Shelter 19 – 14.07.2018 – Gruva, Nazare, Portugal
There are around 90 dogs here with two play areas. During cleaning time the dogs either went to the play areas, were put on a chain outside, or taken for a walk. A few volunteers came at the weekend, but only one worker, Liliana, during the week. I didn’t like that equation, but who am I to judge?
Some of the kennels were new and a decent size. Others were very small indeed. The idea of living in a space the size of an elevator freaked me out, especially with dogs like Pablo, a large Labrador. One day I meant to ask Liliana something, but instead just burst into tears. My soul was hurting. My answer, as always, was to walk. Fortunately the shelter sits in the middle of a beautiful pine forest.
Shelter dogs take their walks VERY seriously. Here is what I have found.
- They LOVE to sniff! Plants, trees, other dogs bums, wee, poo – you name it, they want to sniff it. Sniffing is serious business.
- Peeing on EVERYTHING! This is an extension of the sniff. The sniff stimulates the pee. It’s a rule most adhere to.
- Giant poos – often against bushes?! Shelter dogs prefer to poo OUTSIDE their cages. Something about a walk stimulates the poo and very often they prop themselves against a small bush? I have no idea why, but it’s a ‘thing’.
- Scratching the floor! After every pee and poo there is some vigorous floor scratching. Be careful not to stand behind a dog mid floor scratch, or you will receive a face full of dirt! Consider yourselves warned! It must be so nice to feel the texture of the earth beneath their feet though, instead of concrete. Most shelters have far too much concrete!
- Different sights and sounds. Looking at the same walls and dogs all day must be depressing and I can’t imagine what hearing the same shrill, desperate barks does to them. Dog shelters are deafening, stressful, noisy, smelly and claustrophobic. The forest is quiet, except for the sounds of birds and insects. The air is fresh and there is a feeling of expanse. Time slows down. You begin to pay attention to the little things again. A lizard scurrying across the path after a disturbed sun bathing session, a butterfly dancing in the breeze, busy birds chatting amongst themselves. The dogs may still be sniffing and peeing, but I always feel myself relaxing into nature!
- Eating grass! I don’t know why, but dogs LOVE eating grass – the super fresh, lush stuff. They munch on that like cows in a field. It always makes me smile.
- Running! Yes, we know they like to run, especially down a sandy hill when I have flip flops on! That sensation of moving forward and travelling is instinctive for dogs. I made sure Daisy and Reece came as much as possible, so the dogs also felt like they were out running with friends. The frustration of being alone in a cage must be overwhelming, so running together surely eases their souls.
After our walks we would stop under a tree, have a drink and I would brush them. It seemed like the perfect end to our time together (left – Pablo’s grinning face!). Back in their cages they looked calm and refreshed. Their wild eyed staring had melted into soft gazes.
Before leaving I would give them a couple of spoons of wet food and a chew. During the week I seemed to develop a routine.
- Walk – Allow for sniffing, peeing, giant poos, scratching, appreciating nature, eating grass, running with friends and of course more sniffing!
- Drink and Brush (and cuddle time).
- Extra fussing back in the kennel before taking the next dog.
- Leaving Time – 2 spoons of food, chew and a toy. Also try to make sure they had a towel, or blanket for a bed.
It was my little routine. God knows it wasn’t perfect, that would be them having a home, but it felt right and was the best I could do. It also stopped me bursting into tears every five minutes, which Liliana must have been relieved about.
This is one of those shelters that stays with me, in a haunting kind of way. Nightly visions of the dogs still causes me sleepless nights and I know I could have done so much more. But my week was up and it was time to move on. Always time to move on. Never enough time.