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For an entire month I've worked at a Spanish dog shelter, from June 20th to the 20th of July, as part of an internship for school.

Everyone had to pick a place where they were going to do their internship and I knew immediately that I wanted to go to Spain. I live in the Netherlands and there are a lot (150+) organizations that rescue dogs from Mediterranean countries and eastern Europe. I was already familiar with rescue organizations on the Iberian peninsula because my neighbors adopted a stray from Portugal several years ago.

While I was preparing for my internship, two of my classmates decided they liked my plans so they wanted to go with me, which I could totally approve of :) We arranged an apartment and airline tickets and in June, off we went.

It turned out to be a hectic month of hard work, struggling with the heat and dealing with the dogs... and there were over 250 of them.

The shelter was very, very different from what I was used to in my own country. In the Netherlands, all shelters are no-kill. The dogs are housed separately in indoor kennels with access to outside. Clean, neat and tidy, well taken care of, a vet available at a moments notice. In Spain, the dogs are kept in groups (approximately 6 dogs per group) and the kennels are outside. They have dog houses, some are lucky to have access to an indoor area. Personnel does not have the time to groom all the dogs and have them cleaned, washed and given personal attention.

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In Spain, the so called perrera (shelters/pounds) are really nothing but disposal stations. The dogs have a short period of time to get adopted, before their time runs out and they are killed. This does not necessarily happen humanely, or with the presence of a vet.

The shelter I worked at used to be like the above description, until it was taken over by a team of foreigners, consisting of German, English and Dutch people, under the leadership of a German lady that renamed the shelter and gave it a whole new code of ethics. Healthy dogs would no longer be killed and there would be active campaigns to convince people to adopt a dog from a shelter, rather than buy one.

The community of San Antonio in the Spanish Costa Blanca has a high number of German, English and Dutch people that emigrated at some point in their lives, people that are sympathetic towards the shelter and are willing to adopt, raise money, advertise and donate to the shelter. The shelter basically exists off kind people donating money and materials such as food, dog houses and blankets. One of the shelter's managers is a vet (though a weird one... at least, I've never met a veterinarian that was afraid of dogs :/)

I had read stories on the internet before I went to Spain. Stories on the websites of rescues, stories from owners of rescue dogs. So I knew what to expect, somewhat. But the difference between reading and experiencing is vast.

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Almost every dog in the shelter has a history of abuse, whether it's being beaten, used as a toy for kids, hung from the gallows after a poor hunting season... Every dog has a story. In hindsight, I'm glad that I wasn't told the individual story of each of the dogs I interacted with. Because this way, I saw the dogs for who they were now, without pity or negative feelings.

And the thing that surprised me most, was that so many dogs were so abundantly cheerful and so happy to be around you. They were all friendly towards humans. They loved the attention, though some took a longer time getting accustomed to you than others.

I already knew I loved sighthounds, but now I've been around tons of them I know for sure that I am totally smitten with them.

The most common type of dog in Spain is the podenco, a type of hunting dog and a sighthound-type dog. FCI classifies them as an ancient type. There are many types of podenco, ranging from the dachshund-like podenco Maneto to the greyhound sized podenco Ibicenco.



The podenco is also the most common type of dog in shelters. Every new hunting season, the old dogs are abandoned and new dogs are bred, a neverending cycle. There's also the popular belief that podencos make bad companion animals and that they should be used for hunting only. Unfortunately, this causes the podenco to be an unwanted breed.

Almost all podencos in the shelter I worked at, will likely never get adopted. Some podenco puppies luck out and get adopted, but the adult ones stand no chance against the shepherds and labrador mixes. And so the podencos are stuck for the rest of their lives. This, while they are such good natured, friendly dogs. Calm, quiet and affectionate.

Also a bit shy, at least, in the shelter they were. With some dogs, it took 3 weeks for them to muster up the courage to come over to me. And when they found out I wasn't going to hurt them, the hesitancy melted away. Nothing can describe the joy you feel when a shy or distrustful dog decides 'hey, you're okay. I kinda like you'. It felt amazing. But it also makes it more difficult to leave after a month. Just when the dogs start getting attached to you... and the other way around. :(

And while their looks are not for everybody, I love them. I adore their looks, their pretty orange and whites, their slim, lean bodies and bat ears. Together with me, there is a swelling number of people in countries like my own, Germany and England, that are interested in podencos and are willing to adopt them. A trend I can do nothing but silently encourage :)

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Foreign rescue organizations are not without discussion though. In my own country, I know there is a divide between people who feel that any dog deserves to get adopted, regardless of country, and those that feel that Dutch shelter dogs deserve to get adopted more than foreign dogs do.

Personally, I'm with the first group. A dog is a dog, whether it's in the Netherlands or in Spain. Or Portugal, or Romania for all I care. Every abandoned dog deserves a home, but I don't feel borders matter in this. If you feel a connection with a dog in Spain, does the argument 'but dogs in your own country deserve a home too' even hold stake?

I guess matters like these aren't really an issue in the US, or are they? The United States is a very big country, so I suppose there's no need to get a dog from a shelter in Mexico or Canada (or do you?) (*is it even possible?) (**and if it were, do you think people would get upset because you adopted a Mexican dog instead of an American dog? Because that's basically the issue here.)

