It does my heart good to hear non-Hungarians talking in terms of giving back to the country that has become their adopted home. I’m a firm believer in social responsibility and the importance of doing what you can to bridge the divide between Magyarok and külföldiek. I’m all for the cross-cultural pollination of ideas, perspectives, and customs.
For many, though, living in an expat bubble is common enough. And while some support charitable causes and others volunteer with local charities, few attempt to start something that will live beyond them when they leave.
I had a coffee recently with Australian-born Robyn Flemming. We met in person several years ago when her nomadic life brought her to Budapest, and we’ve been aware of each other virtually since then.
Amongst her many passions, which include photography, travel, running, and writing, Flemming is a Dog Lover. Those capitals are deliberate. Currently dogless, she’s embarking on a new venture in Budapest that will give lots of dogs the chance to meet other dogs and lots of dogless dog lovers the chance to meet them, too. It’s her way of giving back. ‘I’m incredibly grateful to Budapest for opening its arms to me.’
Years ago, in Australia, Flemming had a dog-loving friend visit on holiday from Canada. To entertain her visitor, she invited all her dog-owning friends to bring their dogs to a breakfast. They met at a local dog-friendly café and had a blast. The Dogs’ Breakfast Group was born. ‘Naming something is very powerful. It gives it energy,’ she said.
Robyn Flemming isn’t a woman who does things by halves. She’d contacted local businesses to sponsor doggie bags for the dogs involved and generated enough buzz to get the attention of the local press. They made the papers. At that first Dogs’ Breakfast, 13 dogs showed up with their owners in tow. After a few months of regular meetups, the numbers grew. The group moved to a leash-free park with BBQ facilities. Everyone brought sausages to cook for the dogs. The clue is in the name – the dogs’ breakfast – it’s all about the dogs. Like humans, dogs make friends. And like children, it’s important for puppies to learn to socialise with other dogs, too.
The concept took off. Flemming put together a regular newsletter, The Border Tail. It featured dog biographies written by owners in their dog’s voice. There were profiles of local veterinarians. Devo the Wonderdog had a movie review column, and the Style Hound gave fashion tips in a column called ‘Fur, Fangs and Fashion’.
Flemming organised an art exhibition called The Dog Show and asked local artists to contribute dog-themed pieces. It caught local, state, and national attention with coverage from press, radio, and television. Riding the Calendar Girls phenomenon, she initiated a photoshoot of some of the group members (including the city mayor) with their dogs. The photo, entitled The Hunting Lodge (The Dogs Breakfast Group) shot by Jules Boag, was shortlisted for the Australian National Photographic Portrait Prize in 2007. The group had reach.
When the local council wanted to turn part of the off-leash park where the group met each month into a children’s playground, they were consulted – the Dogs’ Breakfast Group had become a stakeholder in the local community.
Flemming left Australia in 2010 to travel the world. When she first visited Budapest in 2013, she fell in love with the city, its people, and its dogs. ‘Budapest has grabbed me by the ankles and won’t let go’, she said.
Dogless in Budapest, Flemming is missing canine company. So, she’s decided to start a Dogs’ Breakfast Group here, too. When we spoke, she was planning the first one for the last Sunday in September. The plan was to meet at Hősök Tere by the statue at 9:45 a.m. for a walk starting at 10. I don’t doubt for a minute that she got a crowd and that it will continue. As she says herself: ‘If you put enough energy behind something, it can’t not go somewhere and generally, if it’s well-intentioned, it goes somewhere good.’
I’m dogless by choice. When I was still wearing knee-socks, we had a dog, a Corgi called Rinty. He was run over by a car on my granny’s farm. Then we got another dog, a Jack Russell called Monty. He ate poison that had been laid for stray dogs preying on a neighbouring farmer’s sheep. After that, I was dogged out. My relationship with dogs since has been very superficial. Those I’m around a lot grow on me, though – some more than others. Truth be told, they fascinate me. We recently stayed in a house with six dogs, including two Dane Mastiffs. The smallest of the six, a Dachshund, was the Lead Dog. No one had told her she was tiny. No mental limitations there.
I can see a Budapest Dogs’ Breakfast Group gathering momentum. The dog owners I know in the city are a breed apart. They recognise in each other that same unbridled love for their canine friends. Through their dogs, they strike up instant friendships that pay little heed to skin colour, religion, or political persuasion. It’s all about their dogs. In truth, they’re an example to everyone. If we all made life about something/someone other than ourselves, how much better the world would be.
Next meeting of the Dogs’ Breakfast Group is on Sunday, 27th October meeting at 9:45 am at the statue in Heroes Square to start walking at 10 am.
First published in the Budapest Times, October 2019