Meet ‘El Duque’, my vagabond picked up from the countryside in 2005.
You might notice how one eye is not functioning – he was hit.
Apart from that he has been fed poison twice.
Duque stretched his life 13 wonderful years though and that, too, is thanks to many an Andalusian.
For everything here is as extreme as the landscape: the history is, the economy is, and the people are: you find the worse and the best. Nowhere in Europe have people reacted with such fondness to dogs, as nowhere they’ve been thrown a stone at either.
Why? The Survival Society.
There are still patches in rural Andalusia that are largely a survival society.
We in the consumer society, who have animals just for leisure, cannot always grasp what that means.
If chickens do not lay eggs after a scare, that can make a difference.
If a stray dog from the mountains brings a disease, that can make the difference between surviving or not.
The quality of wool and cheese of goats and sheep depends largely on their health and well-being… so of course you should not expect a goat shepherd to be very happy when your dog creates havoc! It’s your leisure walk versus his income and pride.
We coming from suburbs are no longer very connected to the times animals were there as work companions – or tools, depending on the farmer. They were shepherds, protectors or hunters. Just having an animal for the fun of it was an unthinkable luxury.
A dog on a short chain? ‘The only way to keep his juices flowing and be furious. It’s the only way I can protect my campo (against wild boars or foxes or other)”.
A litter of pups put aside the road? ‘I don’t have the money to castrate my dog, but could not kill the pups either… this way they might be found by someone‘.
The life of a stray dog
I took Duque in when he was already 3 years old.
All that time he had just been living in the streets and alleys.
Yes, he had had problems – and still he looked well fed and healthy. Why? Well, I soon learned he had 5 doors in the village where people put out food and water for him. Every morning he joined a local man who went jogging.
And in the alleys he had befriended a few other stray dogs. On hot days they would go have a siesta on the pavement near a main road, watching the world go by, and on days they were hungry they would install themselves near the terrace of a bar, hoping for that spare chicken wing.
In comparison to my home country (Belgium), those strays in Andalusia did not seem to have the worst of lives! Far less traffic, more countryside to roam, always a safe spot or even hill to themselves, and a nicer climate.
At the same time, those strays were street-wise: I have never had to tell Duque to walk on the pavement or to take care with crossing a road: he was more street-wise than me. Which might also have been the reason that even at the age of 12 he still was as lively and healthy as a pup. AND the campo remained his oyster.
Meet Paz, the successor of Duque:
Taking in a stray dog
That being said: of course not all of them had such a royal life! I’ve met plenty a skinny and sad creature – always followed by days of washing them and going to the nearest vet, and then the search for the dog shelter that would have him/her. Though there are many, very many of such shelters, the Triple A in Marbella being among the most known, it can often happen they are full. So what do we do? Start spreading photos over Facebook, and contacting friends in Spain and abroad.
You will not be the first and not the last ‘guiri’ to make the distinct decision to never have a dog… and then a year down the line find yourself with 2 new companions anyway, be it for them ending up at your gate, or you going to the Triple A or other rescue center to help.
Other ways you can help
Find the nearest dog rescue center near you and ask what you can do. For sure there’s plenty you can do! From cleaning cages to assisting with their events to raise funds.
At the Triple A for example you can go every Saturday to help them with walking the 200+ dogs (which also is a very nice way to spend your Saturday and to meet others).
You can let centers know that you are available as ‘flight responsible’ in case a dog needs to be sent to new owners in another country, or you can make it a habit to start your shopping in a dog charity shop or bring your old clothes and books there.
In my 10 years in a village in rural Malaga, I have seen the number of stray dogs decline very much. Be it for the organization of the provincial ‘dog catchers’, be it for a change in mentality, there are a lot less vagabonds today than in 2007, and they also look healthier as well as less alone.
Whether that is a structural evolution or just a temporary one (also economically things go a LOT better than a few years ago), nobody knows. Having a pet being a proven pillar of increased happiness, it’s a win-win situation for both you and the dog, whatever you would do to help.