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Monday, May 28, 2007

La Ciudad y Los Perros

I would be neglecting my duties in the chronicling of Spanish life if I didn’t write something about how much people here love their pooches. I happen to like dogs a lot so I don’t mind all of the negative aspects of sharing a dense urban environment with man’s best friends. Some of you may be asking, “Dogs have a down side?” I’m trying to keep this upbeat and positive so I’ll limit my answer to one word: sometimes.

I realize that “sometimes” is a little vague but it usually means early in the morning, when I’m sleeping, or at least I was sleeping, you yapping little dust mop, wherever you are. Lucky for you I’m too hung over to get out of bed and come looking for you. Lucky for you firearms are not as readily available as they are in my homeland. I try to return to my dream where I was hitting a very small dog with a very large board with a nail sticking out of it. Nice doggy, now hold still. While I’m fantasizing I may as well use the same length of board to hit the workmen below who begin drilling promptly at 7:30 a.m. and then go for morning beers at 7:55 and don’t get back until noon. Maybe when I’m finished hitting them (I suggest getting comfortable, this could take a while) they can build me a nice bookshelf out of my weapon.

True story: Today I walked by the little café that shares the same courtyard as my building. It was 10:25 in the morning and already there was a table with an empty bottle of wine and several beer bottles. But today we are talking about dogs, not eager-beaver workmen who begin work in earnest at 7:30 a.m., complete with plenty of extremely loud power tools along with their own repertoire of vulgar throat-clearing noises, only to work long enough to wake me up completely, and then they head off to get their morning drink on. They deserve their own essay—or shooting spree.

I would guess that at least one quarter of the households in Valencia include a dog among their occupants. Most of the people with dogs have smaller ones, the kind that you probably can’t rely upon to go for help if you are ever trapped in an abandoned mine. In fact, most of the dogs here have more in common with hamsters than they do with Lassie or Old Yeller. Just as most people here choose to drive small cars, they also prefer smaller dogs, and for the same reason: better fuel economy.

Unfortunately, I live in a Spanish household with no dog, big or small. As much as I love the pooches, I’ve never had one of my own. Dogs take up too much of my baggage allowance when I travel. Most of the people I have met so far in Valencia are also dog-less. If I ever take out a personal ad on a Spanish dating site mine will explain that my most stringent requirement for a woman is that she own a cool dog. Dating a woman with a cool dog always sucks, too. When you break up you end up missing the dog as much as the owner. I have never missed an ex’s cat.

The dogs here all seem to be very well behaved. If they have such things as leash laws here most people are in violation, yet their loose mutts never seem to stray very far or get into mischief. You see dogs waiting patiently outside of grocery stores while their masters are inside buying all of the strange things Spanish people buy in grocery stores. People take their pets with them practically every where they go. The main cathedral in Valencia actually has a special pew set aside in the back just for dogs. I’m not sure if that is true or not but it should be. If dogs aren’t allowed in churches this might explain why nobody here goes any more. I guess the Catholic god is more of the cat-loving type of superior being.

I guess that you could say that dogs have a privileged place in Spanish society, sort of like movie stars have in American society except without the drug rehab and DUI arrests. Dogs don't have any issues that can't be remedied with a rolled up magazine. Even considering all of the crap and barking, I think Spanish dogs are a lot better behaved than American celebrities. The subjects of American tabloids leave a bigger mess in their wake than any Spanish chihuahua, and just try cleaning up Paris Hilton's latest social dump with nothing but a plastic shopping bag wrapped around your hand.

As much as I love dogs, even I have to say that they tend to get a little messy here in Valencia where not everyone feels obliged to pick up after their little one. This wouldn’t be so bad except they don’t have the dog poop clean-up brigades like they do in Paris where squadrons of motorcycles patrol the city vacuuming up dog crap. No kidding. There are cleaning crews that scour each neighborhood but they can’t keep up with the prolific output of so many canines. More and more people are taking it upon themselves to clean up after their dogs but I think the education process could use a little push from the government.

For this I have volunteered my services as a writer. I will donate my creative talents to make Valencia completely free of dog poop through a series of public services announcements on television. In one ad a very small woman walks her very small dog down the street. The dog stops to do his business and while the woman is distracted while talking to someone on the street, a very large man does his business on her very small dog. In another ad a group of children are joyously playing on the sidewalk when one of them steps in a fresh pile. In slow motion the child runs in horror down the street. We freeze-frame to show the child’s anguish, copying the famous Viet Nam War photograph of the child hit with napalm. I have many more ideas but this would be a good start.

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