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Sweden: a nation of dog lovers

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Sweden: a nation of dog lovers
11:22 CEST+02:00
Life is pretty rosy when viewed through the eyes of a dog fortunate enough to grow up in Sweden, writes René Rice.

We didn't have a dog when I was growing up. It wasn't as if we were deprived of pets; there were cats and budgerigars, hamsters, a guinea pig, a rabbit, a goldfish (why I named him 'Phillip' I'll never know) - even stick insects and a pair of axolotls, but we never had a dog.

Therefore it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I found myself returning home with a tiny black Labrador puppy just a few short weeks after arriving in Sweden.

I will never forget the drive back from the breeder's house and the overwhelming sense of guilt I felt about separating this helpless creature from his doting mother, but I like to think that now - three years on - Algot is a happy dog, and that it is in part thanks to the fact that he has grown up in Sweden.

Considering he entered our lives so soon after my wife and I moved here, Algot has been witness to our gradual acclimatisation to this country over the past three years. You could say that he's a kind of living, breathing - let's face it drooling - diary of our time in Sweden.

He has been there with us to celebrate the good times; our wedding, moving into our first apartment, when we have guests over from England and America - and he has been there to comfort us during the difficult times; the usual pressures relating to work and studies, the occasional acute spell of homesickness to which we are both prone.

Algot is very much a member of our family and we love him dearly, and for that reason we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be raising him in Sweden; a country that proudly caters for both dog and owner.

Allow me to elaborate.

In our neighbourhood alone there is a designated dog exercise park, a dog agility course and a dog obedience training centre, all within walking distance of our apartment. Add to that the miles of open fields, hills, forests, rivers, a large lake and other such topographical bonuses for dog owners and you'll understand why Algot loves it here.

Believe it or not we actually live in the city, just ten minutes from the centre of town - giving Algot the best of both worlds. When he's clearly full of energy (which is most of the time) we'll take him either to the popular dog park to play with his friends or for a long country walk across rolling fields and paddocks, through pine forests and over winding rivers.

When we're feeling adventurous we'll brave the hustle and bustle of town and the inevitable mishaps that occur when a well-meaning but somewhat clumsy Labrador is exposed to large groups of people. Either way, he always has a great time and plenty of exercise.

Also just around the corner from us is a one-stop shop for dogs - selling everything from allergy-sensitive food to dog shampoo - and a veterinarian. Alongside the multitude of pet shops and vets in town - most of them professional, friendly and relatively inexpensive - we really never have to worry about getting Algot immediate help, should he need it.

Indeed even if you are a fair distance away from a veterinarian most of them will offer free and helpful advice over the telephone, avoiding the need for a paid consultation unless absolutely necessary.

Yet another invaluable source of help for dog owners in Sweden are the various forums on the internet which provide guidance for worrying dog owners with health or behaviour related questions, while simultaneously creating an online community for owners, exhibitors and breeders alike.

In my town there are even hunddagis (dog nurseries) where you can leave your dog while you're at work, eliminating the need to rush home during lunch hour and leaving you safe in the knowledge that your dog is in good hands and like-minded company.

Combine all these factors with the country's stringent animal welfare laws and I think it's safe to say that Sweden truly is a very dog-friendly place.

Whatever the future holds for Algot - we may move back to the UK at some point - I'm proud to say that Sweden will always be this dog's home.

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