7: Snarl

A dog snoozes at his owner’s feet, happy inside a Starbucks restaurant.

A dog attacked me on my morning jog yesterday. It was leashed to a young woman who only laughed as her snarly snapping border collie made a go for my shins.  I say “only” because she showed no reflexive movement to her dog’s lunging at me. A little jerk of the leash would have been nice, but that did not occur.

That is about what I expected.  My experience of dog-owners, particularly owners of aggressive dogs, is that they are clueless about their beloved Bowser’s behavior, because they are at the tail-end of the leash. The view is different from the other side, the one with fangs.

This brought to mind my hometown Victoria, British Columbia, where tightened leash laws came into force this week, a move that I doubt will do much except produce a more stressed dog population.

I loathe it when North Americans shore up weak arguments with “that is how they do it in Sweden” defenses – a lazy myopic debating tool if ever there was one, mostly because people using that device are operating with a scant understanding of how Sweden or any faraway land really works. But here I am about to dive in with a “this is how they do it in Switzerland argument” against tighter leash laws. My only defense is that I live in Switzerland.

Over the past year, we have seen countless unleashed dogs of all breeds trot past us with nary a glance in our direction. Un-neutered males frolic in parks, beagles bumber about inside housing goods shops as their owners browse, retrievers relax under restaurant tables and  train-riding chows tolerate total strangers stepping over them. Unleashed dogs walk at a perfect heel on busy streets and in packed parks. A dog is a dog the world over, so the difference has to be something to do with the Swiss.

I had previously believed Swiss dogs’ docile natures was a product of their socialization – that is, that they are allowed nearly everywhere: Trains, buses, stores (some restrictions apply inside grocery stores), malls, wherever there are people, there are dogs. I assumed this to be the driving civilizing effect on canines and very likely this is the case. But there is more to it.

Switzerland is swathed in bureaucracy. For example, no one is allowed on a golf course until they have been certified. It seems a bit far-fetched but there it is.

The same thinking applies to dog-ownership. Switzerland demands that dog-owners become certified before they actually own a dog, and certification does not mean just paying a fee and getting a piece of paper; it means taking a course in dog-training. After successfully completing the course, the person then gets the dog and later goes back for further training and certification.

Fifteen months ago, learning this would have made me roll my eyes and groan at an all-reaching bureaucracy, but now it seems like a very good idea. It elevates the general base of knowledge of all dog-owners. The result is a very polite pooch population.

A leash law would not have done anything to protect me from yesterday’s dog-attack. The problem was not with the dog on the leash, but with the obtuse woman holding the other end of it.

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Getting lost in 20,000 easy steps

I get lost almost everyday, so poor is my sense of direction, but Dave is of another breed, a type that innately knows where he is all the time. This is one of the reasons I married him. He works better than a compass and comes with the added bonus of holding my hand when leading me around. Compasses are not so compassionate. Also, I keep losing my compass. Dave is a foot taller than me, so I can usually find him.

In a rare moment this weekend, however, Dave was as lost as I, and I blame Basel for this. Look at this map:

Which way is north and south is hard to say when you're in this maze.

We ended up turned around somewhere near Bartusserplatz, a name that to the English ear sounds like a bit of a joke, and that is what we thought the tourist office was playing on us. We roamed the streets in the rainfall, in something of a daze trying to find the city gates, which really are worth finding. They are classical medieval gates that bring to mind Europe’s castle-storming history.

Basel Spalen city gate dating back to sometime between 1080 and 1398.

The city was once surrounded in walls and splendid gates, but in 1859 a city council decided to demolish the whole works but for a few gates, which goes to show that the stupidity of city/municipal councils is a time-honoured tradition that carries on in a lively manner even today, especially in Victoria, B.C., where the regional overseers allowed a crazy-8 traffic circle configuration on an uncluttered highway that serves the airport and ferry terminal, giving tourists heart stoppages in unknown numbers. But I digress…

We often walk about 12,000 to 14,000 steps on a single day of touring, but in Basel we went over 20,000, marching almost 9.5 miles, of which at least six miles were spent completely mystified over our location.

We have come back from this fog with advice for those aspiring to visit Basel. Here it is:

  1. Find the river and make it your reference point. There is no help in making an intersection or any roadway a reference point because they are as thick as the wool in a tight-knit scarf, not to mention that the Swiss are quite lax about street signage (this is probably in case Germany decides to invade, in which case the German army would have to ask for directions; quite an embarrassment for an invading army).
  2. The tourist office will tell you to take a bus from the train station to the historic quarter. Ignore this advice. The walk is less than 10 minutes and goes through a charming park and some pretty streets.
  3. Do not ask a local to place you on the map. We tried. They don’t know where they are either.
  4. When lost, just keep walking. The saving grace of all old-town districts is that they are not that large and eventually you will come out on either a freeway, at the train station or possibly in Spain, all easily identifiable on a map.