Over the 10 months, I spent in Menorca, I wanted to make the most of my experience. I mean, it is a long time to be anywhere, especially when you don’t have any friends and the culture is all new to you. Homesickness is something that lots of people struggle with when they are travelling for extended periods of time, and a remedy that I have found nearly always works is keeping yourself as busy as possible.
The purpose of my stay in Menorca was actually for my degree, I had to take a year out of study and immerse myself in the culture and language of the country I am living in. As well as this you are given the opportunity to experience the working world. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me. I was working in a primary school as a language assistant (the ‘fun teacher’) in the mornings Monday to Thursday. So, I had a lot of free time. I soon discovered that spending ALL my free time drinking beer might be bad for me in the long run, so I decided to do something different.
What am I passionate about? Animals. If I hadn’t been so shockingly terrible in the chemistry classroom, I would have become a vet, and spent my life with my arm up a cow’s hoo-ha. Ah, dreams. So, after a swift Google search, I was in contact with the volunteer organiser at the local dog shelter, and she wanted to meet me for a morning beer. Classic Spaniards.
Before I go on about my work as a volunteer, I’ll educate you on the topic of animal welfare in Spain, just so you can get a feel for what we were dealing with.
Furry Friends In Spain
A stereotypical view of Spain would perhaps involve gory bullfighting and an annual party where everyone thinks it’s a good idea to run away from some very dangerous cows in a crowded street (natural selection if you ask me). However, the tradition for bullfighting is on the decline; I have spent many months of my life in Spain and never once have I met someone who has ever seen a bullfight. It is regarded by many as barbaric, which is a fair opinion to have. Although this is arguably a great step in the right direction, the animals which seem to be suffering more each year are our beloved household pets.
According to a study by Royal Canin, 375 pets are abandoned each day in Spain, and this can include anything from horses to guinea pigs, dogs to parrots. There are of course many reasons why someone would choose to abandon an animal. It may be that people simply do not have a choice at all. It could be due to a relationship breakdown, or they have to move out and their new landlord doesn’t allow pets. Sometimes people can get very unlucky financially, and with the average dog costing 800 euros a year in upkeep, it is not a surprise that people make that hard decision to give their pet to someone else. This is not a problem that is exclusive to Spain either, almost every country in Europe has similar statistics.
But why do they do this?
However, a study by Affinity Fundacion in 2018 researched many facts and figures about the reasons why people are abandoning or giving up their furry friends. According to this study, people abandoning their pets because they lose interest in the animal is up by 10%. That is staggering. They dump them because they are bored. This happens a lot after Christmas time, when people have bought their kids a puppy all cute with a bow on its head, and then January comes – the reality sinks in that you have another life that depends on you, and pees everywhere. This is the reason that Dogs Trust in the UK adopted the slogan ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. Essentially, think before you buy.
Another interesting development from Affinity Fundacion’s study is that for every dog that was found on the streets or left in a shelter in 2017, only 25% were wearing a microchip. A microchip is inserted under the skin and is connected to an online database that stores the owner’s information. They are becoming more popular these days as tags can easily be lost or removed, and it is a sure way of reuniting a lost dog with its owner. In fact, in the UK, dog owners are required by law to ensure any dog over the age of 8 weeks old wears a microchip, or you could face a hefty fine of up to £500.
On microchips and their importance
Why is it so important that dogs wear a microchip? I’ll tell ya why! In Spain, there is not a state law which decides what happens to dogs that end up in shelters, it depends on the local councils. In certain areas there is a time limit for the dogs to be claimed before they are put to sleep, sometimes this time limit is only a matter of days, and if your dog is not wearing a microchip you are less likely to get to them in time. Pretty dark stuff, but sadly it does happen.
Is there a solution? Yes! In fact, there is a country which has already achieved this. Holland is the first country to have absolutely 0 abandoned dogs or animals living on the streets, due to extremely tight regulations, which they claim improve the health and wellbeing of people and animals. These regulations include hefty fines for anyone caught abandoning an animal (up to 16k Euros). In addition, taxes on buying specially bred dogs and pure breeds have encouraged people to adopt mixed breeds from the shelters. Neutering your dog became compulsory unless you have a breeding license (which is extremely difficult and expensive to get). The government have also spent a lot of money on campaigns which have helped to educate young people about animal welfare.