Well, most all things come to an end, as did my internship. I promised my father I would not bring a dog back with me, but in the end I couldn't help but fall for a couple of them, and I still ended up where I am now; considering to adopt one. Whether it's now or in the near future. Really, whenever I have the time and space.

One of the classmates I went with has already decided, and she's adopted one. This September, she'll fly to Spain to bring the dog back home with her.

The dog I'm considering is a pointer x podenco cross named Plunder, a quiet and calm dog at the back of the shelter that, due to the layout of the terrain, is never seen by visitors, together with about 30 other dogs. He's 5 or 6 years old and has been at the shelter for at least 4 years. His soulful eyes haunt me.

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Well, thanks for having read this far :) It feels nice having written this all down. I hope to have created food for thought and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.
 

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Thankyou for this accounting Avie and God bless for going over and helping out. It is wonderful to read about those that are trying to change attitudes in places where dogs are so easily discarded. Baby steps, but they are better than no steps.

I guess matters like these aren't really an issue in the US, or are they? The United States is a very big country, so I suppose there's no need to get a dog from a shelter in Mexico or Canada (or do you?) (*is it even possible?) (**and if it were, do you think people would get upset because you adopted a Mexican dog instead of an American dog? Because that's basically the issue here.)
In the USA there is a lot of effort put into transporting dogs from areas where shelters are commonly higher kill to areas where they will more probably get adopted - basically the Northern parts of the USA from my understanding. There are also many rescues that import into America. The estimate I've read is that 300,000 rescues a year are brought in.

"Save a Sato" brings dogs from Puerto Rico to the New England states, "Compassion Without Borders" mostly imports from Mexico to Northern California, "The Helen Woodward Humane Society" (San Diego) imports dogs regularly from Romania, "Pets for Paradise" brings dogs in from the Virgin Islands to sister rescues across the USA, and "Save a Mexican Mutt" imports pets to the USA and Canada. In my Canadian province we import from California and as well in the Eastern provinces of Canada many dogs are brought up from the Southern USA.

Yes people get upset about this. Here is an article that outlines some of the reasons. http://www.naiaonline.org/Library/understanding_animals/global_stray_dog_population_crisis.html

Another is here: http://yourlife.usatoday.com/parenting-family/vet-views/story/2011/04/Vets-view-Importing-pets-brings-risks-for-all-of-us/45896368/1?sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4de1155ce93dd599,0

I do as well get upset with some that do this as I have seen it being done using sloppy placement and for profit by those that, at the same time, slate people who breed puppies and claim 'overpopulation'. I don't like that hypocrisy. I don't like those that use the emotional play card.

I know others that truly have their heart in the right place. My biggest wish is that at least equal efforts are made to improve the situation in the communities these dogs come from, as there surely will be a never ending supply if those of 'good will' just use a bandaid approach.

SOB
 

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Thank you SOB for the response!

I wasn't aware that you have similar issues on the other side of the Atlantic. I liked the articles and understand where the writers are coming from. At the same time I feel that, especially 'the global stray dog population crisis', misses its mark when applied to the large scale extermination and abuse of dogs in Spain. The article speaks of third world countries that have no other choice but to deal with the animals this way... but Spain is not a third world country. It is modern and sophisticated, except when it comes to animal welfare. And I'm absolutely aware that not all Spanish people could care less about animal welfare. But it is my opinion that some of their... traditions... are questionable.

I chose the shelter I went to, because they did more than just bandaid approach, actually :) Their dogs are advertised in local newspapers, and the hunters now drop their dogs off at the shelter instead of leaving them for dead or killing them. There are fundraisers, they try to raise awareness. But it's difficult, because the Spanish people are not easily convinced that their way of treating dogs is wrong. But really, how arrogant is it that foreigners come to your country to tell you you're doing it wrong and it should be done this and that way, etcetera etcetera... It doesn't come as a surprise to me that they are not willing to change their ways. I'm sure I'd be quite unwilling if someone from another country came to tell me my traditions were wrong and evil and should be stopped.

But at least some awareness is created.

Health regulations are strict at the shelter I worked at, but I'm sure it's not that way in every pound. I was told that our shelter was in fact one the best facilities in the area (from volunteers that had also worked in other pounds)

I think that, as long as the dogs are vaccinated, dewormed and microchipped, there's nothing wrong with adopting a dog from another country. But it's important to keep you eyes open and do your research before adopting from an organization, because there are also those that are taking advantage of people's good intentions and are really nothing more than dog breeding facilities. I now know that at least this shelter is a good and honest one that I'd have no problem adopting from.
 

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That's really cool Avie that you went to Spain to help those dogs! I'm sure they enjoyed you as well; I saw the site you gave me and it looked really cool as to what you and others were doing! That's also good that the people who took over the shelter are helping to save the dogs rather than kill them. No-kill shelters are good and people should be aware of them. When most people think "shelter", they think the animal will be put down, but that's not always the case.

