A city dogged by good luck: Out of Spain

MADRID - There is a popular saying in Madrid that stepping in dog doodoo brings good luck to your day. Judging by the amount of the stuff scattered across their pavements, madrilenos must be the most fortunate folk in the world. A one-block stroll can bring you enough luck to last for weeks. You just can't avoid 'putting your foot in it' every few yards.

Upset neighbours have put down poison in apartment staircases in the hope of killing offending canines. Sometimes, it is the noise as much as the excrement that leads to civil war. Many of Madrid's 'dog-lovers' have no qualms about leaving their pets at home for entire weekends. Howling and barking creates a nightly cacophony.

Our sister paper, the Independent on Sunday, comparing other cities with London in terms of dog droppings, recently described Madrid's streets as 'not that clean'. Not that clean] I've stepped in the stuff around the globe, from Haiti to Hammersmith, and I can tell you this city is the worst. I believe my district, Salamanca, can justifiably lay claim to the title of undisputed dog doodoo capital of the world.

Negotiating the obstacle course between my flat and garage the other day, hopping from one foot to the other, I was reminded of that game children used to play, skipping across paving stones without touching the lines. Maybe this is how flamenco dancing was invented, I thought, but I couldn't figure out where the hand-clapping might have got started.

The Mayor has tried to clean up, but without success. They experimented with a French-designed motocaca, which locals dubbed the minesweeper, but found that it splattered as much as it scooped. They've given out cardboard scoops and plastic bags and put up yellows signs with silhouetted dog symbols above designated doodoo- zones. But the pets' owners ignore the signs and stroll their dogs on to that spot outside Marks & Spencer.

With more fur coats per square metre than possibly anywhere else in the world, what can you expect in Salamanca? A poopa-scoopa is just not an acceptable accessory. 'Somebody has to take the initiative,' wrote Juan Jose Millas, a columnist in the daily El Pais. 'I wonder who'll be the first pretty person to pick up the first shit and put it in a bag.'

Cleaning up after your dog has been legally obligatory since 1948. But, like politeness, it just never caught on in the capital. Fines range from 5,000 to 15,000 pesetas ( pounds 25 to pounds 75) for non-compliance, but are rarely enforced. The fine rate did spiral last year to the dizzying total of 10 culprits. The previous year, one single person was fined.

The outlying community of Alcala de Henares, home to many Madrid workers, is threatening a tax on all dog owners. In Madrid, dogs are supposed to be registered - the owner is given a canine identity card - or implanted with a microchip that provides their details should they get lost. Though 100,000 dogs are registered in the capital, the authorities estimate there are twice as many.

That's not counting the 20 or so that are abandoned every day, despite theoretical fines of up to 2.5m pesetas for anyone caught doing so though, of course, no one ever is. These are mostly put down unless 'adopted'.

Maltreatment is another problem. In what would appear bizarre and cruel anywhere else, owners have a tendency to fashion their pets after their own preferred image. Chopping ears or tails is a favourite. 'If dogs have big ears, there is good reason for it,' Jaime Gomez, chief of Madrid's municipal (animal) laboratory, philosophised recently. So far, so good. Until he added: 'But on the other hand, the bits cut off are not vital parts, only cartilages, and the operations are usually pretty painless.'

Realising that the problem is one of the owners, not the dogs, the city has just begun a course, starting in Salamanca, in an effort to clean up the streets. The classes have caught on, with 100 or so owners showing up to learn how to train their pets to relieve themselves far from the feet of the madding crowd.

Dogs are banned. The teachers may be superstitious but that amount of potential luck was more than they wished to be blessed with.

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