Traveling with a dog in... Spain

Traveling with a dog in... Spain
"Ladran Sancho, señal que cabalgamos.” ("Let the dogs bark Sancho, it is a sign that we’re moving forward.")
-Don Quixote talking to his companion Sancho Panza, Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote


If pressed to name my favorite thing from my summer in Spain, without hesitation I'd say Madrid's Plaza Dos de Mayo Forget tasty regional wines and white-sanded beaches, I'll take a shady bench in this busy neighborhood square any day, sitting for hours with nothing but a constant parade of people and their dogs to entertain me.  Watching the dogs in Madrid, I've concluded that canines in Spain live a comfortable and carefree life, spoiled with generous parks to run around in and a dog-adoring society.  I swear, I've never seen a more clever, happy bunch of dogs than that of Spain.

But while dogs are busy living the good life in Spain, it's their owners who have to stay on top of rules that come with having a dog, especially those regarding transportation.  Spain is known for not being as dog-friendly as its European counterparts, and I found this largely to be true.  I'm not saying Mango and I didn't have a great time in Spain, because we did, we just had to stay on top of a few rules.  Okay, a lot of rules


Life in Madrid

Madrid's a nice place to be for anyone, yet dogs living in the city seem to particularly have it good.  In my neighborhood, Malasaña, dogs ruled and it was impossible to walk a centímetro without running into one.  Plaza Dos de Mayo was the perfect place to let your dog off the leash, grab a beer (a la street vendor or terraza), and enjoy the lively atmosphere.  Shops and restaurants seemed less dog-friendly than other European countries, but Mango and I never had issues when dining outdoors.

After a few weeks in Madrid, Mango and I became familiar with many neighborhood dogs and their owners.  One neighbor, Lucía, and her scrappy dog Renata became my favorite locals and I always enjoyed bumping into them -- which was quite frequent, as they were regular fixtures on the block.  One morning, Lucía and I took our dogs and Renata's fluffy friend Pitufo on a long walk to nearby Parque del Oeste, savoring the cool, sunny September morning.  We had so much fun wandering through the park and meeting other dogs that, despite my hilariously sad attempt to understand what we were talking about in Spanish, I consider it to be one of my favorite memories from Spain.



Traveling by air

waiting at Madrid Barajas airport

waiting at Madrid Barajas airport

Flying from Zagreb, Croatia, Mango and I had no problems flying into Madrid Barajas airport with Iberia Airlines.  Since we were flying within the EU, there was no specific paperwork required apart from the necessary shots and pet passport, and no need to deal with customs upon arrival.  Flying out of the EU from Spain, however, was much trickier... and annoying.  The week before our flight from Madrid to Kiev, I got in touch with a local vet to prepare Mango for travel to Ukraine.  A month earlier I got Mango a titer test (more on that later), knowing that this would be necessary for a return to the EU.  The vet in Madrid gave Mango a thorough check-up, applied some Frontline, and popped some tablets in his mouth before filling out a form and sending us on our way.  But then there was the annoying part, where I had to take the vet's form and get it approved by Spanish customs, whose office is conveniently next to the airport (the customs office in the city wasn't accepting appointments that week).  The lady at customs encouraged me to come to the office early to get approval, and have time to deal with any issues that could prevent travel, but I was under the impression that I had to take my dog with me to the customs office (not true, it turns out) and didn't feel like spending half a day and $50 in taxi fares.  Being denied travel with Mango just as my 90 days was up in the schengen area was something that I unfortunately have experience with, so instead of going to the office a few days early, I went at 2:00 PM (instead of right before the office closed at 7:00 PM) on the day of my 3:00 AM flight.  I waited an hour for paperwork approval before heading to the airport, fortunately avoiding customs issues and exit fees.  I realize now that this is our first time flying out of the EU, and I'll keep these extra steps in mind when choosing travel destinations with Mango in the future, assuming every EU country is as strict as Spain.



Traveling by train

Traveling with a dog by Spanish rail is a fairly new phenomena and is do-able with some planning ahead, assuming your pup makes the first round of cuts.  National train operator Renfe's website clearly states their rules for animal passengers, rules which are enforced.  First, only dogs weighing 10 kilos or less are allowed on trains.  Second, dogs must travel in a carrier measuring certain dimensions.  Third, dogs must pay 25% of the handler's fare.  Considering the rules, how did Mango hold up on Spanish rail?  No one seemed to notice his extra kilo or two on the weight limit, but rail employees were strict about paying the fare ($45 for a round trip to Valencia) and having/using a pet carrier.  So, I spent a month searching for a travel carrier and came up with a cheap, foldable one on before my account was shut down (one of the perks of being a digital nomad... IP address detectors and credit cards!).  Yes, the carrier was a bit larger than Renfe's size limit -- I'm doing the best I can! -- and fortunately no one said anything, but train employees did make me set the carrier up by the train doors (not only unnecessary in my opinion, but a safety hazard).  Considering the complications and costs related to traveling with a dog by Spanish rail, not to mention soaring summer temperatures, Mango stayed behind in Madrid when I took day trips to nearby towns.



Traveling by public transit

In Madrid, getting around town with a dog on public transit takes a bit of finesse.  Like Spanish rail, there are strictly-enforced rules for dogs riding the metro with the primary two being wear a muzzle (at least around metro employees) and know dog-friendly travel times.  Dogs travel for free on Madrid's metro and there are no schedule restrictions in July and August, but dogs technically are only allowed in the last car of the train, making for quite the scramble if the platform is crowded and you don't know travel directions.  Dogs are not allowed on Madrid buses, with the exception of service animals.



Traveling by taxi & car

I know it may be hard to believe, considering what I've explained so far, but Spain has rules for traveling with a dog in a private vehicle.  Technically, dogs should be in the rear of the car and constrained in a carrier or harness.  Mango and I didn't take many taxis, but a few drivers required that Mango be in his carrier (which was okay with me, considering we were leaving the airport with the carrier).  The two times I rented a car and let Mango ride shotgun the entire journey, I -- fortunately -- had no issues.

by the Tower of Hercules

by the Tower of Hercules