The Petrol Station Family

When I found this little Family, I wasn't sure what to do, there was no room at the Inn and I wasn't going to be able to home a Family […]

The Petrol Station Family - Smilie and Desperado coming to greet meWhen I found this little Family, I wasn't sure what to do, there was no room at the Inn and I wasn't going to be able to home a Family of feral dogs very easily. I had found them a short distance from my house begging for food at the local petrol station. A lovely female about 3 years old with a strange but beautiful face, that seemed to smile when I greeted her and then her companion, a little boy with short stubby legs that were bandy, no tail just a little excuse for a stump, that wagged with pleasure when I talked to him. The little boy's head seemed to be too big for his body and he also had a smile, his lips would curl back in a slightly nervous way but he was a really sweet happy little chap.

I was stopping for petrol the first time I met them and had my emergency stash of dog food in the boot, so I sat on the ground and tried to coax them to me. They were very happy to take the food but definitely wouldn't let me touch them.

I went away with a heavy heart as they are just two more to add to the many abandoned strays here in Spain. They were not going to be easy to help, as they weren't a breed, or desirable looking, they weren't hurt and clearly knew how to survive, so it wasn’t like it was an emergency either. However their situation was still dangerous, with the many lorries and coaches driving into the petrol station and cruel people who may hurt them. The weather was starting to warm, it was May and I knew it would soon be very hot for them. In the summer heat, Spanish stray dogs are prone to many diseases, such as Erlichia from Tick infestation and leishmania, a potentially lethal disease caused by a sand fly bite. Plus there was the constant danger from the road and possible dehydration in the heat.

So I needed a plan of action, as there was no way these two would survive here for long, in spite of their intelligence and resourcefulness. Well it really was the female who was doing the most work but the boy seemed to rely on her. They were companions and often I would turn up and they would be lying on the kerb, literally wrapped around each other like lovers.

The only thing I could do for now, was to see that they were fed and watered and to try to build their confidence in humans.

The Petrol Station Family - Toby and TroyOne day I turned up to learn that the petrol attendant had seen in the distance some pups. I came that evening with a lovely lady on holiday from Germany, who was giving up her time to help Spanish animals and we went in search of the pups. The land behind the petrol station was rocky and parched, with piles of rubbish and some huge rocks and a mound. The female led us to her pups that were hiding out, under the rocks. Tiny pups - one was half the size of the other, with a little stump for a tail, short legs and looking just like his Dad! The other looked just like Mum. We named Mum and Dad, Smilie and Desperado and the pups Toby and Troy.

All through the hot Summer I came, every day. It was getting too much for me and too much for them; they were clearly suffering in the heat. I had to do something, so I started a plan to rescue them. A good friend had offered to foster them and then all we could do, was our best to home them. I tried not to think about that and just thought to catch them first.

Once we started trying to rescue them, we realized just how nervous they were and very determined not to be caught. My partner and I spent hours and days out there. We took camping chairs, water, sausages for the dogs and tranquilizers but every time we almost caught them, they would slip out of our hands and run for their lives, as far away as they could. I didn’t want to risk them losing confidence in me and I didn’t know what to do.

Some weeks on, I was doing my usual visit but felt worried about Desperado, he wasn’t responding as usual and seemed sleepy and lethargic, unless of course I tried to catch him and then his little legs couldn’t run fast enough but this day I didn’t feel he could cope, so I decided to leave him and see how he was the following day.

I thought it was the heat and hoped he would be better on my next visit. But for the next few days I did not see him. I was so worried that chasing and trying to catch him had put his little body under too much pressure, what with the lack of nutrition and the impossible heat and he could have a disease that needed treatment for all I knew.

I was busy with work and other commitments but I was so worried, my partner Dan decided to go and do a thorough search for Desperado. He returned after a few hours and I asked where he was. He put his arms around me and told me he had found little Desperado's lifeless body. I was devastated and cried buckets over that little dog. Dan buried him properly and we said a prayer. We learnt from the petrol station lady that he had been hit by a car and so poor little mite, must have been suffering from internal injuries, when I thought he was suffering from the heat. I only hope he did not suffer too much.

The Petrol Station Family - Toby after being caughtThe next day, I was so damn determined not to leave that place without one at least of the dogs that I would not go, it was hot, I was sunburned and I wouldn’t give up. Sheer dogged determination and I managed to trap the smallest pup, Toby, with a blanket against a rock.

He squealed as though I was killing him, he was so scared, I thought he would have a heart attack, his little body under the blanket, I could feel hyper ventilating and I talked to him as I carried him to the car, softly, to try to calm him.

He was petrified and he did not move out of the box for about 24 hours. Sherlie, who looked after him was brilliant, she tried to coax him and get him interested but he was lost without his Family and completely vulnerable and terrified of us. So much so that he managed to escape after a week, out of his box and his enclosure and disappeared completely. Sherlie's house is in the countryside with nothing but dry and arid vast areas. We looked for him but had to accept he would probably not survive and no bigger than a rabbit and the same color almost, we didn't have much hope for him to survive long. We were broken hearted!

