Collies & me – and living with dogs in Nordic capitals
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Collies & me – and living with dogs in Nordic capitals

I hope every dog owner who reads this text have had the pleasure of reading the dog-loving book ‘Marley & Me’ by John Grogan. The Hollywood movie by the same title was quite funny, too. Having lived with Siberian Husky sled dogs for more than two decades, and then one miserable year without a dog’s company after the divorce from my first husband, I found myself in a position where I simply craved for a dog companion again – and not a new husband! This is when the Smooth Collies came into my life by pure chance or maybe it was destined to happen ūüôā

The Siberians are notoriously running away when they have the chance and if you’re unlucky, they are chasing the neighbours’ hens or rabbits. When looking for a new dog breed to keep me company, I was therefore keen on getting a dog without these traits. This quickly took me to the group of herding dogs. A hiking friend recommended me to look for an adult Lassie Collie in need of a new home. The picture I had of Lassie was too much fur and sensitive temperaments. To my utter surprise I realised there was also a Collie variant with a short coat, the Smooth Collie. Even more surprising, one of the breeders was former Siberian Husky kennel owners, whom I knew from old days. I immediately went on the phone to ask them for more details about these Smooth Collies, already with the picture in my head that this might be the perfect herding dog for me. This is where fate comes in, because in that phone call I was confirmed in my impression of this being the right choice of dog and actually being offered a 2-year old female, Yuki. At first chance, I took my car to Jutland to visit my old friends and Yuki. She was lying in front of the house when I arrived – without a leash, such a miracle for a former sled dog owner. And she was beautiful!! Yuki was more or less lying on my feet during the whole stay and the decision was easily taken to say yes to become her new owner. Thus, this is how Finnish Yuki moved from the countryside in Jutland to an apartment on ‘√ėsterbro’ in central Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.

Photo: Charlotte Baag√ł. Beautiful and clever Smooth Collie female ‘Yuki’.

Walking around Copenhagen with Yuki quickly cured me of all depression I had felt since the divorce. So many new and interesting people to meet on your dog walks, and with a dog like Yuki establishing contact was easy. One dog owner told me she resembled a dog version of a Maserati. Not knowing too much about fancy cars, I took this for being a fancy cocktail at first. Luckily, I didn’t divulge my ignorance on the spot, but went home to look up the word ‘Maserati’. After a year in Copenhagen, the chance suddenly came up of moving to the capital of Iceland, Reykjav√≠k and start a PhD position on a new CCS project, Carbfix. The decision to say yes to the PhD offer was the easiest part. Moving all my furniture and finding an apartment in Reykjav√≠k was a bit more complicated, but moving a dog to Iceland was both complicated and very expensive due to the mandatory 4 weeks of quarantine upon arrival. People told me to leave Yuki behind and get another dog in Iceland. Completely out of the question! I used my last savings on bringing Yuki and my stuff to Iceland, and packed all furniture, bike and my beloved piano in a 20-feet Eimskip container. On my last morning dog walk in Copenhagen, I met an elderly lady with her dog, whom I had talked frequently to on previous walks. I told her of my upcoming move to Reykjav√≠k to which she responded that she been there to aid Icelanders in how to make Danish ‘sm√łrrebr√łd’ (eng. rye bread with various top fillings). In my ignorance (again) I asked why? She looked very offended and said ‘don’t you know who I am?’ And no, I’m hopeless in recognising famous people! This lady turned out to be Ida Davidsen, Denmark’s ‘sm√łrrebr√łdsjomfru’ no. 1, a person known to most Danes.

Photo. Erik Sturkell. Gabby and Yuki upon arrival in Iceland.

Yuki made it through the quarantine and came out as a fat collie, and I found myself a super nice apartment in Reykjav√≠k not far from the university, where dogs were allowed. I quickly realised that Reykjav√≠k was not Copenhagen when it comes to meeting people and making friends through dogs. Most dog owners avoided me and the few I could talk to didn’t seem keen on chatting. Perhaps because I was a foreigner but not sure that really mattered. In the one year I lived with Yuki in Iceland, we only made two(!) dog friends. One medical doctor and his Golden Retriever on Seltjarnarnes, and the owner of the friendly herding dog ‘Strider’ named for Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. Yuki, not being the most social dog herself was okay with this. What she was absolutely not okay with was the craziness that arrived around New Year. Never in my life did I imagine it was possible to have so much fireworks in a capital of 200 000 inhabitants. She was already terrified of fireworks before moving to Iceland and this definitely didn’t help. Icelandic nature on the other hand was to her liking, and Erik and his cooking skills, too. Yuki was sceptical towards Erik until he started making a nice dinner for us. At this point in my life I knew all about creating perfect meals for sled dogs but sadly not for humans. Yuki, who loved food soon realised that Erik was a huge improvement to life quality through his cooking skills and since that first day of making dinner, she adored him. At the university, she would lie in his office and guard it effectively against any cleaning lady who wanted to empty the trash bin. On one occasion, she was suddenly missing until we heard her playing with our colleague Bj√∂rn Oddsson on the 3rd floor above. She had taken the elevator to follow Bj√∂rn because he once on fieldwork at J√∂kulheimar had served her sausages. The way to her heart went through her stomach, food!

