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After two long years in England, when Spain was an itch that had to be scratched, a golden opportunity came along, which couldn't be ignored. So here I am back in Spain ~ again, just me and my dog on the sunny Costa Blanca, ready for another adventure!

30 October 2014 @ 15:30


Over the past month or so  there has been some debate about how running a dog rescue in Spain can become overwhelming, and something that was started with the best of intentions, can end up hitting the headlines, sometimes not in a positive way.

I know that Eye on Spain has several contributors who try to rehome stray and abandon dogs, but I don't think the average expat is actually aware of the scale of the problem in Spain, and I'm sure that there must be many dog lovers, who might not want the tie of a dog of their own, but who would enjoy a spot of volunteering, to make a difference to some unfortunate animals.  

I did that very thing, and here is MY personal experience of working in a dog rescue in Costa Dorada, and will perhaps go some way to reinforcing the often easily dismissed fact that stray and abandoned dogs are a HUGE problem in Spain. 

During another long hot Spanish summer,  I was idly flicking through the local Olive Press magazine, when I came across a cry for help from a local dog rescue. As a dog lover, and knowing that whilst staying in Catalonia I had time on my hands, I was soon on my way to meet Anna, who was going to show me the ropes at the shelter where she volunteers.

Naively, I was expecting to find maybe 50 dogs, and anticipated that I’d be topping up food bowls, patting a few furry heads and maybe throwing the odd ball or two. I imagined I'd be there for an hour or so, and was looking forward to it.

However, NOTHING could have prepared me for either the size of the shelter, or the amount of dogs and cats that were living there.

On entering the very secure compound, probably 80 or so small dogs, of varying ages, shapes and sizes, ran towards me, all determined to be greeted appropriately. They were, without exception, in good health and high spirits, which reflects the level of care each one received, it was overwhelming, and uplifting both at the same time.

All I could see at this point was a mish mash of small kennels, barrels, boxes and all sorts of containers that a small dog could rest in lined up on the perimeter fence. Dogs peered out from underneath large washing up bowls, old carpets, and plastic storeage boxes.

Even the odd rabbit hutch was 'home' to a dog. 

In a smaller area stood several abandoned caravans. Cats perched on the roofs, or peered out nervously from windowless frames. Kittens played in the dirt underneath. When I ventured inside, there were more cats sleeping in the tiny sinks and in cardboard boxes on the threadbare seating. But even in this chaos, there were hand knitted blankets, cushions and old duvet's dotted around as if to give just a bit of home comfort to these unfortunate moggies.

Onwards we went, through securely locked gates, to purpose built blocks of 10 kennels, where larger dogs were housed 5 to each individual large pen. Again, no dog held back, as we called out a greeting, or stopped now and then to stroke and make a fuss of as many as we could.

Altogether at this shelter, there were over 300 dogs and 60 cats, which had been abandoned, or picked up as strays, the scale of the problem in Spain cannot be imagined.

During the course of the next 4 hours, I helped to clean out kennels, and feed and water around 200 dogs, whilst another volunteer, dealt with the other small dogs and puppies in the larger compound. We worked like trojans, this was literally, no walk in the park.

Because of the sheer number of dogs, there is no alternative but to keep them enclosed for much of the time. Two comfort breaks a day were usually all that could be easily managed, so it goes without saying that each kennel was fairly 'high' on excess energy and excess poo. 

We methodically and thoroughly cleaned them all. First scraping and shovelling, followed by throwing liberal amounts of disinfectant around and finally hosing and rinsing.

The heat of the sun dried the floors almost instantly. 

Water and food was replenished and dogs ushered out and back into each pen with meticulous precision. 5 dogs out, 5 dogs counted back in again, which is not as easy as it sounds when there is always 1 out of 5 who simply does not want to return willingly!

Piles of poo were shovelled, minor grumbles between bored dogs were diffused. But overall, there was a sense of calm and achievement as each clean kennel was once more, locked and secured.

But of course that HAS to happen on a daily basis. My little stint, was a drop in the dog rescue ocean of life. They needed people every single day, twice a day would have been better.

The cleaning and feeding was just the tip of the iceberg. Long haired dogs needed grooming. All dogs needed checking for minor ailments, nails needed trimming, ears needed cleaning.

Above all, the dogs needed human contact, and to be socialised to stand any chance of being rehomed.  

There simply was no time for niceties. It was all a question of priority.

Like so many other dog rescue's, this one was started by one lady, taking in a couple of abandoned dogs. It grew, and grew. As an animal lover, she couldn't turn a deserving dog away.

Luckily for her, and unlike many well meaning rescuers, she did have plenty of support, and eventually the local council offered her an old landfil site on which to create this HUGE shelter.  But it still has to be maintained, the rescued animals still have to be fed. The money for this has to come from somewhere. Donations are a crucial factor for any dog rescue, big or small.

This particular rescue, with 360 or so animals to care for is just one of hundreds across Spain, they all need your help and support. 

We've discussed before on our blogs and forums about what you can do when the novelty of your move to Spain has worn off.  Here's the answer!

Please do seek out your local dog rescue, offer your help even for a few hours a week. Trust me, it is SO rewarding.

You cannot save every dog you come across, that's for sure, but you can help to make their lives more comfortable.


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SandrainAlgorfa said:
30 October 2014 @ 14:59

Great read as always. Is that Buddy in the bottom pic?

RiojaRosie said:
30 October 2014 @ 16:19

Hi Sandra. No it's not Buddy. He's much bigger than that!
I just thought it was a sad picture that kind of said, 'c'mon, play with me' ! Rx

jeffsears said:
01 November 2014 @ 07:43

Heartbreaking but the answer is not bigger and bigger rescue centres but in education. There is no doubt that the spanish attitude to animals is not quite the same as an english one.

In our village stray dogs are dealt with by the Campo Guardia. He shoots them if nobody steps up to take them in. Its probably kinder to the animals than spending their lives chained up and fed bread.

catalanbrian said:
01 November 2014 @ 08:57

Jeff, sadly you are right. There is a role for dog and cat rescue centres, but they should only be a temporary solution for an individual animal. Instead of keeping the animals for an unlimited period in these rescue centres, those animals that are not easily re-homed (say within 3 months) should be euthanised. This is much kinder than keeping them in "prison" for ever. I hasten to add that I have four lovely rescue dogs and five very lazy rescue cats!

hrespana said:
01 November 2014 @ 12:55

I doubt that any animal would agree that it's kinder to kill them. More convenient yes, necessary perhaps, but kinder no. The vast majority of animals, no matter how dire their circumstances, want to live.

RiojaRosie said:
01 November 2014 @ 16:04

Thank you all for taking the time to read my post, and for your comments.

Jeff Sears and Catalan Brian.
In some ways, I can understand your points of view, especially about the education aspect. But many, many dogs have been abandoned by expats, in a hurry to return to the UK, it's not always the Spanish who are the 'offenders' when it comes to dog ownership and well being.

My main point is that many people in Spain DO have time on their hands, and as I'm sure you know, there is a dog rescue in every main town, so whilst the dogs may have to be enclosed, which I agree is not ideal, volunteers could make a difference to the life of a dog whilst it is in a shelter.

Hrespana. Thank you! Rosie. x

mestala said:
01 November 2014 @ 18:01

Exactly the same problem here in Bulgaria.Educate?,you say.Here they think by chaining a dog up on a property is going to stop breakins etc.
How would it do that?,it's chained up,they don't get it,as thick as a big pile of elephant s--t.
We have rescued 5 dogs here in BG,but we just cannot take any more,we also have one of our own.And you are right about some of the brits who have left them and buggered off back to the uk without a care,no different to the locals.
One of the vets practices here do do free spaying and neutering to street dogs when they are caught.You see these dogs mainly in town with either pink or blue tags in their ears to denote that they have been done.
Another thing here is that if the locals find out you have taken dogs in,you will suddenly find a sack full of pups or kittens dumped on your doorstep.
I really don't think there is an answer to this terrible problem,but at least we know we have given 5 dogs a life their friends they left behind a good life.

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