A Dog's Life in the Czech Republic
by Kamal Sunavala
Photo Copyright Jeff Shanberg
I think most people love dogs. But when we think of dogs we think of them as lovable, faithful companions don't we? We rarely think of ourselves as lovable, faithful companions to them. I think the Czech Republic must be the only country in the world where the latter might not only be true but also fairly normal. I love dogs. I had one myself. I know how they can tug at the proverbial heartstring. But I also believe that I lend my kindness, my attention and my time to people in general as much as I would to a beloved pet. After all, in the scheme of things that's how it is meant to be, one would think. One has to think again though if one is living in Prague or I imagine anywhere in the Czech Republic.
I walk around the by-lanes of Náměstí Míru a fair bit everyday, and I see all manner of people out with all manner of pooches all day. Most of them are adorable, although I have seen the odd, emaciated unbelievable excuse for a canine. I see old people barely able to walk themselves, walking their faithful pets. I see children barely able to hold themselves up, holding on to dogs who are probably as young as they are. I see death metal rockers cradling newborn puppies. The one thing I see in all of them is absolute adoration and effusive physical affection. Now if you've spent any time at all in this country, you will know why this surprises me. It really is an almost unbelievable sight to see Czech people going all gooey-eyed over their dogs.
I always complain about the bad service at ninety percent of the local restaurants. Yet when a dog owner walks in, the dog gets his bowl of water without even asking for it. The owner is still waiting for a table or a menu while the dog is giving the restaurant a five star rating for its service. Sometimes when I take the tram to I. P. Pavlova, the only thing I pray for is to be able to get out of it alive and untrampled upon. If I crane my neck towards the front, I see that there is a miraculous passage created for a beautiful golden Labrador who seats himself very comfortably while three nuns and a baby are fighting for space with each other, but not the pooch.
I hate my landlords. I think they are related to Stalin. Truly. There is nothing redeeming about the bitter old couple who love to hate everyone and everything in life. I was jogging at Riegrovy Sady one morning when I saw them there and I almost rolled down the hill. They were honestly the last people I wanted to see while my breath was squeezing out of my lungs. Besides, they don't belong in pleasant flowering parks. The children would be frightened and run away. So I tried to jog past them with my eyes shut so they couldn't fault me later for not saying dobrý den, which is their favorite grunt. Unfortunately, in my state of momentary blindness, I ran straight into a little cocker spaniel who yelped. I was mortified. I have never hurt an animal in my life. People, yes. But never animals. After all, they deserve better.
So I bent down to see if I had hurt it badly, but naturally it cowered, thinking I was about to hurt it some more. I was in tears at that point, when I saw two yellow-socked feet in front of me. I looked up. It was my landlord. He looked accusingly at me and then picked up the dog. I knew the dog wasn't his. But he picked it up and started to check carefully while stroking its ears. I sat there on the grass watching this amazing transformation. A bitter, sharp-tongued man who hated the world was changing right before my eyes into someone who looked like the proverbial kindly old grandfather. I nearly kissed him! Then he put the dog down and I stroked it. He looked at me and said, “Pay attention when you run,” and he was gone.
I don't care that he was rude to me when he said that. For three minutes he had revealed that there was a vestige, a small remnant of kindness in him. Oh I'll still hate him. But I won't think he's hopeless anymore.
As for the dogs in the Czech Republic, it's truly a dog's life.
Kamal Sunavala was born in Bombay and educated in Great Britain. Her stories are part of her amazing experiences in Prague as a foreigner, teacher, and journalist.