Public space

Barcelona: the city of dogs (unleashed)

For eight years now the City Council has been preparing measures to fine dog-owners who let their pets off the lead

3 min
An unleashed dog in a square in Barcelona.

BarcelonaThe number of people in Barcelona who live with dogs has not stopped growing in recent years, to the point that, according to the City Council, there are already over 180,000 dogs living in the city (174,316 of them identified with a chip, according to data from the College of Veterinarians), which is considerably more than, for example, the 171,863 children under 12 years of age who are registered on the census. But, despite the growth, the city has not yet resolved an important aspect for the coexistence with pets in squares and streets: defining where they can and cannot be let off the leash. This issue has been dragging on since 2014, when the Council modified the ordinance for the protection and keeping of animals to allow police to fine dog-owners whose pets were off the lead. At that time it was already agreed that the measure, which was to involve fines of at least €100, could not be enforced immediately because the city at that time was not ready: it was necessary to ensure that there were sufficient spaces for the recreation of dogs before prohibiting them to go off the lead.

Therefore, the changes in the ordinance came into force with a moratorium that was to last 18 months and has now been extended to eight years because the city has not yet done its homework. Before fines were given out, the idea was to ensure that there were more specific areas where dogs can run around and to define, at least, one area in each neighbourhood to be considered for shared use, where animals could go off the lead during specific time slots. After many months discussing with campaigners, this process is to be closed before the end of this mandate. In order to get the measure through, the City Council has decided to remove what was originally going to be an indispensable requirement: anybody wanting to enter these shared areas with a dog off the leash would have to prove they had a license for civic and responsible dog ownership. It was a proposal by the Professional Association of Veterinarians inspired by what was already applied in cities like Geneva.

In Barcelona, however, the plan has been put away before it was rolled out. The City Presidency Committee has agreed this week to abolish the need for this accreditation. As explained by the third deputy mayor, Laia Bonet, the decision is taken because of the complexity involved in both managing the issuance and then controlling that it was actually used. Bonet explained that this requirement had led them into a "dead end" and that eliminating it should allow them to finally start rolling out and enforcing shared use zones.

They want to pass the bill that decides on which these areas will be – there must be at least 73, one per neighbourhood, but they are working with the idea that there could be more – before the next elections. Nevertheless, as entities such as Espais Gos regret, they won't be set up until after the elections. The government admits the roll-out will not take place until "late 2023", and the moratorium will remain in force until then.

The first step now is the public consultation on scrapping the responsible dog ownership card. The opposition groups facilitated the approval of this point on Wednesday, but did not miss the opportunity to remind the Colau government of the two mandates they have had to roll out a measure approved when Xavier Trias was still mayor of the city. "They have lacked political will, it is unthinkable that so many years have passed and this is still not done," criticises JxCat spokesman Jordi Martí, who is also wary of the level of maintenance of some of the dog areas.

"A test to use the street"

What the Espai Gos platform does celebrate, which until now had been very critical of City Council decisions such as banning dogs from entering spaces such as Turó Park or Diagonal Mar, is that it has agreed to abolish the card because they saw it as a "comparative grievance" for dog owners. "Nobody is made to pass a test to make use of public space and that is precisely what they wanted to do to us. It made no sense, it was discrimination," says Àngela Coll, spokeswoman for the organisation, who also explains that in recent months they have been bringing positions closer to the Council's on possible areas of shared use and that some districts have been more sensitive than others when it comes to defining them.

The example of what should not be done, she says, is the Eixample considering half of Tetuan square as an optimal space to walk dogs, despite being a place with very little vegetation. The final choice of areas will be announced before the end of the term. The city now has 110 recreational spaces for dogs, about twenty of which are over 700 square metres. Shared-use areas will be added to this list. Everywhere else, dogs will have to be kept on a leash at all times. There will be no changes for dogs of breeds considered potentially dangerous, which can no longer walk off the lead. The only place where dog-owners can be fined for walking a dog off a lead are parks because this was already regulated beforehand.