Ines Rodrigues
Culture: Readers Write
No-Kill Shelters in Portugal
Letter to the Editor

Editor’s Note: We received a lovely photo of Clarinete for our smiling dog contest from Inês Rodrigues recently, in her message she explained that “Clarinete is my sponsored dog in Lisbon’s (Portugal) largest no-kill shelter.” That prompted me to ask her about no-kill shelters and their  sponsorship programs in Portugal. I thought that the idea of sponsoring shelter dogs is intriguing and might work well in this country as well. Here is Inês’ reply:

There are actually quite a few no-kill shelters in Portugal, most of them recent. In the following site which is a sort of petfinder where information on many different animals from organizations across the country is compiled, you can see the logos of the shelters—some aren’t shelters but the actual municipal pounds whose volunteers try to foster out as many animals as possible. There are still a few other organizations that are not present on this site.

The shelter where Clarinete lives is the oldest in Portugal. União Zoófila was founded in 1951. This means it was founded during the Fascist Dictatorship (which came to an end with the revolution in 1974) and in many ways it shows its age and outdated concepts of what a shelter should be. União Zoófila is a very closed off institution. It is also huge. At any given point it houses more than 500 dogs and almost 200 cats. Unlike most modern shelters which are run strictly by volunteers and rely solely on donations, UZ has a system where people can become ‘members’ paying a monthly fee which serves as a donation and helps pay the salaries of six full-time workers who are responsible for the daily feeding and cleaning of the animals. Frankly, most of them look old enough to be retired. There is also an administrative board.

I started visiting União Zoófila every Sunday, last year, when I became Clarinete’s “godmother.” This is a program where you make a monthly donation of 13 EUR (18$) and become a given dog’s “godmother” or “godfather.” This is what I meant by sponsored. Many shelters have this kind of program in place. It doesn’t really obligate you to do anything else, but what is desirable is that you will take your chosen dog (preferably a dog who is less likely to be adopted) for walks whenever possible, and some even take their dogs for a weekend at home, for a day at the beach, etc.

UZ has a growing group of devoted volunteers who are there mostly during the weekend, when they pick up the slack, by cleaning, walking and generally taking care of the animals. They organize group walks to a nearby forest park, among themselves and also put together larger walks for godmothers and godfathers.
What I can say is that the infrastructure is very poor. Most animals are housed in rows of “boxes.” These are like small rooms with an interior part (where there will be a bed) and an exterior one fronted by grate. The worst is the floor—while some areas already have non-adherent easy to clean heavy, duty plastic flooring, most of the kennel is still on cement. This is hard on the dog’s paws of course, and helps to bring out the general grimness of the place. There are no green spaces or trees within the shelter, although just out front there is a vacant piece of land with some trees, where dogs usually are walked.

What I’ve observed is that dogs that were previously on the streets usually fare better. Dogs that are surrendered by their owners seem to me to suffer the most—but then this is probably self-evident. Painfully shy dogs (such as Clarinete) also have a rough time at the shelter. There is hardly enough time to give these dogs the kind of socialization they need.

As far as adoption goes, babies generally fly out the door. I’ve personally seen several instances where puppies are relinquished to the shelter and adopted the same day (whether this is a responsible policy is another matter). Any small dog (especially dog resembling Poodles, Chihuahuas, Papillons and the like) will get adopted pretty fast, even if they are seniors. Two senior Golden Retrievers that came in were also adopted fast as are dogs resembling Labradors (although there are starting to be so many of these, I think the situation will reverse).

Adopted Animal’s Link:
Eight or maybe nine years ago there was a Nordic dog ‘fever’ (currently we seem to be the midst of a French Bulldog/Pug fever) in Portugal and if you check the available dogs you will find a few Malamutes and Huskies. There are also a few Pitt Bulls—these are generally only walked by volunteers and I’m told their adoption process is longer and requires several visits.

Last year an eleven-year-old dog adopted through União Zóofila (I had the pleasure of taking her for a walk just days before she was adopted), became the ‘face’ for a popular brand of dog food’s adoption campaign. I think it brought senior adoption into the limelight and slowly, senior dogs seem to be considered more often and sometimes even adopted. Pedigree’s Missão Adopção (Mission Adoption) site:The promotional film you see on the page was actually shot inside União Zoófila

There aren’t any breed specific rescues in Portugal—except for breeds that have gone through an extremely popular phase (such as Rottweilers, Malamutes, Huskies, Labs, Pitts) you will hardly ever find a pure bred dog (or cat) in a shelter. Most dogs you will find at rescues are random bred, so random in fact, I’d be hard pressed to say any breeds taking place in the mix.

Personally I believe what is missing in this country is a much stronger stand on neutering. Routinely, I see that dogs are adopted without first being neutered which seems like a shot in the foot, for this kind of institution. To add to the problem, it sometimes happens that dogs adopted as puppies will be returned five or seven years later (the shelter does take them back).

I’m cautiously optimistic about the future—I’d like to see more legislation protecting animals in place, and the municipal pound system completely revamped into a no-kill system, but I guess that’s a long way into the future. I hope this gives you an idea of rescue scenario is in Portugal—it could be a lot better, but it really has been improving fast during the last decade.

And anything else you would like to know or have detailed I’d be more than happy to try and find out more information. I’m also sending two other photos—the first is of Mike, a senior, left at the shelter last summer and the second of two sisters Didi and Dada, who are two years old and have been in the shelter since they were puppies.

Thank you for taking an interest