Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pooches: Dogs in Germany

We're always so interested in hearing about how other dogs live in other cities, so you can imagine how excited I was to 'meet' Stef who is currently living in Berlin with her two pups: Aoki and Snoop. Originally from Germany, Stef lived in Fort Huachuca, Arizona with her pups before bringing them back to Berlin. We had a lot of offline conversations where the love and devotion she has for her pooches is so inspiring, and all she has done to keep them together, (including 40 hours of traveling to get them to Germany!) I begged Stef to write a post to share her experiences.  
From hearing about how dogs are welcomed on public transit, in restaurants and even the zoo(!) to the discrimination based on how a dog looks (crazy stories about neighbors!). Plus, I knew how charmed everyone would be by Aoki and Snoop and her amazing photographs, here is her story:
Let me introduce myself real quick."I'm Stefani, aka Stef, and am the proud owner of two loving quirky dogs, Aoki and Snoop.
The dogs and I live in the big city of Berlin, Germany.  We moved here three years ago. Before Berlin we lived in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. 
Snoop is a good-spirited and humorous Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. While he is great with most people he is also dog reactive.
Aoki is an almost 5 years old sassy Great Dane princess. She is my right hand gal, my once in a lifetime dog.
And then there is Tigger, Snoops ‘brother’ who now lives in New Jersey.
I grew up with dogs, but honestly - growing up with them doesn’t automatically mean you have knowledge. 
Rewind - I’m shopping at Walmart. In the parking lot I see a guy offering puppies. He claims they are pure bred Pit Bulls. He is about to sell them to someone that is holding a puppy like it‘s a piece of meat. I walk up to them and end up with two puppies on my lap and no clue what I’m in for. 
Back then I didn’t know anything about backyard breeding, about puppies sold in stores and all the odds that come with having a ’Pit Bull type dog’.
Soon afterwards another dog  joined our family. The beautiful Aoki. She was given to me by my ex-partner who knew that I had a soft spot for Great Danes.
Truth to be told, I'm not proud of having dogs from backyard breeders but back then I was young,  impulsive and guilty of ignorance. Honesty is always better but not always prettier. My dogs are no rescues, they don‘t come from a shelter or a breeder. There is always the easy way of not talking about it but would that be right? I did the wrong thing, I wouldn‘t do it again but I still love my dogs with everything I have. 
I've since learned a lot and I‘m providing my dogs with the best life possible. 
I started off blindly.  Fed random food, chose random gear, random toys, did some random ’training’. Then I got stung by the research bee. I read a lot, joined forums, watched videos and talked to as many experienced people as possible. I slowly realized that I had made my fair share of mistakes. I switched to a grain-free high quality food, started  positive reinforement training and made sure my dogs had everything they need and more. 
I was dazzled by all the information. A whole new world opened up to me. 
While I’m far from all-knowing, I still want to share our story with you. 
Between dealing with dog duvets, learning about the joys of martingale collars, spending my life savings on holistic supplements I was also forced to read into the issues of BSL. Clearly it affected us. We were living a military life, moving every couple of years was inevitable. One thought led to another, one question to another. 
Why are so many dogs in shelters?  Why are so many of them ‘Pit Bull type dogs‘? Why BSL? What if we move to a city that has BSL? What if I need to go back to Germany? What kind of future are we facing?  Will my dogs be safe? I realized BSL is everywhere and affects everyone.
Fort Huachuca tightened its laws while we were living there, the dogs got grandfathered in. 
I found out that most military bases have restrictions & unfortunately so has Germany. 
Living in Fort Huachuca was still a good life for the dogs. They had private playdates, went on hikes and enjoyed the nature Arizona had to offer. The house was always full of furry friends. Snoop grew into looking like a Rhodesian Ridgeback and our vet eventually decided to  register him as a Ridgeback Mix. This change made things possible. Aoki grew into a sock and shoe-eating machine that ended up on the operating table. 
Tigger became very uneasy in Snoops presence and eventually snapped at him. Both males were neutered and well-socialized but no matter what we tried Tigger did not approve of Snoop. Managing those two was hard but doable with a solid routine.   
Many dogs were living on base but only a few of them were properly taken care of. Maybe the owners didn’t break the law but they certainly didn’t really care.
Craigslist was always full of ad’s. ’Dog to a good home, we are moving…’. 
Why get a dog if it’s only temporary? Bringing a pet into your home should be a  lifetime commitment and if you can’t keep that commitment you better make sure you are doing everything in your power to find a safe solution.
Soon life would throw rocks at us. 
To make a long story short - My partner and I were no longer together. Things changed and I wanted and needed to go home to Germany.
By law dogs are considered  property. All three of them belonged  to him. In order for them to be transferred to my name I had to agree on giving up all financial rights and most of my material possessions but those were just ’things’.  Aoki and Snoop were officially my dogs. Tigger was never an option. He was more drawn to my ex and by importing a ‘Pit Bull type dog’ or cross you can face jail time. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him or look at his pictures.
Meanwhile I was making arrangements for our flight. I was stressed and scared beyond words.
Preparing your dogs for such a long flight takes time and costs a fortune. 
In late September of 2009, after 40 hours of traveling we set paws and feet on German ground. 
Welcome to a whole different dog culture. 
We actually have two homes in Germany. 
There is Berlin with it’s 3.5 million citizens and 100.000 dogs. 
There is also the small village near Berlin where the dogs ‘grandparents’ live. 
Big city and endless forest, best of both worlds.
Germany welcomes your dog. Bar, restaurant, mall, train, taxi, .. you name it.
A law says that if you don’t want a dog in your establishment you need to put out a sign that specifically says ‘No dogs allowed’ or ‘dogs wait outside‘. 
If there is no sign you probably won‘t get asked to leave if you have your buddy with you.
It‘s common that water (and treats) will be provided. 
Supermarkets and drugstores are an exception but generally speaking you can say that Berlin is very dog-friendly and kind of laid back. 
They ride on public transportation.
They dine with you.
They can go to one of two zoos.
They can be found everywhere.
Not far from us is a huge dog park we like to enjoy on quieter weekdays, Aoki loves it there and since Snoop isn’t the most social, it’s a great way of meeting up with friends.  
Berlin is a great city to live in for dogs like Aoki. She gets along with everybody, she is calm and confident. The options are endless.
Dogs like Snoop have a tougher time. In a perfect world all dogs would be on leash but the reality is different. We have to deal with off leash dogs that don’t know the meaning of recall.
Living in a tight space with irresponsible dog owners is annoying and dangerous. 

Another of the main problems is the amount of dog poop, if people could just pick up after their dogs..

Sadly the stories about toxic bait have increased. There have been fatal accidents including dogs eating sausage filled with razor blades, nails and rat poison.

There is NO way to defend this cruelty. That being said I wish owners would step up and show a little more respect to the public. Maybe following the rules would have a positive effect.

Speaking of rules, BSL plays a big role in Germany. There are 16 states, each one has a different take on it. There are so called ‘list dogs’ aka ‘dogs on a list’. The list is divided into two categories. Category 1 contains all breeds (and mixes) that are considered dangerous without a chance of proving otherwise. As far as I know not even passing a test like the CGC makes a valid difference.
It’s either forbidden or complicated to adopt a category 1 dog.  There is a lot of paperwork involved.
The dogs have to be muzzled, period. 
Category 2 dogs are considered dangerous but have a chance of proving otherwise. If they do so no muzzle is required. 
I’ll share this link with you. It shows the breeds, the states and the category. Green means no restriction. As you can see some states don’t have a list,  therefore no BSL. 
The amount of illegal ‘Pit Bull type dogs’ is insane. Shelters are full with non-adoptables. It’s a frustrating circle. Often dogs are secretly brought in  from Poland. The conditions are horrible, the dogs physically and mentally ill. Usually they are seized by the police because of missing paperwork and neglect. The story of the criminal with his tough looking dog is not over but there is a big wave of hope. People finally speak up. There is political talk about removing the list and judge a dog on it’s personality, not breed. I hope one day soon more responsible people will see ‘Pit Bull type dogs’ for what they are.  Just dogs. Well, maybe a bit more special. 
If there is something we thrive for it’s acceptance and tolerance.
Living in an apartment building has its downsides. In our case the downside lives below us. The dogs never suffered from seperation or isolation anxiety, ever. Apparantly the ‘Rottweilers’ were too loud and barked when left alone. We didn’t know any of this until the day the police was waiting for us. The neighbors were determined to get us out of there. They knocked on the walls and rang the bell whenever we were gone, they literally provoked a problem. Our solution was to keep the dogs in the living room, as far away from the hallway as possible. We bought rugs for damping, let the tv or radio on and shut the blinds. Every possible trigger was considered. Healing, or should I say, working on seperation anxiety is a long term progress. All the training tips we found were appreciated and molded into our lifestyle. The neighbors still complain about every detail but they see the effort we put into fixing this problem and making life better for all of us. As of right now Aoki and Snoop are fine by themselves for 3 hours. There is still a long way ahead of them.  An easy-going, quiet dog should not be taken for granted.  On rainy days we tire them out with mental games and interactive toys. 
If you have any advice for dealing with loud dogs and louder neighbors please share it. I would appreciate it.
If we need a break from the city we visit my parents. They love to doggy sit and both dogs equally enjoy the countryside. There is a big yard for Snoop and Aoki to play in and their personal heaven - the forest. Snoop has more freedom and space. He feels safer in quieter surroundings.
He has come a long way and so did I, we learned how to manage with the help of bach flowers, thunder coats, positive reinforcement training and patience. Patience is always the hardest. He has good days and not so good days but that’s okay. He is living a good life filled with love, treats and walks. A goal for 2013 is to make a few more doggy pals.
Aoki is living to the fullest, she has never been super healthy but with the right supplements and organization her arthritis is kept in check.  I pray she will stay with us for as long as she can.
I can’t imagine my life without them. No matter what happens I’m up for it. I’m proud of what they have accomplished and will accomplish. Anything is possible (:
I know our story is flawed, I’m far from being a hero in the dog world. Aoki and Snoop don’t hold any titles nor are they the easiest and healthiest dogs but we never gave up on each other, worked through our problems and moved overseas.

Much love,

Thank you so much to Stef for sharing so much of your story with us!


Lindsay said...

I loved reading this!

Regina Hart said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Stef! It is clear how much you love Aoki and Snoop (and Tigger!). I wish that all dogs were as lucky as yours.

Courtney said...

I really enjoyed reading this. It's great to see how folks in other countries live with their furry kids!

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks for sharing it! It's always cool to see how pets in other countries live.

Anonymous said...

Taking your dog everywhere sounds wonderful but off leash dogs are a huge problem. We had to end a walk after 20 feet recently due to an abundance of off leash dogs on a path, one of them unsupervised as it walked up to our dogs. We had a neighbor who liked to call the cops on dogs and music (old building, cheap, pet-friendly, student housing, freight line, college town, grad students, restaurant workers- what about that doesn't scream "your neighbors are up late and not 100% silent") Thankfully, she moved out.

Hannah@Eriesistibull said...

What a great story!! I loved where you said "Patience is always the hardest. He has good days and not so good days but that’s okay." We have a dog that is exactly the same! We wrote a few weeks ago about one particularly bad day he had...but when we remembered to compare it to where he came from, you could hardly be upset by it!

Having so much pet-friendly areas sounds wonderful! There are very few places we can take the pooches - it would be nice for them to have so many different experiences!

Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Loved this! How incredible to be able to take your pups almost everywhere. I have a huge amount of admiration for how hard you worked to keep your family toghether. *hugs*

The Wh0le Story said...

What a good read! And oh my gosh, I loooove Rhodesians! Snoop is gorgeous. Does she have a blog??

Corbin said...

What a great story! And, I believe, in a way you did rescue Snoop and Tigger... you rescued them from the poor life they could have had being sold in a parking lot and gave them wonderful lives. Love the pictures!
ps. send you guys an email about a trip to Chicago!

Trissi_V said...

Those pictures in Germany were amazing, I spent 3 years there and miss it every time I catch a glimpse of the forest or the parks.

Stef...you are an amazing individual, you gave up everything to keep your canine family and it takes a lot to get an animal to travel overseas. I did it with a cat (going and then coming back), I can't imagine doing it with dogs. If only more people thought like you, maybe you wouldn't read those ads in craigslist. This is why Americans aren't allowed to adopt in Mannheim, at least when I was there, because too many of them left their pets behind at the end of the tour.

Deanna said...

What a fascinating take on having dogs in another country! I have always wondered how owning a dog in the states compares to a European country. While I would love to take my Mabel everywhere with me, I can see that isn't necessarily always the best thing. Kudos to Stef for being such a wonderful pet parent and taking the time and responsibility to work on Aoki and Snoop's relationship with the neighbors. I wish more pet parents were like you!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was so fascinating to read!! I can't imagine traveling overseas with such large dogs. It must have been terrifying and exhausting. I'm in love with the fact that those pups can go anywhere. Chick on the CTA would be pretty darn sweet :)

Two French Bulldogs said...

Great story! And very nice meeting you guys
Benny & Lily

Two Pitties in the City said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I know you mentioned you don't feel like a 'hero', but seeing the devotion you have to your pups, how hard your worked to keep your family together, and everything you do to keep them happy, healthy and thriving definitely does make you an inspiration! And I agree with the idea of starting your own blog. I think we would all LOVE to see more photos of Aoki and Snoop and your adventures.

Anonymous said...

This was an amazing post! Kudos to you, Stef, and many thanks to Two Pitties for finding such an awesome guest blogger. I'm familiar with Ft. Huachuca and much of Germany, so I think the story really came alive for me :)

Alanna said...

Really enjoyed reading your post Stef. I adopted my pittie mix Maebe when she was 7 weeks old from an acquaintance whose dog had puppies. He wasn't asking anything for the puppies (they were all adopted by his friends and family) so I gave him twenty bucks to help him fix the carpet the puppies had given a beating. I don't think of this as "backyard breeding" because the puppies were an accident and the dogs weren't bread for profit. But what do I know. Anyway, it ended up being an ideal situation for me - I knew Maebe's doggie father well and got the mutt of my dreams for almost nothing.

I'm familiar with the difficulties associated with BSL laws. I live on the east coast of Canada where there are no BSL restrictions, however we frequently spend time in Toronto, which DOES have a BSL law. I had our vet in Halifax list Maebe as a "lab mix" (which isn't exactly a lie because she's just as much lab as anything else) in case we ever encountered problems in Toronto. Luckily we never have, though people frequently ask what kind of dog she is and I just make something up. I feel badly lying because I think pitties are wonderful dogs, but considering I'm technically breaking the law even bringing her into the province, I don't want to take the risk.

On the upside, dogs are allowed on public transportation in Toronto and Maebe loves riding the rails.

Unknown said...

Beautiful dogs! This post remind me of when I lived in Prague and dogs were allowed everywhere. It was amazing. I really miss how they were just part of the culture there. Unfortunately, BSL is rampant in most of Western and Central Europe. I don't think I saw one dog that resembled a pit mix in the three years I lived there :( I really hope that changes.

brooke said...

Germany sounds so amazingly dog friendly, at least towards the dogs they do let in.

liliana876 said...

Thank you for sharing your story. You know, we are our worst critics. You may not feel like a hero, but remember that you are...especially to your dogs. Moving overseas and not leaving them behind is much more than what many people do. Remaining patience and working through their 'issues' is also much more than many people do.

Wear the cape proudly.

I do understand how you feel though. I'm always thinking I could go more for my pack, give them more, especially now that we are facing a very difficult time with one of them.

I'd love to see more photos of your pups, they are beautiful!


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