Fafe is a quiet town in the North of Portugal, near Guimarães. ADDAF (Association for the Defense of Animal and Forest Rights) currently houses 240 dogs there that have been abandoned by their owners. They are often found injured, underfed or dehydrated on the street or chained at the entrance of the shelter. If these animals ever had a good life with their owners can be immediately questioned.

When approaching the shelter, the stillness disappears: a choir of barking dogs give an unbelievably loud welcome. It’s hot when the gate of the "Canil Municipal de Fafe" is opened by three cheerful ladies. On this Saturday afternoon, Viviana, Maria and Ana came especially to the kennel to talk about the work they do. A few minutes are enough to get a sad and happy impression of this place. Sad is the large number of dogs that stay here together. Some walk around freely in the garden, some outside are chained and have their own doghouse. But dozens are sharing their kennel with a few other dogs. You can’t imagine the sound and the picture of so many dogs in one place. At the same time, it looks clean if you consider that all those indoor and outdoor stays need to be cleaned several times a day (try to walk 240 dogs: impossible). With around eight to ten volunteers, they try to get the job done every day. During the week they work with two employees, and sometimes there are some volunteers that come to help. On Sundays and holidays, the job is done by the volunteers. Here they need to work hard to feed all dogs and to keep things liveable. The thought that many dogs have been living in such a cage for a while without being able to get out, makes your heart break and makes you think of the cry for help for adoptions. "We sometimes let the dogs out to walk around the garden". Luckily. It’s clear that they do what they can.

From companionship to deadly fights

The love for the dogs and involvement of president Viviana and sisters Maria and Ana are noticeable and gives confidence. For over 12 years they work with all the resources and care that they have available. In between the conversation, the dogs are stroked, another dog is secured after a fight and Ana makes a video of a dog who felt like taking a bath in a bucket of water. Meanwhile every single dog ??calls for attention and a hand through the bars means that you get it wet and licked back.

Maria says that only gentle dogs are taken care of in this shelter, which makes it easier for them to stay together in one room. But put a few hundred people very close together, then you can predict that there will be tensions and fights. Unfortunately, that is also a reality here. Sometimes a dead has been found. Something that cannot be prevented in this situation and within the tools the kennel has. Those conditions are quite different from the ones in the Netherlands (my birth country, my comparison). What should have been said, is the companionship that the staff noticed. In this way the dogs will also be socialised. "This makes adoption easier". Directly next to this kennel, the council is realising a new shelter that will have better conditions for the dogs, but there will not be more space to give shelter to more dogs.

With a smile, the caretakers talk about an adopted dog that found his way back to ADDAF on his own. He was adopted by people who had a villa near the city of Guimarães. He managed to escape and walked cheerfully back to the shelter. After his third escape to the kennel, the owners and staff from the shelter concluded that the dog received too little attention from his owners, and he was better off at ADDAF. Later he was adopted by another family and didn’t came back to the shelter anymore.

"People get a pet at Christmas and want to get rid of it around Carnival"

Every dog that is ??found is welcome at the kennel by ADDAF. But the shelter is overcrowded and no more dogs can come inside unless other dogs are getting adopted. Therefore they need to get foster homes for new dogs that appear and can’t stay on the street (like pregnant females and injured dogs). This means that Maria and Ana have seven dogs at home. Also many other volunteers and friends take dogs from the shelter to take care of. The shelter started with 25 dogs, now it is almost tenfold. “In the past there were two peaks in the year the dogs were dumped: during the summer holidays and after the hunting season. Now the number of stray dogs has grown, and it is busy all year round. People get a pet as a Christmas gift and want to get rid of it around the carnival”. What needs to be changed to stop this? "Mentality. Not having money is a bad excuse. Then you eat a little less yourself, but you still feed your animals if you love them”.

Notable in Portugal are the many dogs that are used as guard dogs in the garden or company grounds, often also (too tightly) tied to a chain. If they ever see life outside that few metres of chain and get real attention and love, is a big question mark. The new generation who take their dogs into their homes more and walk them on the street, may make the street impression of barking dogs in gardens fade away. However, the experience at the shelter is that it’s the young generation that easily abandon their pets: "They constantly want to change everything: their clothes, cell phones and that is how they also treat pets”. They don’t see the old generation giving up their animals, even though they often do not care about their animals at all. Lately a new law requires veterinarians to do chip registration that will make it possible to trace an owner who mistreated or abandoned his pet. In that way owners can be fined or prosecuted. The kennel trusts that these new measures will help prevent people from doing these things.

International help

It´s difficult to find new owners for the dogs in Portugal and the employees are very happy with any help and attention for adoptions abroad. Obvious is the number of international people on Facebook who want to help create better conditions for Portuguese animals in need. For example, there is the Dutch Brigitte who is currently taking care of 40 dogs with her foundation ‘Dogs & Cats on the move Portugal’. Together with Cas (her husband and vet) she rescues animals from the street and removes dogs from the kennels, including those from ADDAF. She offers them a place in her house and on her large piece of land. Brigitte can give the dogs one-on-one attention, get to know them better and socialise them in order to find the right match for adoption, because in the interest of the animal the adoption must succeed. A virtual tour during a video conversation on Messenger, Brigitte shows homely atmospheres, where many dogs are part of the furniture. She talks about the traumas that dogs have after a long stay in a kennel; where muscles are stiffened because they couldn’t move them as much they should and where they usually do their needs in the kennel because there is no time and staff to take them out for a walk. Then the animals on the street have also experienced a lot and at this place that Brigitte offers, there is finally the possibility to give the dogs personal attention, working towards adoption. She wants the dogs to be stable and feel dogs again, before they will be adopted. Brigitte is positive, since she has found new homes for many dogs.

From the Netherlands, Coosje from the foundation ‘C.S.F. for Doggies’ daily focuses on (social) media to find the dogs a new home and she also arranges the adoptions. Coosje ensures that new owners are well informed by providing them brochures, so that they know how to deal with the animals in order to let the dogs get used to their new life. The new Dutch owners regularly share their photos of a very happy dog ??and owner on Facebook.

ADDAF is also very happy with the help of the German Hope4friends´ and ´Tierrettung International.

New loving houses wanted for 240 dogs

Flight attendants are always needed to guide the animals into a new life.

The dogs receive all necessary vaccinations, are chipped, dewormed, castrated and given a passport: "Otherwise they are not even allowed to fly". The number of adoptions has decreased. Of course they hope that with everyone's help this will change and more dogs will finally get a loving home.

With wet hands licked and and a lot of begging sweet eyes focussed on me, I leave the shelter. You would like to take them all with you.

Wanting to help or adopt? Follow or look at the Facebook pages of: