“How much is that Spanish doggie…in the Gutter?”

An X expat tells her story of why after 7 years in Spain, she could no longer live here because of the terrible problems for the animals…. Neither I nor […]

An X expat tells her story of why after 7 years in Spain, she could no longer live here because of the terrible problems for the animals….

Neither I nor my husband foresaw that we'd return from our morning coffee close to tears. Going for an early café and tostada is a Spanish custom I grew to love. Half a toasted baguette with tomato and olive oil for breakfast may sound odd, but honestly, it really grows on you.

abandonedDogFeaturedNothing monumental happened as we sat outside a busy little village café. A medium sized, rough haired brown dog I had noticed napping in the shade of the church got up and began to wander unsteadily through the people who were bustling about in the hot morning sunshine.

Just one glance at her and we realised she was yet another abandoned dog.

Limping painfully from some damage to her back or hips, clearly a recent mother, her ribs startlingly angular, she gazed at each person who passed her with a look that was at once both hopeful and utterly despondent.

She was so obviously checking to see if her owner was amongst the crowd, but we both knew that person would be long gone after they'd thrown her out of the car and driven off. She wasn't to know that, and the belief that her former master would come back would be the reason she returned to the small patch of shade and slumped back down to continue her wait. It was 10am and the temperature was already thirty degrees.

It wasn't just the sight of her that was so upsetting. It was the fact that she was ignored, as if she were simply a piece of litter lying on the street. I'm not suggesting the people around were purposefully taking no notice of her or were condoning animal cruelty. But abandoned dogs are so common here that I think people getting on with their everyday lives don't see the suffering.

Even after seven years we had not been able to master this technique and each time we saw these animals the frustration and the guilt grew.

mum july after pups gone_crop

Unfortunately if you do come to live in Spain then you will see more abandoned dogs than I imagine you have ever seen before. You will see live ones roaming across the fields in the searing heat, desperately looking for a reservoir to drink from. You'll spot lists of them in the free papers; those are they that are fortunate enough to have at least found a temporary home in one of the few shelters. Regularly you will drive past dead ones lying at the side of the road; often they lie there for days; maybe they are also fortunate as their suffering is over, (I'm almost horrified that I've started to think that). And every so often you'll see one like this poor girl, hanging around hopefully day after day just waiting for an owner that will never return.

For every abandoned dog you see you'll also come across a cute puppy in a pet shop window in a shopping mall. You'll start unconsciously humming "How much is that Doggie." but you'll also realise that these dogs may end up squashed flat on a road near you in a couple of years’ time.

There are numerous dog owners in Spain that treat their pets with love and respect. However any animal lover living in Spain will acknowledge the problem. Lots of them will already have acquired a couple of refugees themselves, incapable of not trying to help, albeit in small way.

Where do they all come from? Many of them are dumped by hunters, as I believe was the case with the dog we saw that morning. Maybe they are not good hunters, perhaps they've had an injury or possibly considered past their prime - there are many reasons, none of them justify the actions.

Sometimes rather than being dumped they are hung from trees; I guess they believe dumping them is the humane option.

Dogs living with families do not always fare better. Living in a holiday resort we dreaded the summer months as there are those who wish to go on holiday but stay at 'un-pet-friendly' accommodation and will just leave the family dog and buy a new one after their vacation. They've brought in laws to deal with this, but it's hard to catch and prosecute someone unless they are caught in the act. (Before foreigners get smug I know ex-pats who've taken in dogs while they live here, decided to move back and disappeared, leaving their dogs to fend for themselves once again.)

The town halls do employ dog catchers and in some areas this at least offers the poor unwanted souls a place to spend their last days without raging thirst, hunger and abuse. Some town halls pay private companies to do this on a bonus per dog system and the dog pounds and the methods of dog disposal can only be likened to dog hell.

There is no RSPCA here to turn to and animal shelters, set up by both foreign and Spanish animal lovers, are overwhelmed. There are also some wonderful individuals who foster dogs, then send them over to loving owners in Northern European countries. However overall the situation is bleak, and with the impact of the recession it is only getting worse.

I believe that you cannot become involved with a country and keep your eyes shut to its less pleasant aspects. Everyone knows about the plight of bulls in Spain, but abuse of domestic animals is usually bypassed. One of our clients said they were scared to cycle in the country lanes in the Costa Calida as they kept seeing "wild dogs"; it saddened me as they didn't realise the dogs were scared, starving human casts-offs.

By Martine Cherry
An ACTIN member and supporter

Black and white 'Abandoned Dog' image courtesy of Lírica Aragão on flickr