Most often they are uncollared and the usual instinct of those of us who come from countries where pets are just that, animals that live in a house, with a family that walks them on a leash or starts worrying as soon as the cat has been out for more than two hours, is to assume they are homeless. This is not always the case and with this article I want to give you a more nuanced view of the situation.
It's not uncommon, especially in the countryside, for a dog to suddenly lie in the middle of the road, forcing us animal lovers to hit the break in panic. With our hearts in our throats, we rush out thinking the dog is injured, only to get a questioning and dazed look from a very alive but tired pooch who wonders what is going on? I've had many serious conversations with these dogs over the years about the dangers of sleeping in the middle of the road and how it affects drivers' hearts, but they don't seem to care much about that.
The next question is: how come the owner doesn't keep better track of their dog?
The simple answer is that dogs in Portugal generally walk freely during the day. They have a home where they are fed and cared for but they live a free life and take themselves out for walks in the neighbourhood. Dogs are traditionally kept to guard the house and yard and in many cases to herd animals. This sometimes clashes with how many immigrants believe dogs should live and often results in the dogs being picked up by kind-hearted people who take them to a shelter or to the police, believing them to be lost.
This creates completely unnecessary problems and therefore you should never pick up a dog without first talking to the people living in the neighbourhood and ensuring that the dog does not actually live there.
All dogs and cats in Portugal should be chipped with traceable owners but far from all of them are. Therefore, the first thing to do if you have a dog that actually appears to be homeless or stray is to take it to a vet who can check the chip. They usually do this for free. Then you can decide how to proceed. There are several Facebook groups where it is effective to search for lost owners.
Similarly, there are lots of "street cats" who may not actually have a home of their own, but are being fed in one of the many colonies set up by municipalities, shelters and private individuals. To the extent that funds are available, the cats are trapped and neutered and then released and fed. You can see these feeding stations everywhere. So the cats are many times better off than it may first appear.
That being said, there is still a widespread problem with dogs and cats not getting the care they deserve. Although animal welfare laws are generally good in Portugal nowadays, it takes time and generations to change the general mindset. We had the same situation in almost every European country not so many years ago, so instead of judging and getting angry, it's much better to help educate people about animal care. Knowledge is often the best key to change.
There are a lot of dog and cat shelters that are overflowing with wonderful creatures that need new homes. Some of them are not adoptable because they are not socialised or for other reasons are not suitable for adoption. So they often go on to live in shelters where they get everything they need.
All these dog and cat shelters are run by unpaid enthusiasts and volunteers who take care of the animals, clean, build and fix things, day in and day out, in heavy rain, in blazing sun and extreme heat. If the home is authorised, they receive financial support from the municipality but this is far from sufficient and it is not realistic to think that the "state" will take care of this problem, just as no state in the world takes proper responsibility for either homeless animals or other societal problems. We have to help!
Food, kitty litter, vets, medicines, building materials, fencing, blankets, pillows, detergent and everything else needed to keep the centres running costs a huge amount of money every month. It's not uncommon for volunteers to simply use their own money to deal with emergencies. The irony is that many of the volunteers themselves live on the financial margins, but are still happy to share.
Many second-hand shops donate their entire surplus to animal welfare organisations and there are many animal lovers who donate as much money as they can spare to help.
Are you an animal lover and want to make a difference? Here are some tips!
- Adopt an animal if you can. Many shelters are also offering the opportunity to sponsor a specific dog or cat, donating a monthly sum to cover, for example, medicine for a diabetic cat.
- If you have a company, become a sponsor. Donate money or resources. Provide the shelter with a sign. It's not only a good thing to do, it's also goodwill for your brand.
- Visit a dog or cat shelter. You can help with daily chores or just cuddle. Believe me, it takes many "cuddle volunteers" to cover the need for love for all these wonderful animals.
- Next time you go shopping, buy a big bag of cat or dog food and donate it to your local animal shelter. For security reasons, their exact location is not always publicised, but if you google or ask in a FB group, you can easily find them.
- Donate money for medicine, veterinary care and neutering.
- If you see cats that are not neutered, you can catch them, take them to a vet and pay for neutering and then release them. Of course, in respectful cooperation with any owners.
- If you have spare building materials, donate them! Also, if you can spare a day to fix a broken fence or re-roof a kennel, it's worth more than you can imagine.
- Go to a charity event and bid on any of the amazing prizes that companies have donated to the auction. On 18 November there is an event in Vilamoura. See the picture.
It's a tired expression but very true; no one can do everything but everyone can do something. Knowing that the money or resources we offer are actually making a real difference to both the animals and the volunteers gives you a good feeling in your heart and maybe even a lick on the cheek as a thank you.
Elise Slotte has lived in Portugal since 2020. Apart from her profession as a writer, she is also an entrepreneur in tourism and a relocation guide. She has a passion for the authentic Algarve and believes that shared cultures and knowledge about the same is the key to Portugal as the perfect place to live, both for the Portuguese people and the foreigners who has chosen this country as their new home.
Elise Slotte har levt i Portugal sedan 2020. Förutom att hon är skribent, så är hon också egenföretagare inom turism samt guide för människor som vill flytta hit. Hon har en passion för det autentiska Algarve och är övertygad om att delandet av kulturer och kunskap om varandra, är nyckeln till att Portugal är perfekt att leva i, både för Portugiser och för immigranter som valt det här landet som sitt nya hem.