Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Spanish rural idyll not such a paradise for dogs

Por: | 27 de julio de 2015

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Andalusian rural heaven

Selling up and moving to a little finca in the Spanish hills is a dream for many Brits. Whole shelves in bookshops are dedicated to hilarious tales of navigating a first olive harvest or chasing after an errant donkey. Once installed life is undoubtedly tough and challenging, but a common thread running through the experience of many is coming face-to-face with the harsh conditions experienced by the animals living on neighbouring farms.

It’s not unusual in Spain for farms or small holdings to remain generally unoccupied at night by their owners, as many prefer to live in nearby villages. So in order to make sure that no-one runs off with the prized blackfooted pigs, most will keep a number of dogs onsite as a security measure. Certainly in the Andalusian hills, Spanish Mastiffs are the dog of choice for guarding larger livestock, plus a few small mongrels to nip at the heels of any unwanted intruders. Many of the dogs will be kept on a chain, if they’re lucky with some shelter, food and water. Sadly such basic care doesn’t stretch to all who are effectively abandoned save for an occasional offering of some stale bread.

I remember the first time I came across such a sight in the mountains between Granada and Motril. Five minutes from where we were staying lay an empty house, empty of humans that is, but filled with chickens inhabiting the ground floor. Out the back there were a few pigs and in the garden the ubiquitous chained dog. Next to the dog was an Alsation puppy, no relation to its friend and all of about eight weeks old. On seeing me it came scurrying up the bank that separated the house from the road and proceeded to follow me home. Full of fleas and too tiny to be left alone, it was all I could do not to take it back to Seville, but knowing my landlords at the time would have had a fit if I’d arrived back with an Alsation pup, I gave the little fella and his tethered friend some jamon, and sadly left them where they were.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15072415/dd2ce620-c710-439b-a05c-a55e73dae3b7.png
Paloma in chains. Photo c/o ACTIN

Occasionally chained dogs get lucky and are rescued. ACTIN (Animal Care Treatment International Network) is an animal welfare association based near Murcia whose main focus is ‘to make changes in the laws against cruelty, neglect and abandonment’, but they inevitably become involved in facilitating the rescue of ill-treated or abandoned animals. One such case involved Paloma, a four-year-old Spanish Mastiff bitch found chained up in a goat shed, who had lost all power in her back legs having been chained up since a puppy. At the time of rescue she weighed only 33 kilos, half the suggested amount for an adult of her breed and now at 68 kilos she is living out her days as an honorary, permanent occupant in some nearby kennels.

Paloma now
Paloma enjoying her freedom

But chaining up animals is just part of the story. In Spain, particularly in the countryside, there is a huge resistance towards neutering animals. For those not familiar with the canine reproductive cycle, a female will come on heat every six months for three weeks. During this period there is a key time when if unsupervised, she will more than willingingly accept the amorous advances of not just one, but many dogs and a litter of puppies is a fairly safe bet. Little dogs have small litters and large breeds like mastiffs can have up to 12 puppies. Not terribly convenient if they’re supposed to be guarding livestock. So the standard procedure in the campo is to kill or dump most of the puppies, leaving one or two with the mother and six months later, the whole needless process starts again.

A friend finding 7 dead mastiff puppies by the side of a country road incensed Cordoba based Writer Alan Parks so much he wrote an open letter on his blog denouncing the endless cycle of pregnancies and puppy killing in a bid to draw further attention to the matter.

He writes, ‘I have spoken to Spanish farmers who have told me, in no uncertain terms “If you don’t want a dog, throw it in the lake. No more problem!” I have also spoken to Spaniards who have told me that they do not like to castrate male dogs because it upsets the dog emotionally to have its testicles removed. Well, what about the poor mother dog, who gave birth to the puppies I just buried? She had cleaned them up, bonded with them and probably even started feeding them, before they were ripped away from her, killed, and then thrown out of the window of a car like a discarded cigarette packet’.   

Dead puppies
Dead mastiff puppies. Photo c/o Alan Parks

Another Brit Clair Spettigue living near Malaga offered to pay for her neighbours’ bitches to be spayed, but was told in no uncertain terms that ‘that was not how things are done in these parts’. ‘You have to be careful’ she goes on, ‘as soon as it gets out that you making a fuss about abandoned animals, people start dumping them on your door step and it starts to get out of hand’.

It’s a delicate balance for many outsiders, foreign or otherwise who set themselves up in the countryside alongside locals whose customs haven’t changed for generations. Friends of mine living alongside a farm with a couple of mastiffs and a mongrel do their bit giving food and even names to the dogs who were all known collectively as ‘perro’. But in the 9 months that they’ve lived there they’ve had seen 3 pregnancies and the subsequent mysterious disappearance soon after birth of the puppies. That’s pretty standard, some people say something, others turn a blind eye. It’s a tough call in the country which is inpenetrable to outsiders at the best of times.

This isn’t just a Spanish issue. There has always been a brutal edge to the countryside - I grew up on a farm so I speak from first hand experience. It’s just that in countries like the UK or indeed Ireland, such harshness was common forty or fifty years ago. In Spain however, the idea that country ways are sacred, even if they are utterly cruel and neglectful, continues today.

Alan Parks admits he doesn’t know the answer. ‘Almost every ex-pat family I know has multiple rescued dogs living with them and I know we personally can’t take any more. Maybe veterinary universities could come up with a programme for students to go out to farms and perform cheap castrations, as a way of them getting the practice they need and the farmers getting some veterinary care at a reduced price’.

Animal association ACTIN tries to encourage people to report incidences of cruelty or neglect. ‘Cases are incredibly hard to prove and have to be watertight with photographs that link the cruelty to the owner. No one seems to know what the law really is, including the police who very rarely take these things seriously,’ says a spokesperson. 

Nevertheless, ACTIN believes the more complaints are made, the more authorities will eventually be forced to follow them up. ‘If it’s simply a matter of a lack of shelter, water or food, try approaching the owner of the animal to ask that they provide them. If this does not prove fruitful, then it’s time to try the official route’. Their website lays out the steps you would need to take in such eventualities.

But the fact remains that without an attitudinal shift regarding animal welfare amongst those using dogs to guard livestock and by the Spanish authorities at large, all this falls on deaf ears. Right now too many dogs are little more than a means to an end. Whether they are happy, cared for and loved is not a major consideration and in fact if they’re hungry and scared, they probably do their job better. For many the final escape only comes when they eventually die or unable to perform their job, are killed or dumped. And sadly there´s always another unlucky dog to fill its place.

To find out more work about the work of Actin http://www.actin-spain.com/

Hay 4 Comentarios

@Patrick Donovan
Maybe you should stop being so ´human´with yourself.
Self? Whoever has no sentiments for animals, has no sentiments for humans. Apparently you only feel sentimental for yourself. I am afraid you are a creature and animals are real humans. Because of people like you, those cold hearted rednecks treat the animals like that. Stop telling people what to do and mind your humans, you non-human. Every summer Spanish people abandon or hang hundreds of galgos, setters and not anymore wanted dogs just because they are to selfish to pay for a dog´s care while they are going on holiday. They have money for expensive holidays but not for a pet that once was part of their family. Accept the facts ´humans´.

We should stop being so sentimental about the creatures and start showing a bit more humanity to our fellow human beings.

I live in the country in Andalucia and the article is largely accurate. Spain has laws to protect animals and Granada province recently passed a law to limit the number of dogs allowed on a property. Spain also has a dangerous dogs act. Sadly, the application of the law is non existent. Spaying as well as chipping are rare. I live beside a house which keeps 4 mastiffs and numerous smaller dogs. This is not uncommon. I do believe, however, that attitudes are changing little by little.

who ever wrote the article has not lived in the country. Most of the sheep dogs are castrated and are left free with the sheep. By castrating them they never leave the flock and protect them day and night. yes there are those that are chained but that also happens in our countries

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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