Oh how right you are!! Research is definitely the key before buying a dog. I don't know how people cannot do their research before buying a dog. I mean you do research for a car or a house? Why not your pet? It should be obvious.

The Pointer mix does look sad. I hope he does find a good home whether it'd be with you or with someone else. Do you think Mike would be good with him? Before I got Luke there were many dogs in the shelter that we looked at and I felt bad for them all, but one will be stuck in my mind forever. I stayed with this black Lab mix the most and when we finally had to go, he stood on the back of his cage door looking at me. Almost pleading me not to go and to take him with me. I felt so bad and still do, but I couldn't because of my allergies. I really hope and pray that that dog found a loving home.

As for your question about getting a dog from abroad as opposed to the US, it doesn't really matter as long as you take good care of your pet. Luke's parents are from France and Italy, I believe. So as long as you're willing to pay and are giving the animal a good home, it doesn't really matter. Your third post did remind me of something. I was watching a show called Whale Wars and these people just came into a small town and said that hunting whales was wrong and they had to stop. The people there didn't take too kindly to that and were on the offense pretty quickly. But they killed the whales for food, so I was on their side. If it was for a sport then I would totally agree with the people trying to stop it.

Do you think you would ever go back?
 

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What an interesting post, thank you for sharing your experience!

I love the podengos and I've heard before that they are hugely common in Spanish shelters. I'm in the US but am highly considering trying to get a podengo shelter dog. I have a doberman contact in Spain who said that she could help. The dog in the third from last picture just pulls at my heartstrings.
 

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What an interesting post, thank you for sharing your experience!

I love the podengos and I've heard before that they are hugely common in Spanish shelters. I'm in the US but am highly considering trying to get a podengo shelter dog. I have a doberman contact in Spain who said that she could help. The dog in the third from last picture just pulls at my heartstrings.
Yes, they form the biggest group of shelter dogs in Spain, and also the group with the least chances of getting adopted. The podenca in that picture is Pancha, a young female dog of medio hight (53 cm - 21 inch) that turned 2 last month. She's typically shy, but also curious enough to get to know you, which is why I was able to take this picture because she suddenly came up to me to investigate. According to the background info on the shelter's website, when she was taken in a year ago she was so shy she wouldn't come out of her doghouse for days... So she has come a long way since then :) It is like that with lots of dogs, over the course of time they learn to trust people again.

It's awesome you're looking to adopt a podenco or podengo :) It appears that lots of people are interested in them, with the exception of the Spaniards themselves. Good luck in your endeavors! There are shelters that regularly export dogs to foreign adopters, I'm sure that there are those that have prior experience exporting to the USA.

Do you think you would ever go back?
As for the sports thing: I don't get how people could enjoy hurting animals for fun or sports. I really don't. Whether it be whales, bulls, goats, geese, or dogs. In the place I stayed at in Spain, there is this traditional festival where they chase calves through the streets, to the sea, aiming to scare them so badly they fall into the water where they occasionally drown. Which is, of course, very funny and really exciting... Not. Just like bull fighting, which also happened where I was, these events attract a lot of tourists.

It is pretty hard to leave all those dogs behind, especially when you've bonded with some of them... But you can't take them all with you, and in my case, I couldn't even take one of them with me due to the promise I made.

I can't imagine Mike and Plunder not getting along. Plunder is such an easygoing dog, never gets into fights, super mellow, non-intrusive personality. Mike has issues with hyper dogs getting in his space, and Plunder is anything but. So I don't foresee any problems there. But I guess I'll have to bide my time until I move out, because my father is not willing to take another dog into his house. Yet. We'll see about that...

If I would ever go back? Maybe I would, yes... Part of me feels like this experience is supposed to be a closed chapter, that I should move forwards now. But at the same time there is this distant ache that I want to see those dogs again, play ball with them, get them out and take them with me... Apart from Plunder, there are also the podencos Pomelo (also pictured above) and Patto I got attached to...

Pomelo took three weeks to get used to my presence, and then he suddenly came up to me to get attention, just like that. Before he would just watch me from a distance or inside a doghouse. Patto was crazy for tennisballs! We developed our own routine, hahahah :) He was one of the few podencos that played fetch and brought the ball back to drop it at your feet, every single time, again and again, tirelessly. He was so funny; whenever he saw you were holding a ball, he would bounce up and down while retreating, getting ready to run after the ball, and he had an actual happy face while he did it. You could see the excitement in his eyes!
 

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Supercool thing to do Avie! I hope the shelter has an influence on the others. It is really shocking what some of our neighbouring countries consider to be animal welfare. Portugal routinely poisons stray dogs as a problem solver. It would be great if there weren't psychological borders with adoption. There should be a European Petfinder database like in the US. I am sure Podencos would be very popular here. Beautiful dogs!
 

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A European Petfinder, that's genius!

I wonder if something like that already exists, but I think not. Creating an international pet-search website would be the project of the century! And I definitely like the idea.

Great input! :D Also, the shelter I was at was in the process of a cooperation with an English organization that wants to put Podencos up for adoption in England. But I'm not sure if progress is made, currently. The one who initialized the cooperation has now left the shelter, so I don't know if the work has been taken over by somebody else.
 
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