The drive down to Seville from Valladolid was expected to take about 6 hours or so, so I’d bought a box of Lee Child audio tapes to help pass the time during the long drive. Much of the countryside through which the motorways pass is flat and barren – the land burnt brown by the scorching heat of the sun – broken up spasmodically by a narrow range of mountains topped with wind turbines, or massive solar panel farms on the plains – Spain is certainly ahead of France (where I live) in alternative power sources. The UK can’t compete as they simply haven’t the land mass.
One very noticeable difference from my previous visits to Spain was the lack of movement on building work – new roads part completed - now void of cranes, earth movers, building materials, silent and static - huge apartment blocks simply left as empty concrete shells, ‘se vende’ or ‘se alquila’ signs everywhere. (for sale and to rent). Clear evidence of the recession.
My lifelong passion – besides dogs – is horses – I’ve ridden, owned and competed on horses since shortly after I could walk. So it really hurts me to see horses and mules tethered on short chains in the middle of fields, no buckets to see – so no water – standing in high temperatures with no shelter from the baking sun. Approaching cities, alongside the motorways, there are corrals of horses and ponies, standing in a small area of sandy ground, many with no grazing, skeletons covered with a layer of skin and hair.
Seville is a stunningly beautiful city, my first visit and it took my breath away. And it’s here that I finally met Marisa, who 3 ½ years ago rescued my tiny Podenca Andaluz Bebe, badly injured and severely traumatised on a Seville motorway. As with the dozens which arrive in my Inbox every day, I received the email appeal for help for this little podenca – and it’s one which I knew was meant for me! My daughter’s name is Marisa and my nickname at school was Bebe – so you see, this little dog was destined to join my family.
Marisa in Seville had to take me on trust; arrangements were made for Bebe to be transported in a rescue by the French association I worked with, L’Europe des Levriers’, and my French vet did a marvellous job of repairing the damage to her hip and leg joints. It was great to meet up at last face to face with Marisa – who often helps me with translations from Spanish to English – and be able to show her a video of little Bebe at our home.
The Province of Seville http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Province_of_Seville forms part of Andalucia and is heavy galgo hunting country. It’s one of the provinces which banned training galgos tied behind a motorised vehicle, and then last year rescinded that law – so now galgos can be tied behind a moving vehicle to ‘train’ them!
Prodeanse is an animal rescue association which was formed three years ago. They are based in Alcala del Rio, Province of Seville, and are forced to take dogs from a 40km radius. I say ‘forced’ because the municipality of Alcala del Rio does not have a perrera, so dogs are sent to Prodeanse. For which they do NOT RECEIVE ANY MONEY. By law, the municipality receives money for collecting stray animnals. Prodeanse carries out that action for them. Yet receives no money. Yet another example where the officials don’t abide by the law or take action!
Alcala del Rio has 1 in 4 unemployed. There are no large commercial businesses, there is a huge amount of new build residential properties – you might well ask why, since there is no industry there! An example of intelligent Spanish planning schemes – build where there is no work for the people!
It's an area heavily populated by gitanos and galgueros who race and course galgos; across the valley at the rear of the refuge is a gitano shanty town filled with galgos…it is an area where abandonment of dogs is rife. In other words, it is a hell hole for dogs! This is what Prodeanse is working with.
Besides the dogs which are in a residencia (kennels) Prodeanse houses its rescued dogs in a work unit on an industrial estate; the unit is up for sale. It's heavily padlocked. Inside there are stalls for the dogs, a storage area for bedding, dog beds, dog food, dog coats…anything they can use to ease the life of the dogs in their care. At the rear of the unit is a play area out in the open.
One volunteer lives in the village and – with other volunteers – visits the unit every day to clean, feed the dogs, play with the dogs, socialise them, work with walk to heel, anything to help the dog’s chance for a forever home. It is far from ideal but there is nothing else in this area for the poor abandoned souls of Alcala del Rio.
Not a morning goes by without one of the volunteers arriving at the unit to find a couple of dogs chained/tied to the mesh window covers or thrown over the fence at the rear. The people of Alcala del Rio have no hesitation about chucking out their canine companions. So there are breeds and types of all sorts – when I visited there were galgos, a Belgian Shepherd with leishmania, a xpodenco, a pointer, Labrador, 3 puppies of 4 months old who were found abandoned out on the campo – no mother with them. They look as though they have black Labrador in them.
Could you live with this every day - the reality of rural Spain?
The building is tin – hot in the summer, very cold in the winter. We delivered waterproof fleece lined dog coats for the dogs during winter; food, bedding, collars, leads, water buckets, a couple of dog beds. The shelter has no money other than donations; the volunteers work tirelessly to keep the dog enclosures clean, the dogs fed, socialised, free to run and play ball, etc. But, at the end of the day, they are beautiful dogs kept for safety in a locked industrial unit. Even the play area outside at the back is vulnerable to dumping dogs.
One of the volunteers said she had come across a hung galgo – sadly already dead. When she returned with her camera, the corpse had been cut down and removed. She also reported about wells on the outskirts of the town, where galgos had been dropped to die. We went to see these wells and it was noticeable with what great reluctance the volunteers approached each well – obviously fearful of what they would find inside. On this occasion, the wells were simply full of rubbish. But the wells were situated within a couple of hundred metres of residential housing – so there is no way that dogs could have been dropped alive down the wells, barking and howling, and the residents nearby not have heard!
The council do not provide a space of land and a building in which to house the ‘council dog pound’. Yet is a piece of government land on which galgueros/gitanos have illegally erected a building and in which they keep galgos in appalling conditions. The council does nothing to stop them. Yet again an example of the corruption rife in Spanish authorities.
Another downside about this town is that galgo coursing is prevalent – this is where two galgos are set off to chase a released hare and bets are taken on which dog will win. I asked 'how do these people afford to bet, when they haven't got jobs?'
I could go on about the appalling attitude of the Mayor and residents of Alcala del Rio. And yet these volunteers care about the animals, work tirelessly, with no pay, no income for the association to continue their work, against almost insurmountable odds.
But maybe we can improve those odds. When I have completed my full report on my visit to refuges in Spain in September 2012, I will, at the request of Prodeanse, compose a letter to the Mayor asking that he recognise the work the association does on his behalf and that he reward them financially as set out by law, to continue their work. Prodeanse acts as an unofficial dog collection service – which by law the Municipal authorities are required to provide. The Mayor of Alcala del Rio does not do this.
There are some beautiful dogs in the care of Prodeanse. If you can offer one a forever home, please contact them. Prodeanse are desperate for a dog rescue association outside Spain to work with them, rehoming their dogs. Again, if there is an association which can do this, please contact them direct. There are English speakers in Prodeanse.
If you can donate towards the rental of the unit and the kennels, or dog food, or vet fees, please contact Prodeanse. I assure you, every penny will be spent on the dogs in their care. Below are some of the ones I met.
Alcalá del Río is a municipality in Seville, Spain. It had a population of 9,317 in 2005. It has an area of about 83 square kilometers and has a population density of 112.3 people per square kilometer. It has an altitude of 30 meters (about 100 feet) and is situated 13 kilometers away from Seville. 1 in 4 people have no employment. Galgo coursing and betting is a local ‘sport’.
From Prodeanse I was taken to Sofia El Refugio Escuela, where Marisa was working cleaning out dog kennels. Many of the dogs here are pedigree, the Spanish aren't choosy about what types of dogs they abandon. There was also a cat enclosure which contained two really beautiful white felines. You can read about this refuge on their website.
I am humbled and honoured to have met all the marvellous volunteers at these two refuges.
These are the galgos we met at Prodeanse - the only one I didn't meet was Suerte, badly injured on the road and left for dead in a ditch, who is in a foster home.
Brindle May, friendly and affectionate; brown & white Nico, friendly and affectionate, cream Satay, timid but wanting to be friends, and finally black Aitana with David (with a xpodenco also needing adoption). Then there is a pic of the terrain where the 3 or 4 wells are situated - with residential housing behind us!