Dogs banned in Reykjavík for 60 years

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15.10.2023Evelyn Ýr

Icelandic society changed rapidly and significantly in the 20th century. 
The fishing industry began with the arrival of motorboats, fishing villages were established and urban areas increased in population. People moved from their farms in the countryside to the developing capital Reykjavík. Dogs often followed their owners to their new homes.

At this time, farming was still practiced in Reykjavík and the dogs that came from the countryside mixed with the dogs that were already there. As a result, there was a great increase in stray dogs running loose in the streets of Reykjavík and caused trouble and impurities.

By 1910, the dog population in Reykjavík had become very large and actions to combat hydatid disease had not yet reached success. These were the two factors contributing to the dog ban in Reykjavík.

In order to respond to the situation, Regulation No. 124 from October 26, 1910, was put in place regarding restrictions on dog keeping in Reykjavik. 
The regulation specified the obligation of dog owners to mark their dogs with a special Reykjavik brand. Those dogs that did not bear such a brand or were considered stray dogs, dogs that were not visited within three days of being advertised, were declared outlawed and should be killed. 
On the other hand, the regulation provided for annual dog deworming and that tapeworm cysts should be buried in the ground.

When these measures proved unsuccessful, suggestions were introduced to grant authorities to restrict or prohibit dogs in towns in 1924. The suggestions were approved and law No. 8/1924 was passed to ban dogs in towns and urban areas.

Based on this new law, a regulation on dog keeping in Reykjavík was introduced. It stated that no one in Reykjavík was allowed to have a dog unless he had a permit for a working dog. Each dog could be killed unless a permission had been granted for him or he was accompanied by someone from outside Reykjavík.

The police had to enforce the ban and hundreds of dogs were killed in Reykjavik after the dog ban was put into place. Most of the dogs were put down in 1948 or 170 dogs. In 1953, 64 dogs were put down and at least 70 dogs in 1954. No mercy was shown to illegal dogs and they were taken and shot. Source: Vísir

In 1968, all farming and livestock handling in Reykjavík was banned, thus ending the era of the working dogs. Around the same time, discussions began about the future of the Icelandic Sheepdog, as people believed that the breed was on the brink of extinction. Calls for official participation in the form of subsidies for breeding and saving the Icelandic sheep dog were made.

In 1969, two organizations were founded for the benefit of dog lovers and owners: the Dog Friends Association and the Icelandic Kennel Club (HRFÍ). The goal of the organizations was to fight for legal dog keeping in the city, but the main goal of HRFÍ was to protect the Icelandic Sheepdog breed through careful and organized breeding. The establishment of the organisations had a great impact in how the discussion about dogs and dog keeping in Reykjavík developed.

The years 1983 and 1984 marked a turning point in the fight against the dog ban and its support by the government. 

Two things should be mentioned in this context. 
On the one hand, there was an incident in Reykjavík when two dogs were put down on the spot without a trial or law in 1983. See article in Morgunblaðið.
On the other hand, it was the case of Finance Minister Albert Guðmundsson. Journalist Rafn Jónsson sued Albert for illegal dog keeping after publicly describing Albert's dog-keeping on television.
Rafn argued that the public had to accept laws while the upper class kept their dogs untouched. Albert was opposed to the dog ban from the beginning and considered the dog-keeping laws outdated and unjust. After Albert had been sued, he declared that he would rather leave the country than let his bitch Lucy go. The case received a lot of attention both domestically and abroad. The case of Albert led the administration of Reykjavík to have to find a solution to the problem.

Sixty years after the dog ban was introduced to Reykjavík it was lifted in 1984 with the Decree on Dog keeping in Reykjavik No. 385/1984. Dog keeping was still banned, but an exemption could be applied for.

It wasn't until 2007, however, that the dog ban was completely lifted and the exemption from the ban was changed to a permit. 

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the current Icelandic laws give local authorities a lot of autonomy when it comes to dog keeping. For example, the Decree on Dog keeping in Akureyri from 2011 states that "Dog keeping is prohibited in Grímsey and dogs may neither reside there nor visit." Grimsey is an island, 40 km off the north coast of Iceland, part of the municipality of Akureyri since 2009.

This post only skims the surface of a rather large matter, but I tried to summarize the most important points.



Lýtingsstaðir, 561 Varmahlíð.
Phone: +354 893 3817
[email protected]



Lýtingsstaðir, 561 Varmahlíð.
Phone: +354 893 3817
[email protected]