NOTE: To see more of Iceland, see my Flickr Photostream.
People in Iceland really seem to love domestic animals – from the smallest yappy dog to the stoutest horse. Being an animal lover myself (domestic and wild), I take a lot of notice about pets’ role in a society I’m visiting. Here are a few things I noticed about pets in Iceland.
A Nordic Chihuahua?
I noticed an astounding number of chihuahuas in Iceland. Most of them were around Reykjavik, but I spotted a few in smaller towns, too. This really shocked me, since I associate them with the Southwest – wear it’s an advantage to have barely any fur.
These little dogs must spend the entire winter shivering or kept indoors. Unless Zo-On makes some cool winter clothes tailored for small dogs! To give them credit for adaptation, none of the chihuahuas I saw were nervous, shivering or yappy. They were certainly more calm and friendly than the ones who lived next door to me (I don’t miss being barked at every day!).
“Spot” Roams the Lava Flow
In the small town of Kirkjubaeklaustar (Icelanders got a lot of laughs out of hearing me try to pronounce this), we stayed at the Hotel Laki Efri-Vik. A dog lived at the hotel, and seemed to be in a permanent state of bliss. She met all sorts of people, and she was pretty successful at following them for short walks around the nearby lake and enticing them to throw sticks for her (though there are not many sticks on the old lava flow that constitutes the entire area). The dog, whose name is the Icelandic word for “Spot,” even followed us on a 5-mile walk through the pseudocraters dotting the landscape.
She seemed the most carefree dog ever, given full range to roam the land. There was barely any traffic to worry her, and all the guests were happy to be her friend during their stay.
The Mighty Sheepdog of the Glaciers
When I met the crew of Arctic Adventures at Skaftafell, I knew I’d made the right choice of tour companies – any company that has a dog mascot is doing something right. Even better, it’s mascot was named Hekla (after the volcano), and she is an Icelandic sheepdog. She was friendly to the visitors, smart and attentive to her owner (one of the glacier guides). She travelled everywhere her person went, dutifully loading into her dog carrier with no fuss whenever she had to ride on the Arctic Adventures bus.
I’m not sure, but I suppose the dog in Kirkjubaeblaustar was also an Icelandic sheepdog. Her coloring was much different from Hekla’s, though.
Cats Rule in Reykjavik
Though chihuahuas are common, it seems like cats really have the capitol city in their grasp. But unlike the furtive, somewhat nervous behavior of most American cats on the loose, Icelandic cats were very confident. They would lie on a busy sidewalk while the people flowed around them. They didn’t seem to get worried about being stepped on or harassed.
I think only one cat I met refused to come and get a petting from me. One black cat even though it was playtime, rolling on his back and nibbling at my hand and giving me a playful swat with his paws (he did the same to my wife, but accidentally got a little too much claw into the action).
I’d have to guess that people treat cats pretty well here since they obviously didn’t treat humans like a threat.
Horse or Pony?
Icelandic horses look a lot different from what I see in the Southwest. The Icelandic horse is considerably smaller with. And furrier – it was obvious that most of the ones he saw had been shaved for the summer “heat.” They acted like typical horses, with most being pretty aloof. We were able to lure a few over with the promise of some fresh greens from our side of their fences.
The horses were pretty common outside of Reykjavik. We didn’t see one community after that where the horses weren’t close to people. A few different tour companies offer rides, so be sure to check it out if horses are your bag.
It seems the horse tours are popular: Our flight from Reykjavik to Akureyri was stuff with people wearing English-style riding gear, and most even carried their helmets aboard. I’d say 75 percent of the passengers were in riding gear.
Of course, you’ll also see miscellaneous livestock. I’d say Iceland can give New Zealand a run for its money in sheep per capita. You’ll also see some cattle, but it’s really sheep that rule here.
I didn’t get to say any Arctic foxes except at the Reykjavik Zoo. It’s not the world’s most exciting zoo, but it has a very local flavor since it focus only on animals you’ll find in Iceland. And you’ll be able to get really close to the seals, which was pretty cool.