With more Spaniards living alone, pet numbers soar in the cities

The number of registered dogs, cats and rabbits has shot up by 40% in the past five years

Dogs at Jardín del Turia in Valencia.
Dogs at Jardín del Turia in Valencia.Mònica Torres
Ferran Bono

More people are living alone in cities across Spain, and this accounts for a 40% rise in pet ownership over the last five years. Up until last year there were 13 million registered pets, 93% of which were dogs, 6% cats and the rest mainly rabbits.

“The number of people who are living alone is growing, and there are now more pets in Spain than children under the age of 15,” says the vet Armando Solís, who is also the president of the Spanish Network for the Identification of Pets (REIAC), which was set up to oversee pet registration.

We are a dog-friendly city, and have won several awards

Esteban Aparicio, councilor in Gijón

“It’s another reason why everyone has them registered. That way, cities can organize parks and areas where they can be let off the leash and everyone is better off. Because the numbers keep rising.”

It’s not easy to get the figures right, as not everyone gets a chip for their dog and not all the regional governments, which have legislative powers over the matter, make it mandatory to register other kinds of pets, such as cats. This means the number of cats is probably well above the official number.

Despite the fact that the Affinity Foundation estimates there were 138,000 abandoned dogs and cats in 2018, Solís believes that the situation has improved dramatically in Spain with regard to living arrangements and care, though there is still a long way to go before the country catches up with the Netherlands, Belgium or Britain. “We now keep the animals in our homes as if they were another member of the family,” he says.

In fact, you could say there is a fair amount of spoiling going on which, according to dog owner Isabel, 73, is not a good thing. She herself has rescued and adopted dozens of cats and dogs and she believes there is a danger in treating our animals like children. “Dogs need to be dogs,” she says as she walks her elegant greyhound in a Valencia park. “And owners who do not pick up after them need to be reprimanded. We have to show respect. I even carry a soap spray with me, because people shouldn’t have to smell the urine. Also, there should be a lot more zones for dogs in the cities, and they should be able to use public transportation, even if there are some restrictions.” She eyes her dog, Paul, who stands still as a post. “Yes, he’s called Paul,” she says. “When I rescued him he was so ugly and ill that when he got better I said, ‘My son, you look like Paul Newman!’”

I even carry a soap spray with me, because people shouldn’t have to smell the urine

Isabel, dog owner

Paul Newman the actor was an animal lover, like the journalist Micaela de la Maza who has her own influential website on the subject, SrPerro.com, with information on where dogs are welcome. She has also published several city guides and highlights Gijón in Asturias as one of the best-equipped places for pets. “It’s a very ‘doggy’ city,” she says. “Dogs are part of daily life and there are a lot of green spaces where you can let them off the leash as long as you act responsibly.”

Esteban Aparicio, councilor for Security, Mobility and Animal Welfare in Gijón, acknowledges the recognition. “Yes, we are dog-friendly,” he says. “We have won awards. There are 30 parks where you can let your dog off the leash and a beach where they can go all year, with added access to San Lorenzo beach from October 1 to May 1. We have noticed a big increase in pet tourism.”

DNA for droppings

Gijón authorities are now considering DNA analysis of dog droppings in order to identify the owners who do not pick up after their animals. Málaga has already introduced this system and Mislata, a town adjacent to Valencia, pioneered it in Spain.

“Doing away with dog feces using a new DNA program similar to the one tried in Switzerland has been part of our electoral platform since 2015,” says Carlos Fernández Bielsa, Mislata’s mayor. “We are a small town, but we have the highest population density in Spain and that means serious problems when it comes to keeping things clean. For the past two years, we have got much better and have got rid of 85% of the feces.”

There are now more pets in Spain than children under the age of 15

Armando Solís, president REIAC

Dog owners in Mislata have the obligation to register their pets through a genotyping test that costs €27, although if the animal is adopted, the city covers the cost. That way authorities have a record of the owner who can be matched to the dog’s DNA. If a resident fails to sign up within a month of being notified, they face a fine of up to €3,000. Since its introduction, there have been more than 400 fines of €200 each for excrement that is picked up by street cleaners and sent for a DNA analysis. “The €10 cost of the analysis is covered by the fines,” says the mayor.

The system is gaining popularity elsewhere too, although it is also receiving some criticism and many vets are against it. “It is too drastic a measure,” says Armando Solís.

Some town councils are also fining owners who do not clean up dog urine with water and detergent. These are deterrents that, together with increased awareness, have prompted the appearance of new designer accessories to complement the traditional collar and leash.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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