Monday, September 22, 2008

Common ground

Panorama taken from castle ruins near Altaussee area

It wasn't a big culture shock going to Austria. Sure they eat schnitzel and strudel whereas we eat hamburgers and apple pie; their buses run on time whereas ours just run; and they've got gorgeous old palaces and churches decorating their cities and we've got the Gardiner and more ugly condos littering our waterfront but all in all it didn't give me that "Holy crap, is this real?" sensation that I sometimes get traveling to other places. One thing that certainly felt quite familiar was the prevalence of dog ownership.

The Austrians love their dogs, dare I say this, maybe even more than we do. At least on the surface, it appears that dogs are more accepted as a part of their society there, welcomed in many, if not most, restaurants, hotels and stores. I met a lot of vactioners who were traveling with their dogs and they never had difficulty finding accomodations or taking their dogs with them where ever they went. In certain situations which might make a dog nervous because of an unfamiliar environment, such as riding up a swaying cable car, the facility provided muzzles which they would request be put on the dog, as opposed to just disallowing dogs completely.

Platform for mountain side rail. Note the muzzles available for use.

I didn't see any overly primped up dogs dressed up in mini-Chanel suits and carried around in Louis Vuitton doggie purses but I did meet a lot of dogs that were treated as part of the family. It wasn't about getting a place at the dinner table. It was about getting a proper place in one's life. One hotel owner jogged 10 k along mountain trails with her two dogs everyday then took them swimming in a lake then brought them into work with her where they traipsed around outside on a grassy plain overlooked by mountains on all sides. And they probably ate better than I did too. But she wasn't overindulging her dogs. She just included them in her daily life.

These two guys had to be penned when outside by themselves because one of them started retrieving golf balls from the course next door.

Considering this is where they hung out with their owner most of the time, I wasn't feeling too sorry for them:

It was good to see the bond many Austrians have with their dogs as many of us have with ours. If nothing else, it was a great ice breaker. I've always felt something is missing in those who don't have a connection with dogs or animals in general. It's like meeting someone who doesn't like music or hates food. Sure, I may still be able to get along with them, but it seems something very basic is missing and there's a natural reference point that cannot be shared.

It's indicative of a certain amount of compassion and empathy to be able to connect with a creature outside of our own species. It's a sign of our common humanity.

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