When you think of The Netherlands you’d be forgiven for picturing the stereotypical sights, canals, windmills and tulips. It’s a nation known globally for its liberal thinking on issues such as freedom for its citizens to make their own choices. But does this progressive attitude extend to animal welfare? We find out what life is like for Dutch citizens of a canine persuasion.
Home to 17 million residents, it’s estimated that one in five homes have at least one dog. Although breeds such as the Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd and Golden Retriever have been the most popular pedigree dogs in recent years, their decline in popularity in favour of mixed breed dogs has become apparent with cross-breed dogs now outnumbering pedigrees in Dutch homes, writes Donna Jannsen.
You won’t see many stray dogs on our streets in the Netherlands. They will be captured quickly by the local animal welfare. There are approximately 200 shelters for stray dogs and cats and between 20-50% are rehomed via the internet. Each year, there are more than 70,000 lost and found animals of which over half (52%) are reunited.
In the Netherlands dogs must be walked on leads in most places, including towns. We have designated areas where you can walk your dog leashed, unleashed and where dogs are not allowed. This includes cities, forests, beaches and fields.
On our beaches, (451 kilometres) dogs are allowed from the end of September until April and in the summer time after 7pm. There are special beaches for dogs which have no time restrictions. In most cities we have little fenced dog areas. The government cleans these dog areas with special dog poop cleaners. All owners are obliged to take a poop bag with them on their walks and they must clean up dog poop.
In the Netherlands, we love to bike with our dogs. We can take dog buggy behind our bikes in case our dogs get tired. We like to run with our dogs as well and there are more sports we do together with our pets. And we use dog carts if necessary.
The Netherlands has different kinds of nature. I can drive 2 1/2 hours to the West to beaches or two hours to the East to hills. In between we have wide open fields, forests, cities, roads, bike trails and lots of lakes and rivers. Our climate is mild but our weather is unpredictable and it can seem like it rains a lot! The winter temperature can go to -15c and our summer days can be as high as +35c degrees. Special breeds of dogs need coats here, especially our Greyhounds.
If you have no opportunity to walk your dog properly, some people use professional dog walking services or daycare services. When our dogs cannot join us on holiday, we can leave them in a dog residence or dog boarding facility. In the Netherlands, we can choose from many different veterinarians, specialised clinics for pets, behaviour specialists and training centers, physical therapists for animals, alternative medicine specialists such as homeopaths. In our dog training schools, we can take puppy classes as well as agility and fun lessons.
The Netherlands requires registration for breeders and tries to prevent people from buying puppies from puppy mills. We can insure our dogs for medical expenses and our personal insurance is necessary because if our pet causes any damage, the owner of the pet is always responsible according to our law, no matter who was right or wrong.
In most restaurants you can take your dog as well as in bus, train and metro. Taxi drivers can decide for themselves whether they want to take your pet. We must vaccinate our dogs against diseases and all dogs should be micro-chipped and registered.
As to the dog world in The Netherlands, we have to deal with many differences. People who have small budgets have problems paying the veterinary bills and buying dog food at lower prices. Illegal hunters breed Greyhounds and get rid of the ones that are not useful to them by leaving them behind in the streets. People who abuse animals live here too.
Other breeds of dogs are more lucky, are happy, and live a more luxurious life. We can choose to buy our dogs from professional registered breeders or bad puppy mills who have little interest in animal welfare. We adopt dogs from local shelters or from shelters abroad (more than 26,000 new microchip registrations in 2014 were for imported animals). There are many organisations who work for animal shelters in eastern and southern countries like Romania and Spain.
For somebody who wants to adopt a pet abroad, it is difficult to check how these animal welfare organisations handle their animals, adhere to rules and what they value. Here, as everywhere, love for animals and money go hand in hand.
There are people in the Netherlands who want more rules and procedures for to rehoming organisations and centres. Some organisations never do home visits, some have a bad aftercare and some are not transparent in matters of money.
In this European country it is forbidden by law to hurt an animal and the owner should take proper care of the animal and there have been new rules introduced to improve our animal welfare. One example is a better and more detailed identification and registration process.
