There's a club in Germany, which though not exclusive, demands of its members, time, money, a rulebook, license, and a leash. Yes, we're talking hounds. And the nation loves them, as Tamsin Walker found out.
On a 20-minute bike ride through Berlin the other day, I counted 31 dogs. One and a half for every minute of my short journey. It seemed like a lot, but in fact is probably a realistic equation for a country where the pooch-to-human ratio currently stands at around one to ten.
For the math-averse, that amounts to a staggering total of eight million four-legged friends, implying at least eight million dog's dinners a day, and eight million little baggies… you know where I'm going with this. And I mention it not to disgust, but because on that same brief bike ride, I passed two trash bins literally overflowing with variously-colored plastic pouches of doggie do.
I've been having the "can we have a dog?" conversation with my children for about a year now. Aforementioned bags are one of the things that has me on the fence, poised to fall – no, make that jump - off on the no side. But in the interests of fairness, I took them to the dog shelter to see if anything leaped out at us.
The excited smiles they wore as we went inside were rapidly erased by the cacophony of growling and competitive barking. We emerged ten minutes later with my youngest daughter earnestly reconsidering the idea of a pet with teeth. She'd now be happy with a goldfish.
But her siblings remain steadfast in their professed affection for dogs. And they're in good company. Whether measured by the negligent number of strays on the nation's streets, or by the long listings of hotels that don't object to guests that howl, malt and drool, Germany is officially hundefreundlich: dog friendly. As an aside, it has long been considered a country that could do to nurture its relationship with children.
Members of society
If you pass a mutt on a leash outside a shop here, people will stop and talk to it. Not just niceties about the size of its paws or sheen of its coat, but full-blown human-to-hound conversations.
Okay, so clearly, you're not going to leave a kid tied to a lamppost, but it strikes me that in Berlin at least, people are more likely to chat with you if you have a bundle of fur trotting at your heels. In short, dogs are treated like humans. They're integrated and get so much attention.
When I stopped to talk to a Spanish dog owner the other day, he told me that of all the European countries and cities he's lived in, Berlin is definitely the most accepting of his two best friends, which he takes with him on the underground, to cafes, restaurants and to the office. In that, he is by no means alone.
As we chatted, I noticed how passers-by interacted with his animals. And it was kind of nice. Almost enough to make me fall off that fence on the wrong side. But I shall hold tight and steady myself for a little longer. And should I ever tumble, it seems it would be into a city - indeed a nation - with arms wide open.