Berlin is a playground for dogs. Around 400,000 live in the city, and the four-legged residents are welcomed on public transport and in many bars and restaurants around town. Owners can browse bookstores without leaving their puppies tied up outside, or take their pets into the office rather than leaving them home alone. In 2011, the Hauptstadt was even named Germany’s dog-friendliest city by Dogs magazine.
So it’s natural that dog walkers might not think twice before hitting one of Berlin’s 2500 green spaces (another reason why the city is so suited to pooches). But lurking in shrubbery or strewn across footpaths, poisoned bait and manipulated treats pose a threat to these treasured companions – and serve as a reminder that not every Berliner enjoys sharing the city with them.
The bait was perfectly prepared: a small, brown dog treat, the exact width of the blade that had been squeezed into it.
Janine Knaup knows this all too well. In May 2020 she adopted her dog, Mia Wallace, while living in New York. She later moved to Prenzlauer Berg, where she now lives with the nine-year-old miniature schnauzer. On the evening of April 1, during her routine walk through Helmholtzkiez, Knaup spotted Mia munching on something suspicious. “She had something in her mouth and was chewing on it. I immediately turned towards her and told her to spit it out. That’s when the first piece of a razor blade fell out – it made a metallic sound as it hit the sidewalk,” Knaup says.
In shock, she grabbed her pet’s mouth and began trying to remove bits of the blade. “Luckily I didn’t see any cuts or blood in her mouth, but I was unsure whether she had already swallowed a piece.”
Trick or treat
It soon became clear that what happened to Mia was no accident. “The bait was perfectly prepared: a small, brown dog treat, the exact width of the blade that had been squeezed into it,” Knaup says. It also wasn’t far from home: “The trap was placed on the sidewalk, directly next to the house wall,” she recalls.
At the vet’s, Knaup was told that they would first try to remove any pieces without surgery. But Mia was lucky; X-rays showed that she hadn’t swallowed the bait. For Knaup, this meant the financial cost of the incident was relatively low, coming in at no more than €300. The bill would have skyrocketed if Mia had gulped any of the razor pieces down. “Worst-case scenario, they would have to cut a dog open,” Knaup says, shuddering at what might have been.
Berlin police don’t collect data on how many dogs are targeted with poison or sharp items hidden in Leckerlis. In fact, a spokeswoman said that such crimes are merely recorded in their statistics as “property damage”.
To get an idea of the extent of the problem and understand just how alarmed the city’s dog owners should be, Dogorama is a good place to start. Besides providing a platform for them to chat and socialise, the free app also serves as a noticeboard for warnings of doggy dangers in the city. So far this year, more than 2900 “danger reports” have been posted by users across Germany, compared to a total of 3500 over the whole of last year.
Looking specifically at Berlin, some 165 warnings relating to dangerous baits had been posted between the start of 2021 and mid-April, including rat poison discoveries and blades and nails found in dog food. Since the beginning of the year, 11 dogs in the city have been reported dead on the app. One of them was Teddy, a Newfoundland dog, who died on March 3 of severe internal bleeding after unwittingly ingesting a blade.
Certain parts of town have emerged as hotspots, such as the area around the Fressnapf pet store near Storkower Straße S-Bahn station and Blankensteinpark on the border of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. During March and April, there were also a number of reported incidents on Senefelderstraße and Stargarder Straße, leading to concerns in Prenzlauer Berg as residents began keeping their precious pups on a tight leash. But there really is no telling where the next dangerous dog bait might be placed, according to Jan Wittmann, founder of Dogorama, whose office is in Leipzig. He says baits are “put in places where dog haters are particularly annoyed by dogs – and this varies greatly from person to person”.
The stranger’s attempt on her dog’s life made Knaup “super anxious”, she says. “I watched her every sniff and scanned the sidewalk. At night, I used a flashlight.” The incident even prompted her to buy a special muzzle designed to prevent dogs from swallowing nefarious substances off the street.
Knaup reported the incident to the police, but many victims of anti-dog violence don’t tell the authorities. Police often struggle to find the culprits, although that’s not due to a lack of trying. “Most of the time, such a report is taken seriously,” Wittmann says. Ideally, people would keep the baits and blades to give to the police as evidence. The problem in the case of Mia the miniature schnauzer was that she had already had the offending weapon in her mouth – a common occurrence that makes it difficult to conduct DNA testing. Police told Knaup that certain suspects are known to them in the area. But even with that knowledge, the dastardly canophobe who laid Mia’s trap is still – like many others – at large.