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In the Cat House #10. Diary of an Animal Charity Volunteer: Who Let the Dogs Out? and Eyeless in Olhão

IN THE CAT HOUSE #10. DIARY OF AN ANIMAL CHARITY VOLUNTEER: WHO LET THE DOGS OUT? AND EYELESS IN OLHÃOWednesday. Now the local elections are over we can talk party animals. PAN, ‘Pessoas, Animais (e) Natureza, or the People, Animals (and) Nature Party, makes small, incremental differences but has influence. They have introduced a Bill to prohibit the chaining of dogs, or keeping them forever on a veranda or rooftop. The proposed legislation encompasses an awareness-raising campaign for ‘de-chaining’.

Comment threads I’ve seen so far have been mixed; most comments heartily welcome the move. Even if it takes years to come into force, it gets the ball rolling and promotes the much-needed discussion.  

On the other hand, if you enjoy a stroll or cycle ride in the countryside, your bucolic reverie can be rudely shattered when a brutish-looking beast startles you with maniacal barking and baring of teeth, bouncing above a fence. Each gated household seems to have at least one guard dog, some as big as the proverbial brick sh*thouse, and as you pass, you doubtless feel reassured that they are chained up. Even the small ones look like they could do some serious damage.

Some brutes (the owners, now) commented that they couldn’t wait to unchain their dogs and let them all go. See how you like that! And anyway, who would police the new law? Other comments pointed out that homeless people must have priority when carving up the resources. Someone posted a photo of an old fella eating out of a rubbish bin.  As if it’s an “either … or” problem, and we nutters who defend animal rights are, by default, sociopaths who couldn’t give a monkey’s about human misery.

Some neighbours’ dogs break your heart, not your legs. If you have the nerve to make a formal complaint about a neglected dog the local authorities have no authority to intervene, unless the animals are visibly starved or covered in parasites. What do you do? Try to talk to the owner and be met with incomprehension? Report it and wait for recriminations? This is the stuff of micro-politics.  I faced this situation with a neighbour when living in London. The dog was outside in all weathers. It was fed, that is, a bowl of dogfood was thrown outside the back door once a day, and the door then slammed. That was the sum of interaction between owner and dog. The dog’s fur was matted and smelt bad and the neighbour’s garden was just a dog toilet. I tried to talk to the owner, suggested we find another home for the dog, but he brushed me off. I didn’t report it to the local council because I knew the neighbour worked for them and I was a coward. Instead, I spent nights awake, listening to the barking and bottling my rage. I didn’t come out if it very well.

Saturday. At ADAPO* we just get one blind kitten fit and re-homed when another one comes along. To recap: ‘Oreo’ (brown and white like the biscuit) became ‘Delfina’ and is now Top Cat in her new household, despite having both eyes removed. I sighed heavily when another kitten with two gammy eyes was brought in from a colony. 

A Danish friend told me that their typical pastries with a halved apricot in custard cream and gelatine glaze on top were known as ‘the baker’s best dead eye’ and I’ve hardly been able to look at one since. This three-month old tabby was operated on Friday. He doesn’t have a name yet, so we’ll have to call him ‘Puff pastry’ for now. He tested negative for the common feline diseases, so was deemed healthy enough. Throw some cash at the problem, and he’ll have a pretty face again, just slightly odd with sewn up eyes. And given a chance, in the right home, will have a life as full as any other kitten.

It’s just that all the takings from our Saturday morning market stall on the Avenida go towards the vet bills. We sell pet accessories, on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month. Hey ho. Must flog more stuff!

The existing ADAPO cat refuge was created out of compassion, in Celia's relative's back yard. But if we can do it again, it could be organised differently.  For a start, it needs at least two large, open-air enclosures, one for feral cats which are not socialised, and which often have genetic and/or endemic illnesses but are difficult to catch for treatment. A separate enclosure should house abandoned cats who have had a home in the past, and who crave human company. Unfortunately, all types of cats are currently mixed in together at the refuge. They create their own extraordinary friendship pairs and groups, but the adoptable and unadoptables don’t hang out together or rub up affectionately with each other.

I’m thinking of a beautiful chocolate Siamese, ‘Gaipa’, named after the firm where she was living, feral.  She kept setting off the alarm system in the warehouse, so had to go. She hangs out with ‘Rosetta’, a ragged matron of a cat who has always had other female company. Neither will allow us to touch them, even when they are eating.

Then there are two rather emaciated cats who body-caress each other, tails entwined. ‘Julie’ is from a building site in Olhão and ‘Sandro’ came to us from Tavira.  Can’t call it love at first sight, because Julie is practically blind, and they’ve both been with us for a couple of years. Although Sandro has always seemed rather sickly, he’s decided to be Julie’s lover and guide.

So, on we go at ADAPO, fund-raising for the sterilisation of street cats in Olhão, and looking after about 70 cats in the refuge, and working towards a new sanctuary to replace it. This is for street cats caught up in traffic accidents, or threatened by bulldozers on building sites, and who can’t be returned to colonies after treatment. Of course, there are many other animal ‘associações’ not just in Olhão, and a small army of individuals who feed and provide for colonies of cats almost everywhere. And then there’s the general public, who donate pet food warmly and generously in supermarkets when there are organised appeals, stopping to chat about their own pets’ foibles.

At the same time, there are a few people who keep their dog on a short chain or on a rooftop and ignore the desperate barking. It takes all sorts.

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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