Animal Protection in Menorca
Animal Protection in Mahon (Menorca’s capital city) has been running since 2010. They educate people through social media and workshops in primary and secondary schools. They raise funds in order to help get the animals out of the shelter and into foster care or adoptive homes. In 2017 there were 143 dogs and 101 cats in their care. Menorca’s shelter is one of two, the other being in Ciutadella at the other end of the island. Therefore, these statistics barely cover half of the entire island’s abandoned animals.
The Animal Protection in Mahon is separate from the shelter. The shelter is essentially the dog pound which is funded by the local council. The Animal Protection is the charity which helps get the dogs and cats out of the shelter, through adoption or foster homes. There is one based in Mahon and one based in Ciutadella, and the two work very hard in keeping all of the island’s resident pets well-cared for and eventually in loving homes. It’s not just pets though, all kinds of furry and non-furry creatures pass through their care every year. This can even include tortoises!
The furry and non-furry creatures of Menorca
My friends, I have a soft spot for these not-so-soft, shell-carrying reptiles. Tortoises are the cutest non-fluffy things that walk this earth, in my humble opinion. Menorca is lucky enough to have wild tortoises roaming about the place; which is awesome, until a car comes along. Let me tell you, the stereotype of tortoises being slow and steady – wrong. I was leisurely driving along a country road one pleasant afternoon when all of a sudden this shelled creature darted in front of my tyres! Luckily, I managed to miss the crazy thing, but some are not so lucky- that’s where the animal protection comes in. From goats stuck in fences, to stolen cows, to illegal cat poisonings (that really happens), they are always there to help any animal in need.
Social media can save the world (if we try hard enough)
What makes the network of volunteers so effective is their WhatsApp group. It doesn’t sound like much, but every time there was an animal noticed by someone to need special care or even rescuing, a volunteer closest to the area would be notified. It happened in my area once, when a member of the public called in to report a rabbit that seemed injured. We managed to capture the little thing and take it to the vet to be fixed up. Another example of this, is that after I noticed a pregnant looking stray cat on one of the beaches, a volunteer in that village kept an eye out, and ended up hand-rearing some of the kittens, which were eventually rehomed! Countless other animal lives were saved thanks to the volunteers and the handy group chat!
As well as WhatsApp, social media plays a huge part in the Animal Protection’s campaign. They have active accounts on both Facebook and Instagram, which they use as platforms to promote animal care and adoption. It is an important asset to the charity as it keeps people in the know! When I was living there, they had a very important campaign about cleaning up doggy doo-doo, and the problems it can cause to humans, especially young kiddies. This was shared hundreds of times by residents and got a pretty decent response. The charity also posts cute pics of the dogs that are up for adoption, as well as their fundraising events and other important pieces of information that they like to share with the general public.
One of the most popular events that they organise to raise money is ‘Canicross’. It is a sponsored run that you can take part in with your four-legged friends! They organise a few of these throughout the year, and plenty of people get involved, including kids. They take place all over the island and you can choose the distance, so it doesn’t have to be anything strenuous if you don’t want it to be! It’s all for charity, after all. I have to say, it is a funny sight, seeing people try and run, as well as control their excitable kids and even more excitable dogs.
It takes a lot of people to organise these sorts of events. When I was a volunteer in Menorca, the team was made up of around 120 people, and that was only in Mahon. In Ciutadella they have even more, as there is a higher population density there. As well as the Canicross, there are other fundraising events such as the Christmas markets, where they sell calendars, cards, dog treats etc. and all of the proceeds go towards the Animal Protection.
Gardens and adoption fairs
One of my favourite events we did was the adoption fair. It took place at the local garden centre on a Sunday – so to get the attention of members of the public going about their garden shopping. It worked! We always had people wondering over who didn’t know it was going on until they saw it all happening. It must have looked a bit weird, people having their faces painted, people dressed up in tutus and all manners of strange fancy dress, and amongst all of this – dogs. Dogs everywhere. It was sooooo cute! The dogs from the shelter got to experience freedom for one day, as they were the special guests at the event. It was a chance for people to meet the dogs in person, cuddle them and ask the volunteers questions about their character etc.
One of the best moments I remember from the first adoption fair I participated in, was seeing a dog who was normally very shy fall in love with an eight-year-old boy. She was hiding behind the volunteer she was with and this little boy went up to her, and she just lay on her back and let him cuddle her. I died. The funniest thing was seeing his parents, who gave each other this look, ‘well I guess we have to take this dog home’. Mwahaha. Emotional blackmail is a truly effective tactic.
