Simply by sitting patiently outside a store front as I picked up some groceries, Margot would prevent anyone else from getting in as they lined up in fear and waited for me to remove her – all the while cursing and spluttering something in either Russian or Kyrgyz. I remember one middle-aged lady screaming abuse as I calmly walked Margot past her delightfully inquisitive child, as the poor kid tried to get close to stroke our ridiculously friendly and well-trained family pet. Or bash her with a stick – one of the two.
“The more people I meet, the more I love my dog.” Said Mark Twain. Or possibly Gandhi. Whoever.
This was a regular occurrence. I was shocked at how many grown men would literally – and I kid you not – leap a foot in the air and run around behind a tree as Margot wiggled by. Ladies would shriek and risk their own lives throwing themselves through traffic just to avoid her. But it wasn’t all so innocuous, as we became pretty sure Margot received her fair share of shoe or stone aimed in her direction when our backs were turned. For whatever reason – religious, cultural or otherwise, Kyrgyzstan did not like mans best friend at all, and we wanted to go somewhere that did.
Margot suffered a long and gruelling 18-hour plane journey to finally get to Zagreb. I had not seen her for nearly 7 months when I went to pick her and Alex up from the airport, and the poor little thing didn’t recognise me, shaking and growling in a general state of total confusion. But she slowly began to get her bearings and re-acclimatise to her new surroundings. What could we expect? How would they take our little darling in our new city?
We needn’t have worried at all. While exploring our fresh stomping ground for the first time, we were struggling with bits and pieces of shopping outside a bookstore while negotiating who would wait outside with the dog. Upon witnessing this, the store assistant came bursting outside, arms wide and bent down to greet a wagging tail, a slobbering tongue and a little hound bounding with love.
“Of course, you can come in! Dogs are always welcome here. I have two myself!”
“I have two myself” was to become a familiar response whenever we were slightly concerned about where we were allowed to bring Margot. Then in the end – it just got ridiculous, as we discovered dog bowls with food and water, specific places to safely tie her up, “dogs welcome” and “pet-friendly” signs adorning establishment windows and finally even a dog bakery – making treats entirely for our faithful companions. Which, I might add, is an impressive endeavour in a central city location of prime real estate in the current economic climate. The icing on the cake was discovering said bakery was running a restaurant for dogs as part of the Zagreb Christmas Market – which has just one the best European Christmas Market for the third year in a row. Kudos all round. We simply had to take our beloved Margot for a slap-up Christmas nosh, and she barely sat down to eat her duck-liver dinner in two bites. We clearly need to teach her some table manners.
Zagreb is clearly a city with a big heart – one that recognises the value of the family pet and provides accordingly. And why not? We’d be lost without them. Sometimes when you really need a hand in life, it’s better to have a paw.
As Christmas fast approaches, we all reflect on the year gone by as we take another trip around the sun. Our transition from Bishkek to Zagreb hasn’t been without its difficulties, but as we settle in we realise that this wonderful city is the place for us – and perhaps most importantly – this is the place for Margot. She is part of the family after all.
I’d like to take this opportunity to mention Shelter Prijatelji, an amazing animal shelter providing homes, love and support to those furry friends who find themselves on the wrong side of humanity. They desperately need donations of food and blankets regularly, and any support you can give them would be gratefully appreciated. Thank you. This is probably the softest thing you’ll ever see me write.