Tag Archives: animal welfare

My Shelter Life – first on the scene

Some people think that they would not be able to cope with coming to the shelter, that it is a sad place with evidence of so much cruelty and neglect, so many dogs needing homes that it would be too much for them. However, invariably when they come with me they are surprised. What they see is volunteers who help because they love the dogs, they show this love to the dogs, they care from the bottom of their hearts and this reflects on dogs themselves and their behaviour.  Yes of course there is sadness, frustration, despair at the endless cycle of abandonment and cruelty that these volunteers never get away from because they live there. They do not walk away, they do it day after day, lifting the s**t, cleaning kennels, feeding, giving medication, playing with the dogs, rescuing from the streets and some horrendous situations, running back and forward to the vet and most of all showing the dogs love, for some this will be their first ever experience of love.

pet billy
This is Billy, he was so terrified that when taken out of the shelter he shut down with fear. At this point I am just sitting with him in an area away from the shelter, letting him smell something new. Within 4 days he was walking with his tail in the air enjoying every moment. I still have a real soft spot for Billy.

It is because of these volunteers that the atmosphere in this shelter is generally a very happy one, yes with dips when an abandonment, a terrible cruelty or neglect case pushes them over the emotional edge. They see this day in day out, however, they do not become hardened to it. Their resilience and love is an inspiration to me. I not only want to help the dogs but I want to help the people at the shelter. I consider them “mi familia espanol”, I have learned much from them and when I witness this neglect and abandonment first hand it is these people and what they do that restore my faith in the Spanish people (just for the record, Spain is top of the league tables in the whole of Europe for the number of abandoned pets every year and top also for the number of puppies born – i.e. the worst offenders in the whole of Europe).

I love to be there. Some days it reduces me to tears, however, more often than not it makes me happy, a deep down kind of happy, why? because I know that I can make a difference, maybe not to the overall situation in Spain but to individual dogs. To spend time cuddling a dog, taking it out for a walk, helping it to see the world as a better place, etc makes a whole world of difference to that one dog. I also help to find homes for them. To get to know a dog in the shelter, recommend it to a particular home and then see it happy and content lying on a soft bed in a wonderful home, well there is no feeling quite like it.

Checko - pet
I visited Checko in his wonderful home after he had been very ill. I had promised to myself that if he pulled through I would fly over to see him. He remembered me from the shelter where I had loved and walked him many times.

So, of course it is not all happy at the shelter, I have had many new experiences not all of them positive,  however, there is still a certain privilege in being involved even in a small way with helping a dog to find safety. Last Friday was such a day. I have personally rescued a number of dogs or been first on the scene to discover a newly abandoned dog. Last Friday was one of those days and for my friend Diane it was her first experience of finding an abandoned dog. This was our first sight of the little princess. As we drove down the lane to the shelter I caught sight from the corner of my eye of this frail, cowering, hopeless little bundle…

Diane stayed with her whilst I drove on down to the shelter to tell them about the new arrival waiting to be rescued. We found her, scooped her up and brought her down to the shelter. We were so lucky that the vet just happened to be there vaccinating dogs. As I watched and photographed the volunteers and the vet what struck me most of all (apart from the dreadful condition of this poor little princess) was the love, care and attention shown to her, something they do day in and day out in these situations. Immediately a dog like this arrives their life improves as the first thing they experience is love.

The little princess JoJa is still in the care of the vet. She is less than a year old and has obviously experienced nothing but suffering in her life, yet when we approached her she managed to wag her tail at the sound of a kind voice. We could learn a lot from dogs.

I filmed what I could of this experience, here is the link to the youtube video – it is not sad, but you will see in motion what I have described here rescue

Of course this was an emotional experience which generates frustration and anger in me but at the same time admiration and respect for the good people of the shelter who continue to do this in response to an endless demand. It wears them down but they keep going regardless – because they are needed and they make a difference. I have to say that not all shelters in Spain are like this one and I suspect that I could not go there every day Im in Spain to help if it was not such a positive place where the love of the volunteers rubs off on the wonderful dogs. They make a difference and I believe that the reason I love going to the shelter so much is that I feel I can make a difference also.