Photo: Susan Hansen. Yuki and a young Glitnir playing with Siberian Husky Ulvedalen’s Vidar on the beach while living at Kennel Ulvedalen in Denmark.

Following one year in Iceland, I was sent to Toulouse in France to do one year of PhD work in order to achieve a joint degree. This time Yuki couldn’t join me and she stayed at a collie kennel in Denmark for half a year, where she got her litter of eight pups. Unfortunately, several of them died and only four pups survived past one year of age to my knowledge. One of them, Glitnir became our dog and for the six remaining months, she and mum Yuki stayed at Kennel Ulvedalen together with a bunch of Siberian Husky sled dogs. Yuki already knew how to behave as a Collie, but Glitnir got all the traits of a Siberian. It took me approximately three years to turn her behaviour of a sled dog into that of a Collie. However, the wolf-like pack behaviour of Siberians stayed with Glitnir throughout her long life – and thank god for that. Yuki were at times a terrible mom towards Glitnir. When Yuki died and the next Smooth Collie ‘Deli’ arrived, she received the best possible care one could ever want of an adult dog. Glitnir excelled as the calm, loving but stern older dog. You were never in doubt that Glitnir would defend all of us if needed. On one occasion in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, she got a chance to show how effective she was at guarding us.

Photo: Elina Stenberg. Picking up Finnish Deli in Helsinki Airport in May 2013.
Erik, Deli and Glitnir relaxing in the park surrounding the moat of Gothenburg.
With a lot of patience and love, Glitnir fostered Deli from she arrived at age 5 months.

Erik got a permanent position at the University of Gothenburg in 2008, and thus wife & dogs moved to Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg in January 2010 when my stay in France ended. After Iceland I was anxious to see how Sweden would treat a foreigner and dog owner, but Gothenburg proofed all my worries unwarranted. A lot of people to talk to, both with and without dogs, and meeting other friendly dog owners turned out to be the perfect way to make new friends in Gothenburg. Further, it was a good way to learn more about Swedish society and improve my Swedish language skills. A very different experience from Iceland. People were simply much more outgoing and interested in making conversations, and coming from Copenhagen appeared to be an asset. Rather Copenhagen than Stockholm was the impression I got. Roughly said, Danes were cool and relaxed, whereas people from Stockholm were arrogant. Thus it was a bit ironic when I got a chance to make my own impression of people from Stockholm In spring 2013, a new job offer came up at Stockholm University, and Erik and I had to make the difficult decision of splitting up the family again. An apartment was bought in central Stockholm on Norrmalm, and together with the dogs Glitnir and Deli, I moved to the capital of Sweden in autumn 2013.

Photo: Gabrielle. Deli and Glinir in Kungsträdgården in Stockholm.

Deli was only 8 months old and Glitnir 4.5 years when we moved to posh Stockholm. Luckily, Deli was a well-behaved and super social dog from the very beginning – and living in Stockholm turned out to be a dream come true to her. There were dogs everywhere we went – and social ones most of them. Erik and I hadn’t realised when we bought the apartment that living so close to Humleg√•rden, a big park in central Stockholm, was the ideal place to live with dogs. To make it short, I never experienced any arrogance in Stockholm. On the contrary, there was an overwhelming interest in me and my dogs and on every single walk, people would stop to talk to me. Most days offered meeting with 20-30 dogs and their owners, both Swedes and all other nationalities. Walks on G√§rdet during the weekends were almost the highlight of the week, where the dogs could run loose on a huge area, and where the Police and the Military would train their horses. Perfect training for horses and dogs! Dog parks everywhere, and no problem to bring dogs to caf√©s and shops. Stockholm easily takes the first price for the best Nordic capital to live with dogs! (Sorry Oslo and Helsinki, don’t know what you have to offer).

