If you’re a dog lover, leaving your pet pooch behind to go travelling can feel ruff. But your dog days don’t have to be over, there are plenty of international good boys (and girls) wagging their tails to meet you. They may not speak the same language or live in a house, but the sight of a twitchy snout while on the road can make you feel right at home. Cultures and places have different relationships with their four-legged neighbours. In some countries, packs of strays roam the streets and in others, they’re loyal work buddies. Either way, here are eight places you’re guaranteed to hang out with some hounds.
First up, we’re headed to the Himalayas, where most Nepalese people are Hindu. In Hinduism, dogs are sacred as they’re believed to be messengers of Yama, the God of death. Nepalese Hindus believe they must keep dogs happy to avoid going to hell. As part of the five-day-long festival of light, Diwali, a whole day is dedicated to worshipping doggos! On Kukur Tihar (“day of the dogs”), those with and without owners are paraded around the streets donning vibrant flower garlands and blessed with a Tika (the red dot on their forehead). Pooches are given heaps of high-quality food and it’s considered a sin to disrespect a dog on this day.
Outside of the festival, most Nepalese people like dogs. A trip there will find you meeting pups of all shapes and sizes, from mountain mutts built for the outdoors to free-roaming floofs searching for their next feed.
Southeast of Naples, travellers and history buffs flock to Pompeii to see the remains of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Preserved under the volcanic ash are people, villages and life frozen in time. While the tragedy killed over 16,000 people, it also killed other residents, like the pups. The people of Pompeii valued their canine companions, treating them as pets and guard dogs, with one of the most famous bodies found in the excavation being a cast of a guard dog with a collar around its neck.
“That doesn’t sound like a fun trip for dog lovers, a dead dog stuck in time”, I hear you think. But, interestingly since, the world heritage site has become occupied by packs of woofers. Well-cared for by local people and receiving regular treats from travellers, groups of dogs have made the Pompeii ruins their home. Pompeii pooches enjoy a pet from passers-by and to people-watch while they laze in the sun.
Indonesia – parts of!
By now you’ve probably seen pics of Balinese people zipping around on scooters, surrounded by dogs balancing on makeshift seats. In parts of Indonesia, including the island of Bali, dogs are part of the community. And there are lots of them. Not quite street dogs but not pets either, Balinese dogs roam busy scooter-filled streets and relax on black sand beaches, snacking on offerings meant for the Gods.
On Indonesian islands like Bali, Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida you’ll find a lot of free-roaming rovers. But a quick boat ride to nearby islands like Gili T, where Islam is the main religion, and you’ll find copious amounts of cats, but no dog in sight.
San Diego, California
When you think of California you might think of glorious blue skies, long white sand beaches and surfing. Everybody’s gone surfinnn’… Literally, even the dogs are hanging loose.
The US is considered the biggest country of dog lovers in the world. And like most of the States, Californian pups are part of the family. Sadly, this isn’t the case for all of our canine friends, with many left without homes and taken in by the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego. To raise funds to help more hounds find a home, the non-profit hosts its annual Surf-A-Thon, where locals and past residents take to the seas to shred it up!
To prep contenders for the big day, the centre runs regular doggy surf lessons. Primed and ready, competitors don their gnarliest fit (for the costume contest) and side-eye their rivals as they paddle out into the line-up. Travellers and locals gather to watch the heats, enjoy live music and try out other activities while soaking up the sun.
If you know Caribbean food, you’ll be familiar with pigeon peas and rice, a staple side dish served up with most meals, particularly in The Bahamas. Don’t worry, no pigeons are harmed in the making, but another animal is synonymous with the recipe. The Potcake is a breed of street dog found roaming the beachy islands. The name was given to woofers by the locals who fed them the cakey remains of their burnt rice pots.
While the local community do their bit to keep the mutts fed, not everyone’s having a ball, with many residents agreeing that the Potcake population is getting out of hand (or paw). Volunteer groups like the Abaco Shelter are working to control the situation and help as many hounds as they can through neutering, rescue and adoption. If you needed any more excuses for a trip to The Bahamas, the shelter is always looking for volunteers to help where they can.
For dog lovers who prefer a colder climate and dream of seeing the Northern Lights, a visit to Finland won’t disappoint, and neither will the dogs you’ll meet. Traditionally used to transport across snowy landscapes, floofers from the arctic circle have always served as important members of society. Nowadays, some rural communities and indigenous groups still use dog sledding in their daily lives. After years of relying on snowmobiles, the effects of climate change and carbon emissions are encouraging them to move back to their fluffs on wheels. Turns out, dog sledding is more sustainable for locals and visitors!
These doggos are built different; they’re strong, full of energy and extra furry to make life in the bitter North less ruff. Their metabolism even regulates their body heat to stop ice from attaching to their paws!
A trip to Finnish Lapland isn’t complete without seeing a dog or two. To meet huskies in their natural habitat, a dog sledding experience is as much fun for you as it is for them, as long as it’s ethical. There are stories of mushers who wear their dogs out and make them work all day, but there are also sustainable dog sledders out there who work in harmony with their hounds.
La Paz, Bolivia
The national animal of Bolivia might be a llama but a few moments wandering around and you’ll think it’s a dog. La Paz is so densely populated that they use cable cars like buses. With so many homes balancing on top of each other on windy streets, it’s quicker to commute over the city than through it. Like in a lot of heavily populated places, packs of street dogs line the pavements. Bolivians love their canine neighbours and despite being one of the poorest countries in South America, La Paz locals scatter homemade doghouses along the pavements of the city.
Some Bolivians like to worship dogs too. Every year, Catholic Bolivians celebrate the Feast of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, who is honoured for caring for victims of the plague. Alongside him was a dog that is said to have saved his life when he contracted the disease. These days, people in El Alto take their dogs to mass to mark the occasion. Dogs receive blessings from the Priest, free vaccinations and plenty of love and treats.
Nestled in the Swiss Alps sits a hiker’s paradise, The Great St Bernard Pass, and you guessed it, a whole pack of St Bernard dogs. These chunks have lived here for decades, introduced by monks from The Great St Bernard Hospice in the 1700s.
The pass has been used since the Bronze Age and is one of the highest in Switzerland, taking travellers through jagged mountains and icy lakes across the border into Italy. The hike isn’t for the faint-hearted and before a recent road was built it was extremely dangerous for those who attempted it. As a result, the hospice was formed to save injured travellers and keep the pass clear of bandits. But with freezing winters and snow as deep as 18 meters, monks had to get a helping hand from four-legged mountaineers large enough to traverse deep snow and sniff the scents of people lost in avalanches.
Their working days are behind them, and they no longer carry kegs of brandy around their necks, but hikers who embark on the steep scale these days are still likely to cross paths with the droopy mutts. In the hospice’s place, you’ll find the Barry Foundation which breeds and homes the dogs while sharing their heroic history. Passable only between June and September, visitors of the foundation can join group walks through the pass accompanied by man’s best friend.
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