The city famed for its love of les petit chiens is finally letting them access its world-famous parks and gardens
When Lucie Desnos was looking for an apartment, she had one important condition: that it be near a park where she could walk her dog. Such a demand is far from unusual among house-hunters with pets, but can be particularly difficult to fulfil in Paris, where dogs have long been banned from most public parks and gardens.
“Every dog owner [in Paris] will say the same thing,” she says. “It’s very difficult to find a place to have dogs meet together, and to have them play and run around.”
Desnos settled on a place in the 15th arrondissement from where, most days, she walks to the Champ de Mars – the stretch of green that runs beneath the Eiffel Tower – with her one-year-old dachshund, Neiko.
“When he goes to the Champ de Mars, he goes crazy!” Desnos says. “Five to 10 minutes before arriving he goes nuts, running and pulling on the leash like crazy to go and see his friends.”
While Neiko might be having the time of his life, most of Paris’s 200,000 canines don’t have the same access to the city’s world-famous gardens. Until recently, just 16% of parks, gardens and squares in Paris allowed dogs, in a city very short on green space to begin with. Add to this the fact that the vast majority of Parisians live in apartments without gardens or courtyards, and a city famed for its love of les petits chiens begins to look far less dog-friendly.
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But as of 1 January the green spaces of Paris are opening up to dogs following a recent town hall vote.
Previously, owners who don’t live near the few large, dog-friendly parks have been left with two choices: restrict daily walks to a sad trundle along the pavement, or take their dogs out to the large woods on the outskirts of Paris, the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes – journeys that can take up to an hour on public transport. Others, desperate for somewhere to take their dogs, simply break the rules.
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“Most of us have already been given a fine, or have been asked to put our dog back on leash or to go somewhere else,” Desnos says.
The new ruling was passed as part of a suite of measures to liberalise the strict code of regulations that governs Paris’s parks, including lifting similar (often flouted) bans on swimwear, ball games, bikes and picnics.
Pénélope Komitès, the city’s deputy mayor in charge of green spaces, says the rules are part of a wider scheme to makes parks more welcoming.
“There were many, many prohibitions in our previous regulations,” she says. “We had a tendency, I think, to see parks as spaces that were very closed, very separate from public space.
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“We’re in the process of changing that. We’re transforming parks, and the uses of parks, at the demand of Parisians, who want parks to open longer, and who want to ride their bike through parks – which wasn’t possible until now.
“We are passing from a regime of prohibition to a regime of permission.”
But, Paris being Paris, there are still plenty of rules. The new rule stipulates that dogs must be kept on leads at all times, and must stay on the paths. It applies only to parks without children’s playgrounds, in response, Komitès says, to parents’ concerns about having too many dogs around during busy playtimes.
It is unclear how many of Paris’s green spaces have actually opened up to dogs so far. Komitès says her office is still working on the exact numbers, and the database of green spaces on the official Paris website shows that many parks are home to at least one playground. Still, at park entrances across town, pictures of a cheerful pedestrian with a dog in tow crossed out with a big red line are gradually being replaced with an image of owner and hound strolling along unfettered .
And there is hope for more canine freedom to come. Komitès says lifting the ban is the first step in making Paris more dog-friendly, and that more parks might be opened up in future.
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“If Parisians keep their dogs on the lead,” she says, “if they keep to the paths and don’t let their dogs wander into biodiversity areas, then afterwards we will see.”
Now it is up to the dog owners of Paris, not famed for following the rules (notably those about picking up merde), to prove they and their pets know how to behave.
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