Bye bye balls

Harsh as it might sound, those testicles will have to come off. Because with thousands of stray dogs in the Algarve, it’s not an option not to neuter your dog. Enjoy the Algarve talks to Kerry Gross and Faith Clements of AEZA, a charitable organisation that gives hundreds of stray dogs in the western Algarve a better life. 

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine January 2017


A puppy is awesome. Cute, soft, cuddly and full of energy to discover its surroundings. Two puppies? Even better? Three? Cuteness overload to the max. But 50,000 puppies that all grow up and need food, love, attention, training and vaccinations? That might be a bit too much. Still, that’s exactly what happens if you don’t neuter your dog and he or she finds a mate who’s also not castrated or sterilised. Love spreads around and after seven reproductive years, there can be as many as 50,000 dogs. That’s a whole lot of poo to clean up…

Back in 2000, walking around many parts of the Algarve was a nuisance. Not only because of all the poo, but mainly because there’d be packs of feral dogs roaming the streets. Trying to walk your own dog through town?  Even worse; a bitch in heat would be followed by several male dogs. So in 2001 they came up with a new law: all municipalities had to remove unaccompanied dogs from the street. If those animals weren’t chipped and their owner wasn’t found, they had to be kept in a secure place for ten days. After that period, they could be euthanized.

The then municipal vet of Aljezur, Dr. Vasco Reis, refused to kill healthy dogs and started the Associação Ecologista e Zoófila de Aljezur (AEZA). This charity now runs the Aljezur Municipal Kennel and still has a no kill policy. Helped by lots of other volunteers, Kerry Gross (55, left on pic above) and Faith Clements (76, right on pic above) vaccinate, neuter and protect the animals until they have found new homes for them. Just as in nature, the dogs are kept in packs. They’re walked three times a week, if there are enough volunteers. On arrival, all adult dogs get sterilised as soon as possible.

However, not everyone is convinced of this policy. Kerry explains: “Some people just won’t sterilise their pets. They say ‘But we keep her chained up all the time’. Well, that doesn’t work at all; then the female dog can’t even run away. And if you talk to Portuguese men about castrating their male dog, they sometimes protect their own crotch with their hands and say ‘ouch!’. They act like their own manhood is taken away. Other arguments are that the dog won’t hunt as well. One time, I castrated a dog on day 11, then later when its owner was found, he didn’t want the dog anymore. His argument: ‘Now it’s weak.’”

It’s attitudes like these that AEZA aims to change. With success: in 2016 they have sterilised 490 dogs and cats. During their sterilising campaigns they help people who can’t afford to have their pets neutered. Kerry: “One older Portuguese man came to the vets to have his dog helped. He had 25 euros to last him the rest of the month and wanted to donate 20. We told him to keep the 20 and give the fiver instead. At the end of the month he returned with a euro which he had managed to save.” Small things like these keep the volunteers going. So do the dogs themselves who are all jumping up for attention when the women pass. Kerry laughs: “I was never allowed a dog as a kid; I guess now I’m making up for it!” Serious again: “It needs doing, they need our help.”

Faith rescued her first animal when she was 12 years old. “It was our gardener’s kitten that would otherwise be drowned. I hid it in my shoe box and put it in the car. My parents didn’t notice until we were halfway home and my shoe box suddenly started meowing…” Fast-forward a couple of decades and she’s saved countless others. Last year, 19 cats and 87 dogs were rehomed, in Portugal, the UK and Germany. In all countries, superstition still plays a role when choosing a new pet. “Black cats are difficult to adopt as people believe they bring bad luck. Same goes for dogs. It’s really difficult to find new homes for big black male dogs and I’ve got five of them,” Kerry sighs while walking Prince, a big black male Rhodesian ridgeback (pictured above).

At the front of the shelter are three cages where dogs can be left if there’s no staff on site. It seems unthinkable people would leave their four-footed companion just like that. Then again, in Portugal dogs are often regarded as protection or hunters, not so much as part of the family. The mistreatment and abandonment of animals has only become punishable in 2014; it still isn’t uncommon to see dogs chained outside 24/7. “A lot is ignorance,” says Faith; “I remember this from UK; when I was younger, all farm dogs were kept on chains.” “However,” adds Kerry, “Some of it is also the Portuguese culture and we have to accept that. Like the ‘door latch dogs’: when owners go to work and leave their pet on the streets for the day. Those animals don’t need rescuing; they’re fine. Only if a stray dog is in a bad state, without a collar, really thin, hungry and thirsty, then you should call a shelter.” When in doubt and near Ajezur, call AEZA as they know all the local dogs.

Although education on taking care of your pet is still necessary –AEZA does this by taking kittens into local school and giving talks-, Faith is proud of what they’ve already achieved: “Things are looking good for the cats with lots of local ladies feeding the feral cat colonies. Before the shelter came here, there were wild stray dogs everywhere. Some of them quite dangerous, others scabby, unhealthy looking, or even dying. It was appalling. I used to go home crying. Now, there aren’t any stray dogs in Aljezur anymore.” The sterilisation campaigns have paid off. “I hope that one day, there’ll be more homes than there are stray dogs,” says Kerry. “It’s my dream that at some point in the future we have to turn people looking for a dog away because we don’t have any dogs anymore, rather than refuse dogs because we don’t have any room for them anymore.”


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine January 2017

Posted in Features, People.