With over 300 sunny days a year set on the coast, mainly flat and with the 9km Turia park running through it, Valencia is a dog walker’s paradise. If you have – or are thinking of getting – a dog, it is handy to know where you can take your dog and what to do when you get there, says Chris Cooper…
1. The pipi-can
Dotted up and down Valencia’s main avenues, the appropriately named “pipi-cans” are small sandpits for your dog to use when nature calls. We are lucky enough to have a few about 100 metres from our front door and our dog, Zoë Kravitz, seldom makes it that far in time for the first of the day.
Squealing and barking in the lift, she then bursts through the door and races to the nearest tree, audibly sighing as she squats down. The 100-metre walk to the can is no less frantic as the second major piece of business of the morning is now top of the agenda.
Fighting our way through throngs of parents taking the kids to school, getting tangled up in other dogs’ leads after a brief sniff and a frenetic play fight, we arrive at the pipi-can.
The pipi-can idea is a place for your dog to go to the toilet. The other idea is to clean up your dog’s mess and put it in the green bin near the pipi can. The first idea is generally followed.
Zoë cautiously creeps in, sniffs at a couple of mounds, one still steaming, and jumps over the fence into the area with signs threatening a minimum fine of €150 for allowing your dog to foul there. She sniffs about, squeezes herself into the most difficult to reach undergrowth and goes. Now, rather than pick up her morning offering from a convenient sandpit, I have to clamber over the fence, dog already tugging on the lead to go. I pull a plastic bag out of the bullet-shaped dispenser on my belt and attempt to open the bag.
Several hours later I am still there. The bags are not unlike the fruit and veg bags at Consum so when my hands are finally warm or moist enough to get purchase on the bag, and after several other dogs’ greetings have caused me to be dragged back over the fence, I try to open the wrong end of the bag. Hours later, the bag opens. I turn it inside out around my hand and reach down, just as a random family coos with delight causing Zoë to jump back over the fence pulling me and the bag with her. Excitement over, I return, reach down and collect this morning’s parcel.
Those of you who own a dog will remember the first time you essentially picked up a dog turd with your hand, it is a strange sensation. The goal is to get the whole thing in one grab then peel the bag off your hand cautiously, avoiding skin contact with the contents. It is a skill which, unfortunately, requires practice.
Mission accomplished, I walk towards the bin, attempting to knot the bag with one hand while directing a dog intent on going in the other direction with the other. The bins have slits in which to deposit the full bags. I attempt to lob it in without touching the sides and it flops against the bin before falling to the floor with a splat, or a gentle thud on a better day. I pick the bag up and carefully drop it into the bin.
When I get home and have cleaned the dog a bit, my girlfriend and I will happily discuss the mission over breakfast. I am asked about locations, consistency, colour, amount, behaviour and enthusiastically recount more details than I could ever have imagined.
2. The Park
Valencia has some excellent parks. The Turia is the largest but we also have Central Park, Los Jardines de Viveros, Monforte – a lot of parks. Not only do we have a lot of parks in Valencia, but the parks contain dog parks signposted as parque de perros.
The first time we took Zoë to the park she was delighted. New experiences are greeted with boundless joy and everyone needs to be sniffed, licked or jumped on (we are trying to stop her jumping on people).
The Turia park has several gated dog parks so you can let your energetic pup off the lead and allow your aching wrists, neck, shoulders, legs and back a much-needed rest.
According to dog trainers, the dog parks should be exclusively used for socialising with other dogs. In our ignorance, the first time we took Zoë there, we took a ball to throw for her so she could run about and fetch it. Cardinal sin number one, it turns out. Zoë became obsessed with the ball to the point where all other dogs, treats, calls or commands were obsolete. “The ball, the ball!”, she demands in her doggy language.
Training the dog to heel on the lead is not easy. If she knows, or thinks she knows that she is going to the park she tries to sprint there, gets twanged back by the lead (dislocating my shoulder in the process), tries to sprint, gets twanged back, and so on, all the way to the park. On the way home, she heels perfectly well.
Once she is in the dog park and unshackled, at first we were concerned by the incredible roughness socialising entails. I recall as a child at school being discouraged from face-biting and wrestling in the dirt with my classmates. For dogs, this is supposedly normal. They learn their limits, make their friends (and sometimes enemies) and get used to other dogs as playmates.
For use outside of the dog park we bought a 5m lead, whereby the dog can run around but is easy to catch if she attempts to escape. There is a nice spot near the Science Museum where pools from what’s left of the river almost form an island. Here we can free her on the 5m lead and practise making her come to us, either for a treat or to fetch a stick back. Some of the pools in the river are quite deep and she quickly learned to swim after chasing a stick out of her depth. The reward was a leg-whipping with a sopping wet 5m lead.
Of course, dogs are not allowed off the lead anywhere outside the dog parks, nor are they allowed in the water. Should the authorities wish to catch her, she will have masterminded a series of daring escapes, the canine equivalent of jumping a razorwire fence on a powerful motorbike.
3. The beach
Dogs love the beach. They love the sand, they love the surf, they love the waves and most dogs love getting wet.
What could be more fun for a dog than going to the beach? Basically, nothing.
The problem is that dogs are permitted to go on very few beaches in Valencia. Malvarrosa and Patacona are off limits so you need to move a bit or risk the tough hand of the law if you get caught. To the north, there is a dog beach just before Port Saplaya by the Ermita del Miracle dels Peixets. To the south, the first beach in Pinedo is a dog beach. These two beaches are roughly the same distance from the city and are a lovely way to treat your dog to some fun with other dogs and their owners.
4. Shops, bars and restaurants
Seeing as the dog needs to get out three or four times a day, it can be useful to incorporate a few chores into the routine. Pop to the bakery to get bread, have a sandwich and a drink on a terrace or do a quick shop in the supermarket.
Some shops and bars in Valencia allow dogs inside and others do not. Pretty much all supermarkets do not. Pretty much all terraces do. Pharmacies, bakeries and supermarkets often have a dog parking area where you can hook the dog up and leave her outside. I tried this once and no sooner had the door closed behind me, the anguish began. Zoë is still a little young for this.
Zoë can settle down on a terrace and is happy when the waiter brings a little bowl of water for her to tuck into while we enjoy a beer. The main distractions which cause her to leap up and hurtle forwards barking while spilling everything on the table are:
• other dogs
• people she knows
• people she doesn’t know
•a shopping cart
• a suitcase on wheels
• a leaf blowing in the wind
• a paper bag
It’s a good idea not to tie your dog to your chair if you aren’t sitting in it, unless you enjoy watching a terrified dog running across a busy street being chased by a plastic chair.
Of course dogs are allowed into pet shops and Zoë has made firm friends with the staff of several pet shops near our flat. Even if we have nothing to buy, she will always pull me through the door to meet the guy in Interzoo, generally leaving a little pool of excitement as he enthusiastically pets her and feeds her large amounts of his profits.
Dog considerations such as which shops to go to, which terraces are furthest away from traffic or which have the most pigeons alter the choices you make on a day-to-day basis, so you will suddenly find places you never previously went to either more appealing or dog-friendly, and if Zoë happy, the world is happy.
Next week: Vets, pet shops and what to buy for your dog in Valencia