Shelter 21 – 28.07.2018 – Gapa, Alcobaca, Portugal
I called it the Aircraft Hanger, but it was actually some kind of converted warehouse – big, hot and noisy. There’s around 80 dogs, who are all lovely with no ‘don’t go near that one, he bites!’ candidates. About 20 cats live in a separate area of the building. They seem happy enough with lots of soft beds and pretty climbing frames.
The flooring throughout is smooth concrete and very slippery. Add water and it becomes akin to an ice rink. The dogs skid around like Bambi, with legs shooting in all directions. I’m not too steady on my feet anyway, so I was also like a fawn finding her feet on sheet ice. A couple of times I nearly did the splits, which I would love to do, but not via a trip to A&E.
This week happened to be the hottest week on my journey so far, with temperatures reaching into the 40’s. Because of the incredible heat inside the building, I wore shorts. Shorts AND willies, but don’t worry, only the dogs were witness to this spectacle – poor things.
Here, even more than other shelters, the dogs LOVED to jump up. I imagined it was to feel a softer surface than concrete on their feet, but who knows. My bare legs bore the brunt of their exuberance and began to look like something from a slasher horror movie. A large, fresh scar was also re-butchered and incredibly painful. As a result I developed an odd strategy I called the ‘Donkey Kick’. When entering a kennel, I would turn my back and kick my feet up to my bum in quick succession. It was a non-confrontational move, but meant the dogs thought twice about launching at me. I looked like I was having a fit, but it did the job. My routine was to enter, Donkey Kick (if needed), clean, remove as much ice skating water as possible, then have heartfelt mimosa (cuddle) time. I would let the dogs jump up for our mimosa time because at this point they were far less frantic. The result was no more scratches.
Some volunteers let big groups out, others only one kennel at a time. It’s a shame there was no consistency, as it was wonderful when the dogs were out together, even if they were scooting across the floor like novice ice skaters. On my last day I went in early, alone, to walk some of the dogs and clear up the mess from the towels I’d given the day before. It wasn’t quite the car crash I was expecting, but of course there were some towel casualties. If the towels were a bit dirty, I laid them on the wet floor for the dogs to at least stand on.
During my time at the next shelter, that slippery floor played on my mind, so I asked some friends to come and take a look. First they fixed the water dispensers to stop water leaking on the floor. I’d not really seen water dispensers before and had no idea how they worked, or more importantly how to clean them. I hadn’t bothered to think about it and when I saw I’d not been cleaning them thoroughly enough I felt bad.
For the floor we have thoughts of putting draining grooves in and maybe adding a covering of sand and concrete/paint to texture the surface. I also thought about rubber matting in the kennels? In the play area the idea of some astro turf seems like an option. It’s easy to clean and the dogs would love it. Whatever happens, this shelter will receive more help and support. The dogs and volunteers definitely need and deserve it.
I found myself challenged to think about the bigger picture of this shelter and how to improve the dogs living environment, rather than just their immediate welfare. It’s an area of expertise I know nothing about, but am happy to learn if it means the dogs will benefit. Although my own visit was fleeting, good contacts were made and I hope these new friendships will evolve and be productive as time goes on.