It would be fair to say that we have wanted a dog for a long while; we grew up with always having a dog as part of the family and adore the love and companionship they give you. There are so many rescue dogs out here that need a home that it was always going to be a dog in need that would win us both over – but the question was – which one?
Having talked to Ginie from SOS Algarve Animals (SOSAA) about this we initially toyed with the idea of adopting a young puppy but it was good to talk things through first and we agreed that a puppy would be a large commitment when we are both working and would be harder to fit into our lives than we first thought … so we left it to Ginie and she promised that she would find us the right dog.
That was over a year ago – and it’s funny how things turn out to have their own sense of timing. Ginie managed to get herself a much needed break away to see friends in Spain – her dedication to the charity and the rescue dogs is immense – and all consuming – so this was a rare chance to leave the kennels behind and travel. She tells the story of how she was driving down a main road in a remote village near Seville when this poor scrap of a dog came into view running down the road. Ginie stopped her car, whistled and the dog promptly jumped into the back of her car and curled up on the seat. More amused than anything that on her weekend away she had managed to rescue another dog, she continued to her friends’ house and fed the dog, who was in a pretty poor state.
The next morning as a result of being fed well, the dog started to produce milk from her teats, which is when they realised that she had recently had pups. A trip back to the place she had been found did not produce any reaction at all from her – and a visit to the vets later confirmed that she was in such a poor state of health that she would have given birth to still born pups at best.
The first photos taken of her – who was now called Olalya after the place she was found – are quite sad to see – although the sweet nature of this little dog is already evident:
The charity do a marvellous job when they find a rescue dog, they are taken to the vets, checked and chipped, vaccinated and nursed back to health – and critically – sterilised. You can be sure that when you have a dog through SOSAA that you know what you are getting. They are checked to see how they are with other dogs – and cats – and they work in close collaboration with local vets at every stage of the process.
Her coat was in such a bad state that she had to have all her fur shaved down, which made her look even more forlorn, but still lovely – those eyes say so much.
We arranged to go over and meet Olalya, and she was the dearest little thing, skinny but happy, quiet but interested in us – and she settled down beside us whilst we talked things through with Ginie. We had agreed before we went to see her that we would go away and talk about it and take our time deciding – but I fell for her instantly and Dave later admitted the same thing – it was quite emotional driving away as she trotted up quietly to the gates as we drove out and stood looking after us.
We rang up the next morning! We agreed that initially we would foster her with a view to adoption – it’s great that the charity offer this option as it meant we could have a few weeks with her with no pressure – giving time for her – and us – to settle and see how things went. It had been a long while since we had had a dog and we knew that it would be a big commitment and lifestyle change for us – and one that we felt ready for.
Two days later we were back to collect her – she recognised us straight away and it was so lovely to be able to fill in the papers, and pick up a lead and take her home in our car. We were like proud new parents driving her home, she was still quite underweight and a little nervous, but had sweet trusting eyes that took everything in.
Taking her home and introducing her to everything was quite something – she was initially wary and shy of so many things – her reflection in the shiny oven door made her run; she wouldn’t go down stairs or anywhere near our basement stairs as they were going down into the unknown; she walked round drain covers (still does!) and seagulls overhead made her scarper! But slowly and patiently we worked quietly with her over several days and the transformation was almost instant. If something spooked her, we spent time with her reassuring her, and she has never looked back at the same thing twice! Now she stops and looks at herself in a mirror (!) she sits and watches birds – and even planes – fly overhead, and she made herself at home in her new bed in the kitchen straight away and has created her own little routine of ‘perimeter checks’ of the garden each morning, scampering up and down the steps without a thought.
Her given name by the charity was Olalya – taken from the nearby name of the village she was found, and we thought long and hard about what to name her, toying with several ideas. Dave has a great Monty Python sense of humour though and has always wanted to have a dog called cat … so that’s what we ended up calling her – Kat. Initially it seemed a bit daft, but now it seems to suit her, she’s a quirky little girl, and it fits her well. So Kat the dog it is!
The first time we took her to a beach was amusing, we’re not sure if she had ever seen sand or sea before, and she was a little unsure … fast forward to today though and she adores the beach, romping around and playing with us and other dogs if she meets them. One thing is still to be discovered though.. she is mostly a Spanish water dog, with some poodle thrown in there for good measure – but she doesn’t like water! If there is a puddle on the ground she will walk around it, and she has not shown any interest yet in going anywhere near the sea. The closest she has got to getting wet (apart from ‘bathtime’ which she suffers quietly!) was the day she went head-first into our friend’s fish pond … she just didn’t even recognise that the green stretch of something ahead of her was a pond of water and in she plopped … and came out slightly bemused, dripping wet but none the worse for her experience!
It was a very easy decision to turn ‘fostering’ into ‘adoption’ and she is now registered, chipped and has all the necessary paperwork and passport – and is officially ours. SOSAA were great all the way through this, giving us advice and help, meeting us at the vets, and guiding us through the process.. it’s Portugal, of course it’s a paper trail of required paperwork and forms … but nothing too complicated and the charity were there at every step to help us. They also gave us sensible advice about diet and the required jabs and precautions on how to make sure she is protected against all sorts of diseases and illnesses – she now has a Scalibor collar and monthly Activyl and Milbemax treatments and annual jabs. In Portugal you must also protect against rabies, and it’s all recorded in the pet passport – a sensible system.
We’ve got her all registered both at the vets and also at the local Junta … of course there is more than one system to register a dog, what did you expect?! The vets register the microchip in the SIRA database and the Junta register it on a separate SICAFE database. The Junta also issues an annual certificate – which we are supposed to carry at all times along with her passport (!!) – the irony is that she has almost as many papers to carry as we do … I have joked that my ‘handbag’ is now a ‘weekend away’ sized rucksack living out here!
What the SOSAA Charity failed to warn us about was just how much we would fall in love with this little scruffy scrap of a dog! She really is the sweetest, gentlest, most content and well behaved little thing; happy to be around us, curled up on the old sofa in my studio while I paint (it’s the only sofa she is allowed on!) or out walking on a beach or local village, field or cliff-top with us; or even sat patiently beside Dave while he’s out photographing on a beach somewhere.
She has gained all the weight she needs to and has transformed from the little scrap we met into a healthy and happy dog. Crucially she has also gained strength and power in her legs and body too, she can now easily manage a long beach walk in the morning and another one in the afternoon, which is great as we are always out and about somewhere and it’s lovely to have some company of the four-legged variety. She also charms everyone she meets as she is so gentle and placid; we met friends for lunch last week at a restaurant and she sat by my feet under the table outside for over 2 hours with not a murmur or any fuss at all.
It’s been lovely watching her personality come out too, she’s a very ‘contained’ and content little thing, and doesn’t jump up or lick madly or go wild, (thank goodness) but her little stump of a tail and her whole bum wags when she is happy, she now puts a paw on your shoulder to give a ‘hug’ if you fuss her, and if you pull out a burr from her fur (which is a daily task as she seems to collect the things!) then she gently licks your hand as if to say ‘thank you’. She is also bright as a button, doesn’t miss a thing, loves routine and instinctively seems to know so much, and she adores mashed up sardines on her dinner and sleeping upside down!
We cannot thank SOSAA enough – not only for finding Kat – but also for the amazing work they do, both in rescuing and re-homing dogs and cats; but also for their ongoing and pro-active sterilisation campaigns. The problem of strays – and litters of unwanted kittens and puppies – continues on a daily basis out here; in one weekend during their February 2015 Sterilisation Campaign the charity sterilised 46 cats and dogs, with 90% of the animals being female from all areas of the Algarve, at a cost of 1,500 Euros. All of this of course requires funding and donations for a charity who work tirelessly and patiently to make a difference.
You can find out how to donate – or sponsor – via this link SOS Algarve Animals Donate
Last year I sponsored them by giving 10% of my profits from all my Pet Portraits to the charity, and I have continued this sponsorship again this year. Even a small donation can be used by them, and any promotion and support we can give them can only help them to continue the valuable work that they do.
And every time I look into a wise and sometimes troubled looking pair of caramel brown coloured eyes peeping out from a constantly scruffy little furry face .. I am reminded of what a wonderful job they do as a charity – and how lucky we are that Ginie was driving down that road in Spain that day.
Here are some more pictures of Kat for you to enjoy – click any thumbnail to start the slideshow: