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In the Cat House #9: Diary of an Animal Charity Volunteer

IN THE CAT HOUSE #9: DIARY OF AN ANIMAL CHARITY VOLUNTEERDrain Surgery, the Unadoptables and Don’t Cry for Zoos, Ayamonte. Wednesday - A cat down a drain: the cat was presumably minding its own business before being chased by a dog, and fled down a drain.  This was a feral cat that could not then be coaxed out.

The Bombeiros came, and a very slim fireman slid down the drainhole and a trap was lowered to try to catch it.  I gather that in some other European countries, the fire service now refuses to come out to rescue cats and dogs, so thank you to Olhão’s fire service, for your humanity.

Thursday. I read an excellent FB post on the subject of adopting rescued dogs. (I forgot to save it and I’m damned if I can find it now!) The gist was that we tend to underestimate the long-term, full-on commitment, training and patience that a rescue dog requires, and we like to think that we can overcome dog (or cat) trauma with just enough love.

The sad fact is that some dogs, whether abandoned, strays or just feral, are pretty much unadoptable. Of those in the municipal canil, or kennels of Olhão, some have been there long enough to be institutionalised. Some require daily medication, some are quite old, others have never been socialised.  A few are visibly crazed, exhibiting neurotic behaviour, like a sloth bear I once saw caged in Blackpool Tower Zoo, or more recently, like the lioness that paced and turned incessantly in a cramped concrete bunker in Ayamonte’s Zoological Gardens.  There was also a lone tiger, but I didn’t have the stamina to look too closely at the appalling conditions. Mercifully, the zoo closed in 2019, reportedly in chaotic circumstances.

Ayamonte, the Spanish town just across the Guadiano river from Vila Real de Santo António, still shows off its old bull-ring. With a heritage that celebrates the torture and execution of bulls with fanfares and sequins as a form of mass entertainment, I’d suggest, Ayamonte, that you abandon the idea of a zoo, which you clearly never had the nous or resources for. Why not create an insect park instead? More ethical and educational. Or a flea circus?

But I digress… In the canil here in Olhão, each dog’s story is a symptom of a social problem.  There are charming mutts whose owners have passed away, others which have come from very difficult circumstances. They have never been on walks on a lead and will take a lot of coaxing. I can’t say what is “better”, a dog in a municipal cage, or kept for a lifetime on a short chain, or cooped up on a veranda or rooftop, barking all day long out of sheer boredom and neglect.

There’s ‘Floco de Neve’, or Snowflake, an adorable white poodle-cross who happily joins us on our canil dog walking. He eyes me plaintively when he has to go back into his box, “Take me with you!” There’s just one small flaw: Floco doesn’t like men.  He’s fine with women, after maybe an initial stage of distrust, but can be aggressive with unknown men.  As a result, he’s been in the canil for a year now, with little chance of adoption, except by an all-female household. What can have happened to him in the past to cause this behaviour?

There’s a nice little YouTube video (just 2 mins long), made by another dog-walker, Will, of one of our walks around the Salinas next to the canil, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnbaOakNd8k

If you live in Olhão and would like to join us for canil dog walks on Weds and Fri mornings, email me: bigodesolhao@gmail.com

Friday. There’s another cat crisis looming in Olhão.  Plans have been announced for the redevelopment of a large site which used to house a paper mill, near the cemetery.  The site will be bulldozed and replaced by apartments.  And car parks, naturally.  My old man reckons that the site would make a perfect public transport hub, as it’s next to the railway station, and Olhão doesn’t have a public bus station. But why promote public transport when everyone has a car? You’ve worked hard for that 4 x 4, haven’t you? Schoolchildren may be begging us to give them a future and think about our carbon footprint. Push off, kids. We all need an SUV to get around Olhão’s narrow streets, don’t we? And don’t get me started on the noise pollution of delivery motorbikes…

Where was I? Well, the site has a colony of feral cats. Local people leave food for them, but just how many there are is not clear. There is nowhere for them to go.

There is “talk” of a new cat refuge for Olhão. That’s all it is at the moment, politicians’ promises. But the need is urgent as redevelopment displaces colonies of cats. In the past, many have been taken in by Célia. She has nearly 20 years’ experience of running the ADAPO* cat refuge.  Enough experience to know that enough is enough.

Animal refuges are not the answer, of course, but a necessary evil.  All we can do is try to create good, spacious refuges, with good-willed volunteers, trainers, animal shrinks and veterinary services.

The drain cat is a small black fluffy kitten.  In the end, it had to be flushed out of the drain tunnels and caught with a net by the intrepid fireman while the local police held the traffic at bay, for this was in the middle of a busy road. Now that’s what I call a service! The kitten is now in isolation, and will later come to the ADAPO cat refuge. But it will doubtless join some other unadoptables.

ADAPOIf you can donate, ADAPO will be able to pay the vets for the surgery for as long as funds allow. Please give a reference for any donations:  Olhão Urban Cats Project. Details for donations are as follows:


NIF: 506870286
NIB: 0033 0000 4526918084305

ADAPO main FB page (in Portuguese): https://www.facebook.com/adapo.pt/

For more information, email bigodes.olhao@gmail.com or geral.adapo@hotmail.com

*ADAPO - Associação de Defesa dos Animais e Plantas de Olhão. Founder: Célia Caravela


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