To be honest there are not too many photos of me without a big grin from ear to ear, my overriding feeling is that I get back much more than I can ever put in…

I hope you have enjoyed my dog blog and perhaps even inspired someone to visit their local shelter, who knows you might even fall in love and adopt 😉


My Dog Blog: an introduction

I always intended that my experiences with shelter dogs, especially in Spain, will appear often in story form on my blog. Particularly when I spend time in Spain, I tend to be at the shelter every morning and later in the day I would post on Facebook what has touched me that day, along with some photos. These stories I would like now to collect in a more accessible place, hence they will become part of my blog. Occasionally my updates are sad, sometimes uplifting and some just funny experiences but whichever they are my wish is to raise awareness of animal welfare issues, especially in Spain (which for the record has the worst record of all European Countries for number of stray pets – official figures in the region of 8/900,000 abandoned every year – and this is likely to be an underestimate).

To find out how I, who until about 12 years ago was repelled by the concept of having a dog in the house, who never understood anyone giving to animal charities when there are so many people charities in need and who simply regarded dogs as ‘dirty nuisances’ have transformed into someone who now helps out in a Spanish dog shelter, can hardly pass a dog in the street without reaching out for a greeting, delights in being surrounded by dogs and is never more angry and upset when I see first hand the consequences of animal cruelty and neglect – then a couple of my previous blogs will go some way to explaining. Put simply, life changes that I had never envisaged and were never part of any plan for my own life happened and the person I am now and the things I like to do are the consequences of those changes. ( window and family are two earlier blogs which put some of changes into context )


My own two dogs Pepper and Polo – the source of much of my learning and my inspiration

Big Boots, Little Feet and something in-between

Part of Cee’s B&W photo challenge: Shoes or Feet (human or animals)

‘Big Boots’ – I was just about to return to the car after walking the dogs along the tow path of the River Lagan, Belfast when something caught my eye which didn’t quite make sense. Compelled to check it out, this is what I saw – it was so unexpected that it took me a moment to catch on that they of course were not floating as the appeared to be but were sitting on a jetty at the rivers edge and the water had lapped up around them.SONY DSCWhat made it so cool was that the water was completely still providing almost perfect reflection, that is until the kayaker who had left them there returned – only at that point did the whole scene make sense for me. Thankfully I had my camera with me and managed to snap a few.


‘Something in between’ – A quick foot inspection whilst the baby sleeps in her arms, love this picture.

boots (7)‘Little Feet’ – these are the feet of baby Tequila, one of the day old pups we rescued with their mum from the roadside in Spain. The hand is that of the very caring vet giving her the once over and treating them for fleas. This was a fantastic, emotional, stressful and rewarding event in which to be involved. The five pups and their mum were given the best of care and I’m delighted to say that each of them has the most wonderful home in the UK. A huge team pulled together to ensure their safety and care but to be part of the rescue, care and homing of this family from start to finish is something of which I’m very proud.

boots (5)A photo the like of which I have many. These feet are those of a larger puppy and represent many hundreds who have passed through the wonderful dog shelter where I help in Spain. These are the lucky ones…

Head shots and facial features…

part of Cee’s black and white foto chalenge: head shots and facial features (humans or animals)

As always, Cee tells us to have fun with the challenges. Of course any challenge that gives me the chance to show off some of the wonderful dogs I have had the privilege of working with and photographing at the shelter is a fun challenge. However, I have included a few humans and other animals as well – just for fun x

Above: This is just a small selection of the faces of dogs I have fallen in love with at the shelter in Spain where I try to help as much as I can. Each of them I have worked with, walked, comforted and some of them I have helped to find homes for. Each of them has their own special story, usually involving cruelty or neglect. To me each one is beautiful.

