The bell tolls long and loud for all Dutch dog owners from 1 March through to 1 August.
The annual leash laws mean rather than running freely through public parks and woodland (in slow motion with the theme to Chariots of Fire in the background) dogs must be on leash only.
The reason for this? The nesting season for birds. Admirable of course, but as one disgruntled – Dutch – dog owner said to me, ‘there’s more danger to the damn birds from foxes, other wild animals and rampant unrestrained children than from dogs’.
She has a point. None of the dogs I know is remotely interested in chasing wild birds – other dogs, cyclists, cars or anything thrown to/ at them, yes, but birds?
How to explain to our canine friends that yesterday it was fine to race around at full speed with fellow canine friends, roll unfettered in crackling dry leaves, or swim in the nearest canal, but today it’s ‘heel’ for the whole of the walk. Ever seen a depressed spaniel?
Should you wish, in a moment of complete insanity, to flout the edicts of the Gemeente (Town Hall) there is the stress of avoiding the local dog wardens. Only in the Netherlands.
We have several in our area who carry out their task with the enthusiasm always associated with the over zealous having right on their side. That and a leather pocket book for handing out dog tickets. An automatic €60 on-the-spot fine (irrespective of size) for any dog in violation of various articles under the Canine Convention of The Hague.
The Hague is home to the International Court of Justice, Europol, the OPCW (Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons), the International Criminal Court and 150 other international organisations, so what chance does the regular dog walker have?
Our local dog warden has a shiny immaculate bike, uniform with logo and the ubiquitous peaked cap. He reminds me of a slimmed down Benny Hill as he cycles along, a man on a mission, sun glinting off his spherical wire-rimmed spectacles. It makes it hard to take him seriously.
And it is serious. I have a girlfriend who, on a ramble in the dunes and having not seen a living soul for over an hour, decided to let her West Highland Terrier, Svitzer, off leash. The dunes are open, rolling and covered in tall scrub-like bushes, a beautiful place to restore the spirit and enrich the soul.
Svitzer is not known for chasing anything. His aim in life is to posture and threaten any large male dog, usually Rottweilers or Alsatians with dramatic and often catastrophic results. His standard forms of intimidation are a throaty growl and an aggressive stance, made from behind a tree, bush or his mistress’ legs. He is not the bravest of souls and nesting birds hold no interest.
Within seconds of my dear friend giving Svitzer his freedom a dog warden leapt out from behind a bush in full camouflage gear brandishing his little black book, manic gleam in his eye and hand held out for collection of the aforementioned fine. No kidding.
She has not been the same since – walking the streets around her home she can be reduced to a wreck if she sees an approaching bike and the silhouette of a peaked cap. Not helped I might add, by Switzer being an object of note to all un-castrated males in her neighbourhood.
With our dog warden living close by I see him out and about and we are on nodding terms – bad news as having known him for so long I should know the rules. I can no longer pretend to be newly arrived and ignorant (the general default position) should I allow the Archster an off-leash, 30 second sprint through fallen leaves on a particularly beautiful glad-to-be-alive-day.
I have spent days watching the warden’s comings and goings. He sets off at 6.30am when he starts his rounds, back home for breakfast, morning coffee, lunch and home by 5.30pm. This gives me, on brave days, certain windows of opportunity. This has been screwed though, when the object of my scrutiny decides to alter his schedule. The stress is unrelenting.
Although the winter months are cold and muddy it’s great to walk for miles, see no-one and have a gleeful spaniel jubilant and full of life running alongside. The only time we see the dog warden then is in his secondary role as traffic warden.
Sometimes this involves his bicycle as he wobbles around town, checking the time on parking tickets. Same uniform, same pocket book, same cap. Other times he drives a swanky, brightly coloured and Gemeente logo-ed pick-up truck, wears a high-visibility jacket and brandishes a glow-in-the-dark baton for directing traffic. And his cap.
At least if he’s in his truck we know we’re safe on the dog front, but automatically start to stress about where we’re parked and if we’re in danger of a parking ticket. Such is the nature of living in a country where rules and regulations are a defining national trait.
So how to exercise our reigned-in dogs once the leash laws come into effect?
Well, there is a way.
It involves risking life and limb, having good insurance to cover accidents to road users, pedestrians and other dog walkers caused by this unique method of exercising the family pooch. It also requires a well trained, obedient, focused dog and nerves of steel on my part.
I’ll let you know about it in another blog. I need rest, relaxation and be up to full mental capacity before I can begin to talk about it…