In the meantime we had discovered that a Spanish group of animal volunteers had also found our special little Family and we were not the only ones who wanted to help them. There was something special about this Family, as many stray dogs here just get ignored and forgotten because of the sheer numbers. But now we had someone who would join forces with us and perhaps give the other two, Mum and Troy a better chance.

So we agreed to help each other, they had more experience in catching dogs and we would try to care for them after they were caught.

And so it was with great joy a few weeks later, when I had a call to say that Troy had been caught. I raced there to collect him...I was as happy as if I had won the lottery, I couldn't believe this wily, fast little puppy would ever be caught!! Amazing girls, showed no fear for themselves, even though the terrified pup was trying to bite.

On the same day apart from the call from the Spanish girls to say Troy was safe, I had another call from tell me Toby had come back, that little tiny boy. Sherlie had heard a cry at the gate and could not believe her eyes, there he was a dirty little bundle, and god knows where he had been hiding out. He did know we were trying to help him after all!! He was going to be re-united with his Brother, at last!!

But now we had a bigger worry, of course the pups were safe but poor Mama Smilie, was all alone, she had lost her companion and her pups and she was so sensitive and sweet, we knew that this would be bad for her. In fact the Manager of the petrol station phoned to tell me she was frantically howling. For the next few days we could not get near her, she kept well away; she had lost trust in us completely!!

So the next plan of take her pups to the petrol station and hope she may smell them and allow us to catch her. It didn’t work; in fact it was damn stressful. We had to get the terrified pups into a cage and put them in the car. They could not be handled without gloves and they pooed and weed with fear every time we touched them. So I decided to take them home with me, even though I had a busy schedule, I had less dogs than Sherlie, who's latest count at that time was around 21 dogs in her care. I thought if I could keep them in the house with my gang of 7, I could get them confident and maybe they would then be easier to help catch Mama.

Toby started to settle but he had now been in captivity for around a month and that extra time for Troy out in the wild with Mum had made him a harder nut to crack, he really seemed lost without his Mum. Seeing them out in the wild I had realized how close they were. I felt so guilty for disrupting this little Family's life but I knew it was for the best.

I tried to see Mama but she wouldn’t come near us anymore, I was so sad and thought we may have to give up on her but the Spanish group came to the rescue and around two months after capturing the first pup, I had a call to say Mama was safe at last. One of the girls had got her tough guy Husband to capture Smilie, she still had to have a tranquilizer and it was not easy but now we had them all safe at last...

Mama was a delight to have; she is a beautiful but terrified dog. If she could speak I would have to close my ears as I couldn’t cope with what she may tell me. This dog cowers to the floor when I come close and lays down and wets herself, shaking with total fear. It hurts my soul when she does this and she has clearly passed this fear on to the pup.

The Petrol Station Family - Mama and Troy looking confidentNow they are all safe and have been with me for a while. Toby lives in the house and he is a little devil, full of fun and naughtiness. He will run and hide under the sideboard if I attempt to pick him up for a cuddle. I think the hidey hole reminds him of his little house of rocks that he was born under and there he feels safe. The other day I found my Ray Bans chewed up in his bed... but what can I say, he is safe and happy.

Mum and Troy were so happy to be re-united. I have some great video footage of the moment Troy realized his Mum was there. Mum gets better and better every day. She is an adorable and intelligent creature, that has dignity and she loves people, in spite of her history. Troy is still very afraid and needs some specialist care. I do my best and spend as much time with them each day as possible. But they need to have a loving home and a forever Family.

I would like to keep Mama and Troy together; I think they will be lost without each other.

They will have to have a very special home this little Family and I will find it, as Desperado is probably watching from Rainbow bridge..

This rescue story is in memory of Desperado and all the suffering stray dogs, who to survive when they should be taken care of. The only answer is to sterilize….

Hundreds of thousands of stray and abandoned animals meet their fate on the roads by being killed outright, some suffer for days before they die. Many are deliberately thrown from cars onto the motorway. How many accidents has this caused? I know of many and also near misses, where people have been hurt,including myself. Does the Spanish government think it is acceptable to cause such danger on the roads? Many strays will die from hunger, dehydration or disease; does the Spanish government think this is acceptable to put the general public’s health at risk by allowing people to abandon their animals in the streets? Does the Spanish government think it is acceptable for tourists and visitors to see the roads littered with dead animals, or starving dogs? In some countries we may expect this but isn’t Spain in the EU and a country to be respected in the modern world?

One male and female pair of mating dogs will, in 6 years have procreated 67,000 dogs. Only 10% of dogs will ever be homed. Please support our campaign for awareness to sterilise pets.

First published on: September 17th, 2012