Yes, I do know I have included a cat in that selection! Well that cat, who has been named Sabrina, turned up at the dog shelter – clearly either very brave or very silly – where there are over 100 dogs and has taken up home just at the gates. She is looked after by the shelter volunteers and greets every visitor affectionately. The nip out of her left ear indicates that she has been neutered, something so necessary for street cats to prevent endless numbers of unwanted litters.

3 head shots for the price of 2 😉 Meet the shelter donkey! As if by magic one day Verena just appeared at the shelter gates, injured, with an infection, multiple wounds over her emaciated body. We tended her wounds, got her veterinary attention, a lovely bath, good food and found her a good home. The first picture (with me) was taken during her ‘spa morning’, the second is a few months later when we visited her in her new home. How wonderful her coat was looking and how well she had filled out.

A wee random selection of animal head shots, the chimp was about 40 years old and at that ripe old age she gave birth. It was quite an event. Although I have very mixed views about zoos I went there just to take photos of mum and baby. The Spanish cow was a bit of a rascal. Again, because I had a big lens on I had lost a bit of perspective and didn’t realise how close I was. He decide to make a run at me just after this photo. I can tell you that I moved faster than I have done in a while. This blue 4 month old pit bull pup is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen with a personality to match.

headshotsza (3)headshotsyheadshotsza (1)

So, these are my three boys, left to right youngest to oldest. The youngest hates to have his photo taken so I take any chance to grab a candid one, usually when he is playing hockey as he is in this shot. My middle boy is much more willing, in this photo he has just got out of the swimming pool. My oldest boy, when he was young, used to make me delete every photo I took of him. Now he is different and I have actually had the pleasure of photographing him for his website at his work.

headshotsqheadshotszThese are two random Spanish men I sneaked shots of with my big lens. The first was one of the organisers of a protest I attended against bullfighting in a local town. The second, is a wee Spanish vendor who kindly helped us in our search for a dog. It was one of those bazar experiences as I stood in the searing heat with Spanish men speaking so quickly in colloquial language one to the other, smoking, drinking expresso coffees and discussing how best they  can help us. I speak a little Spanish – at this stage a very little Spanish -but this wee man kept looking at me in the eye during the various conversations and he seemed to think I was following it all. The best I could do was try to make sense of the few single words I picked up and add them to the many facial expressions and gesticulations which led me to understand that the dog we were looking for had disappeared – but he was going to help us to find it. What a star he was. However, that conversation taught me that no matter how well I ever learned to speak Spanish I would never get to the stage of understanding Andalusian country folk. That day with all it brought – including the rescue of the dog was one I will never forget – and I shall never forget this wee man’s face.

First ever full tummies…

So there is no photographic expertise to this photo, however, it seemed to me to be pretty appropriate for this challenge. In trust I cannot remember whether is was breakfast, lunch or dinner for these wee guys but for the purpose of this Daily Post Weekly photo challenge: dinner

These 7 pups were found abandoned in two milk crates tied together with a few bits of garden string near the rescue shelter in Spain where I help out as much as I can. When I’m there, I am an extra pair of hands and can do things that require that extra bit of time – such as looking after litters of puppies and spending time with shy or frightened dogs who are finding life difficult to cope with. More on some of those experiences in other posts!

On arrival, their skinny little bodies were jumping with fleas and their skin was encrusted with flea dirt. Even with the help of a couple of friends it took a couple of days to comb it all away and get them properly cleaned up. I named and “colour coded” them matching their colour to their identity photo so they could be easily recognised not only by me but by all the volunteers.

This photo was taken on day two after their cruel abandonment. What a joy it was to see them guzzling down together in their bowl with their little tails rigid, almost vibrating with excitement as they visibly expanded and resembled “wee tummies on legs”.

dinner time (3)