the dogs of reykjavik

Reykjavík dog owners celebrated at the end of last month. Their sort-of illegal dogs are about to be made legal again.

Reykjavík dog owners celebrated at the end of last month. Their sort-of illegal dogs are about to be made legal again.

For the first time in 82 years, dogs will legally be allowed to live in the city when Reykjavik city environmental health and protection office changes the bylaw.

However, they threaten to tighten bylaws on dogs that, despite the ban, are in effect in the city, such as all dogs must be on a lease except in certain fenced areas and dog owners must clean up after them.

Because, though dogs have been forbidden, this does not mean no pooches have lived in the city.

Dogs were banned in Reykjavík in 1924 — and for a good reason.

The ban originated as a preventive measure to combat Echinococcosis or Hydatid Disease, a disease caused by paracitic worms, in children and adults alike.

The worm frequently enters humans through dogs, and can cause death after a very painful, prolonged illness.

But the disease has long since nearly been rooted out of Iceland, and nowadays, people regard it the way Canadians do smallpox.

In 1988, the mayor held a referendum on whether to allow dogs in the city or not.

Though 68,525 voters were eligible, only 8,777 participated.

The Dog Breeding Association of Iceland believed that this very low participation meant that the majority of Reykjavík-ites had nothing against dogs in the city; they simply could not be bothered offering their opinion on the matter.

But 60 per cent voted against changes in the dog law — and the association raised a fuss, claiming the question had been unclear, which indeed it was.

The question was: “Are you in acceptance of the way things are now?”

Meaning, if you said “yes,” your answer was indeed negative as you did not want the bylaw changed, and if you said “no,” then, yes, you did want the bylaw changed.

Those who were in a hurry, dyslexic or somewhat not too quick that day, therefore might have said, “yes” when they really meant “no.”

Nonetheless, the outcome was clear though disputed: no dogs should be allowed within city limits.

So the mayor promptly made an exception on the rule, and allowed Reykjavík-ites to own dogs, if they applied for the exception and paid dearly for it.

Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, one of the first people to get the exception was the mayor himself.

Now, between 15,000 and 16,000 dogs are legally in the city, and their number is growing.

For each dog, the owners pay the equivalent of $250 per year, plus mandatory vet screenings.

Whether the price will go down, is still unclear.

The president of the Dog Breeding Association of Iceland, Jóna Theódóra Vitarsdóttir, was jubilant in a newspaper interview following the announcement.

But she added that now is the time for Reykjavík dog owners to prove to others that they are worth the trust.

“I think this is great for the city, because with this change we create a more positive attitude towards dog owners,” said Gísli Marteinn Baldursson, chair of Reykjavík’s environment branch, who suggested the change.

Gísli has also spoken to the chief of Reykjavík police department about the harsher bylaw.

However, though dog owners are celebrating, the city council must vote on it — but few fear that it’ll overturn the decision made unanimously by Reykjavik city environmental health and protection office.