Abandoned animals are an unfortunate fact of life here in Portugal. The municipal and private shelters are always crammed and desperately in need of more volunteers to help care for the animals and donations to cover the cost of food and vet bills.
I have been living in Portugal for nearly four years now. I frequently see dogs wandering the streets of the villages. Cats are everywhere. My next door neighbor regularly feeds four or five of them. I see their eyes glowing in the dark when I take my dog out for her last night pee walk.
In fact my own dog was abandoned in my village a few days before I move into my house. I used to have two cats in the US but was unable to bring them because I had no fixed abode for the first couple months I was here. I did find them a very good new cat-mommy, but I firmly intended to get more cats when I settled in.
The universe had other plans. Divina was wandering the street, sleeping on a doorstep. I saw her and offered her some bread and milk and hey presto! I had a dog.
Not all dogs are so lucky. (At least I think Divina is lucky. I feed her, walk her multiple times a day, and adore her.) According to an official report by the ICNF (institute for conservation of nature and forests), 43,600 animals were abandoned in Portugal in 2022. That works out to 119 per day.
The report said conditions during the Covid pandemic greatly worsened a longstanding problem. Many Portuguese struggle to make ends meet and the care and feeding of animals is often not a priority. On top of that, it is relatively expensive to have a veterinarian neuter dogs or cats so the practice is not common. Hence, there are thousands of unwanted litters of puppies and kittens.
I walked out one morning in October 2021, about to take Divina for a walk, and heard a little bark from somewhere inside my gate. I searched around and found source of the sound under my car. It was a tiny puppy. I guessed he was maybe eight weeks old. Just weaned from his momma.
Many Efforts to Re-home Animals
There are resources to help the abandoned animals. There are 170 official collection centers for abandoned animals located in municipalities all over Portugal. However, they are often very crowded. The animal shelter outside of Tomar, my nearby town, had more than 100 dogs when I volunteered there in early 2020. My work as a volunteer consisted of sluicing out the pens. The constant sound of barking from all these animals was overwhelming.
Sadly, when the Covid pandemic restrictions took effect, I and other volunteers could not longer help there, though this situation has since changed.
I recently helped out at a privately run dog shelter. Pegasus e Bigodes, near Figueiro dos Vinhos. It is a non-profit started by a Dutch woman and run by volunteers. It operates out of a house where supplies are stored. All around the house are enclosures built by volunteers. When I went there recently they had about 40 dogs. Volunteers walk and feed the dogs, clean the pens and help to find adoptive homes for the animals. They raise funds through stalls at local markets. A man who runs a consignment store donates a part of his proceeds. But they really need volunteers and donations and volunteers. (Hint, hint.)
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