There is a wedge of sunlight across the grass. In it a dog sits grinning. Her friends are running around the fenced doggy park, tails waving as they bark and play. Their owners stand around, laughing and chatting. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this idyllic scene is taking place somewhere in the rolling hills of Tuscany. But it’s not – instead it’s happening in a grimy corner of Sörnainen, where two main streets bisect and trams kick up dust clouds as cars roar past filling the air with fumes. Yet this gathering of dog owners is simply one of the many that takes place in the numerous dog parks that dot the cityscape of Helsinki, a city not known for random conversation – nor for tranquility. Puppy love has conquered the city.
Why – in this Nordic country, of ice, faceless forests and hostile elevator silences – do dogs of all sizes reign supreme? Ask any dog owner why they would invite a four-legged family member (never is a dog referred to as an animal in this country) to share the precious square meters of their tiny studio apartments and their otherwise clean, orderly and precise lives, and the answer is simple. Love. To come home to smiling face, to go to a park and chase squirrels for an hour, or to have dinner with a creature that utterly adores you and never complains that it’s chicken again. It is a love that demands no love back, it is an unfussy, definition-free zone where there are no actions required, no grand gestures and no threats of breakups or messy divorces.
In the grand old neighborhood of Ullalinna that curves around the coastline of Helsinki, mornings are also homage to the area’s four legged residents. The rascals and darlings trot the streets for their morning constitutionals, greet each other somberly and allow their owners to ask politely after Pippa’s health or Rufus’s obedience lessons. Never mind that they don’t know each others names – yet know the intricacies of Hupi’s house training and Mosse’s stomach ailments. Ullalinna is also home to two doggy daycares, set up to provide much needed socialization for those long hours when owners sadly must work to keep Fifi in milkbones. A friend once said that if he could choose, it would be to live as a dog in Finland – a grand existence. But as I sit in my favorite café, I watch a tiny, mischievous poodle flit from table to table, standing on his hind legs to investigate. I laugh and in response he turns, offering a quick wink before skittering off in search of his owner. Ah, to know puppy love? There’s an even grander existence. <3