Another important one is that all breeders, sellers of animals, shelters and day cares have to get a license. To get this license they need to receive a certification education and this also applies to breeders, even those who have been breeding for 30 years already.
The Netherlands is a small country and we have to share our nature and walking areas with wild protected animals such as deer and in the spring and early summer we have to be careful because of the young deer hiding in the bushes or fields.
It can be very crowded on our walks and sometimes feels as if we are all fighting for our private space.
Depending on the walking area I choose, the time of the day and of course the weather. In the fenced areas we meet many different people and dogs, some well-behaved and some not. For me and my pack, we are dealing with some issues. In our neighbourhood and in the few fenced areas we use there have been issues between cyclists, people on horses, joggers, Greyhounds, bull mastins, ridgebacks, people with small children and people who like to do photoshoots and dog walkers who walk multiple dogs at once, and so some cities have recently introduced the rule that dog walkers can walk only two dogs at once to prevent them walking many, many dogs at the same time.
Many forests are divided by busy roads. Even in areas where you are free to unleash your dog you are not safe from traffic. In this neighbourhood, we have an unfenced area for unleashed dogs right beside the highway! When you walk from the highway into nature you have to leash your dog.
Because I walk with four adopted Spanish Galgo’s who need to run, and enjoy running alongside my bike, we sometimes drive up to an hour to find somewhere to run free. The nearest place to do a proper unleashed walk is a forest 12 kilometres away. We walk on leashes in the streets in our neighbourhoods, but the nearest fenced dog area (15 x 15 metres) is 1,5 kilometres from my house.
Adopted Greyhounds have other rules and communicate in a different way than other breeds. It is very simple – a Labrador likes to play, a Greyhound wants to run.
For me the daily walk can be stressful as an owner of Greyhounds because I have to be very careful not to create any tension or avoid dangerous situations for my dogs and other animals. Sometimes I have the feeling that I cannot walk anywhere with my pack. I am sure in other areas of our country owner of Greyhounds have the same problems.
A Greyhound photographed at the most recent Great Global Greyhound Dog Walk event in the UK – 20,000 paws took part in the global event, according to UK Volunteer National Press Officer for the Great Global Greyhound Walk, Eve Regelous, who is owned by a Greyhound called Aiden
But as we have a lot of agriculture as well there must be areas that offer more space and freedom. If I were to walk my small Poodle down the street who would have no problem being leashed forever or walk my Chihuahua who just wants 10 minutes outside to go for a pee, my point of view would be, of course, completely different.
The walking issues are the main reason why I really love the organised days for rescued Greyhounds. Several organisations and private people organize meeting days during the year. In fenced or unfenced areas our rescued Greyhounds can play amongst each other and the owners can talk while their four-legged precious ones run and play. The play dates are mainly shared on Facebook and on several websites.
My dogs were rescued in Spain from the streets or from killing stations. After their recovery in the Spanish shelter, they were transported by car or plane to the Netherlands. Every dog has their own story to tell and on these organised days, we hear stories about dogs who have survived diseases, traumas, fears, fractures and operations. Since their arrival in my home, my dogs sleep on my couch and run unleashed once a day. They meet many dogs, both pedigrees and rescues, and we visit many events for stray dogs. About once a year my dogs and I travel to their homeland and my dogs don’;t mind the 2,000 kilometre journey. They just adapt and settle. On a terrace, on our walks, at home and always! We drive to Spain to live and work for several weeks in the shelter, Fundacion Benjamin Mehnert. My respect for these animals is without limits.
About the Author
Donna Janssen is a Dutch resident and volunteers for a Spanish shelter ‘Fundacion Benjamin Mehnert’ as well as helping different Dutch organisations. As a volunteer, she mainly takes photographs, describes the shelter dogs, organises events and is involved in the ‘Great Global Greyhound Dog Walk’. She also carries out home visits, administration, picks up dogs from transport and is often a temporary foster mum.
She is studying for her license to enable her to run a shelter and day care centre to be able to help the Spanish shelter in the work they do.