Photo: Erik Sturkell. We spent fall 2015 in Pennsylvania during Erik’s sabbatical at Penn State University, and the dogs of course went with us. The US was also a perfect place for dogs, but that’s a story of its own.

Coming back to Glitnir and her police dog protection skills. On a walk in a very crowded area around the Jewish synagogue in Stockholm, a young man suddenly runs up behind me and tries to steal my bag. Glitnir, who was walking in front of me, turned instantly and in seconds had him hyperventilating up against the wall. He was super scared of this Collie, who had her paws on his chest and rightly so. In my own shock reaction, I told him in Danish, ‘never pick someone with dogs for Gods’ sake’. Pretty sure he didn’t understand a word I said to him, but the message came across from Glitnir. Otherwise, she was indifferent to most people and dogs we met on street – unless they were on a skate board. One exception was an American man, I accidentally ran into around a corner. Posh Stockholm offered meeting with ‘famous’ people even I could recognise at times, e.g., politicians, musicians, actors in addition to theatre directors, ambassadors, lawyers, architects, company owners, and journalists. On this day, this ‘George Clooney’ lookalike dressed and looking like a Hollywood movie star, literally runs into my Smooth Collies. I didn’t know what to expect next, but was happened was despite his expensive clothes, he throws himself down in the dust in front of the dogs and utters ‘Aren’t you beautiful, aren’t you gorgeous!’ with all the enthusiasm you can get from an American. Of course, the dogs were completely charmed by him, and my only regret is that his words were directed at the dogs and not at me ūüôā

Photo: Gabrielle. Glitnir and Deli on a walk in Hádegismóar in Iceland 2018. Love this photo!

Returning to Iceland with dogs was never really my plan but became a reality in 2018 when I was offered a position as Assistant Professor at the University of Iceland. The only reason I went through with it was because I had two dogs this time to keep each other company. Ten years had passed since Yuki’s travel to Iceland, and I was curious to see if there were any improvements in paper work, quarantine rules, and socialising with other dog owners. It still felt awful to put your (howling) dogs in a crate at Copenhagen Airport, knowing that you would not see them until four weeks later when released from quarantine in Iceland. I would definitely say the people of Reykjav√≠k had become more used to having pet dogs but it was mainly the large number of tourists who gave me people to talk to. Especially American tourists would always stop and chat and show pictures of their pets back home. Surprisingly, young Chinese couples would also make contact and show pictures of pets. New Year’s firework was worse than ever and continued for months after, which made it a nightmare for a dog like Glitnir. She was just as terrified as her mother Yuki, whereas Deli didn’t seem to be bothered at all. The ultimate test of secure to shots. Basaltic rocks didn’t agree with Glitnir’s feet and her health generally seemed to deteriorate. Topped by a serious car accident with our old Land Cruiser in November 2019, where Erik and I and the dogs miraculously escaped without major physical injuries, but were quite shocked and the dogs, too, I would imagine. The car was completely damaged. Deli took better to Iceland and loved the endless snow blizzards we experienced the last winter. The more snow, the windier, the better. I might have stayed in Reykjav√≠k, but covid-19 and a severe burnout ended my career in Iceland in April 2020. On one of the few airplanes leaving Keflav√≠k, I brought the dogs on a flight to Stockholm and arrived at an almost empty Arlanda Airport. Lots of helpful staff to assist me with luggage and dogs, and Erik awaiting us. He had taken the old Volvo car from Gothenburg to Arlanda to pick us up. I must admit, it felt so good to be back in Sweden, and more importantly it felt like coming home!

Photo: Gabrielle. Puppy Jörfi and Deli and the pond in Landala, our new home in Gothenburg.

We bought our dream house in Landala Egnahem in Gothenburg in April 2021. Luckily, Glitnir could enjoy her last year with garden life at this new home. She really deserved this relaxing time after the tough years in Iceland. When she died 13 years old in spring 2022, puppy Jörfi arrived from the Netherlands and came under the care of Deli, 9 years at the time. Jörfi has several puppy playmates of almost the same age in our neighbourhood, and garden life agrees with her, too. After all ordeals and having lived in different places and countries for so many years, our home in this village-like area of Gothenburg will hopefully offer long-term stable and relaxing times for both humans and dogs.

Photo: Gabrielle. At home in Landala Egnahem in Gothenburg, Sweden.