The Story Of Pelusa (Fluff)
I am now going to tell you a very sweet story about a little dog named Fluff, who was saved by my overwhelming love for her. She stayed with me for 2 months while I lived in Menorca, and she became my best bud; I even got close to adopting her and bringing her home to the UK!
Pelusa was ended up in the dog shelter in Mahon after being tied up outside (I know!). The worst part is that she was left outside during the night and so wasn’t found until the next morning, freezing and completely soaked (Menorca is very wet in winter). She is a Catalan sheepdog – which kind of looks like an insanely hairy collie – black and white, and covered in tumours. As well as tumours she had mastitis and was severely underweight. The poor dog was having an absolute nightmare of a time.
When she was discovered by the dog warden, they took her to the vet to get her fixed up. As her teeth were in such bad condition they really couldn’t say how old she was; they guessed anywhere between 7 and 12…which is like saying a human is between 49 and 84! The only thing they could tell us for sure is that she was used for breeding, and was probably dumped because she stopped having puppies.
Having had some TLC, she was popped back in the shelter, in the hope that she would be able to find a new loving family. I met her during my volunteering hours when I went to walk and socialise the residents of the shelter, and thought she was beautiful. However, behind the cute fluffy face, was a very sad dog. She wouldn’t make eye contact with any of the volunteers and rarely ate treats given to her. We had gotten to a point where we were able to have a group of dogs playing out safely together, and although Pelusa tolerated other dogs, she would never play with them or even wag her tail.
We hoped that a new family would mend her broken heart, so we put out appeals for adoption or foster home. Unfortunately, her bad luck didn’t end there. Further vet checks after a deterioration of her health told us that she had many tumours and was unlikely to live the next month, and as she was too weak it would be risky to operate. This took everyone back and it was decided that there was a need to find a hospice for her to live in a comfy home so she could go in peace. My housemates and I took on this challenge and figured that we would be doing something good.
When she arrived at our apartment, she was very weak and clearly stressed, going around and around the kitchen in circles that made us all dizzy. This went on for a few days, and we could see signs that she was deteriorating. That was, until one day, I opened a packet of smoked salmon, her ears shot up and she was at my side, wagging her scraggly tail. I’m not an advocate for feeding dogs from the table, but she just looked so cute and happy and wiggly waggly. I gave her that salmon, and our friendship bloomed.
Pelusa On The Rise
She was wagging her tail more and more each day, devouring her food, and started trotting around the park. We could take her on longer walks down to our favourite restaurant and she began to make a reputation for herself as the fluffiest, happiest dog around. People couldn’t believe that she was so unwell: “What? She smiles so much!”, “She’s so lovely!”. One of my favourite days out with her was when we had decided to take her to the beach, and she went nuts, running around all over the place – a few weeks before this she couldn’t even make it up a few steps!
This apparent miracle and sudden change in character and health were so incredible for all of us. Having taken her back to the vet, it was decided that she was in fact going to live a lot longer than expected, but, as I was to leave the island soon to work in Canada, we needed to find a permanent home for her.
A proud foster mummy
Pelusa had become Menorca-internet-famous in the time that we had her, due to all the photos and videos we had been posting on Facebook, therefore finding people who were interested in rehoming her was very easy. As Pelusa and I had become VERY attached, the charity said to me that my opinion mattered hugely in the rehoming process, which was a great honour for me. It was very hard to let her go, as it’s not what I had been preparing for, but I was so happy that we had been able to bring her from the brink of what was essentially doggy depression.
We were at an adoption fair when the head of volunteers approached Pelusa and I, with a man who was very interested in adopting Pelusa. The next week we met him and his dog, Stitch, in the park, and they all really hit it off. It was an easy decision to make! It has now been 8 months since she moved in with her new family, and she became well enough that they could operate and remove her tumours! She is thriving in her new home with her boyfriend Stitch, and I am a very proud foster mummy.
HOY ES UN GRAN DÍA PARA TODOS LOS QUE CONOCEN A PELUSA, UNA PERRA ENCANTADORA Y QUE LLEGÓ ESTE INVIERNO A LA PERRERA…
How can you help?
This story luckily had a happy ending and would not have been possible without the work of volunteers and the money raised by the general public (and my strong love of dogs). Attitudes towards animals are gradually changing, thanks to the campaigns in schools and awareness spread on social media. As well as this, we are hoping that in years to come laws will be changed and enforcement will be able to tighten around those who mistreat animals. Perhaps one day everyone in Europe can follow the example of Holland!
One day when I am rich and famous I will go back to Menorca and adopt all of the dogs – if you want to support me in this, get in touch!