It has been five years since mistreating and abandoning an animal became punishable crimes in Portugal. To mark the occasion, Loulé-based animal shelter Animal Rescue Algarve held an event on Thursday, August 29 attended by Algarve MP Cristóvão Norte – one of the people responsible for creating the law and pushing it through.
Together they hailed the document that finally gives animals some legal protection and signals a change in the way they are seen by Portuguese society.
“Living beings should be treated with respect and consideration,” said Norte, who believes that the measures to protect animals should be taken a step further.
“We still face some difficulties but in these past five years we have been on an incredible journey, which has given hope and new opportunities to all the people who defend these causes, such as yourselves,” he told the shelter’s team.
ARA opened just over a year ago following an investment of around €1.5 million by British expat Sid Richardson.
“All of us here share a passion for animals,” Richardson said at the event.
“Today we feel privileged to welcome Cristóvão Norte because what he achieved five years ago was monumental and changed the whole paradigm. We don’t want to be just another shelter, we want to be part of the change and I hope that together we can make that change.”
Richardson has always loved animals, he told Balavento.
“It started when I had my first dog, a stray that I rescued. He became my best friend. My goal was always to leave money in my will for the animal cause. One day I woke up and thought, ‘I have to do something now’. I’ve done many things in my life and this is the most rewarding,” he said.
The shelter currently houses 100 dogs and 20 cats, and helps find ‘forever homes’ for around 20 animals every month.
Márcia Carvalho, who manages the shelter and has been working with abandoned animals for over 16 years, told the paper: “We try things differently here, and the most important part is our volunteers. We have had people from Canada, Australia and USA. We have infrastructures to house 12 people and, in exchange, we ask that they work five hours a day.
“As we have our doors open, people come here, spend a lot of time with the animals and fall in love with their personalities. The big difference is that we have more adult dogs being adopted than puppies, and that is very rare. There is a great connection as people fall in love with the animals, adopt them and take them back to their countries of origin.”
She adds that every animal at ARA is vaccinated, microchipped and sterilised (once they reach an adult age). No animal leaves the shelter without meeting these criteria.
“We help families find their perfect partner. We give them the opportunity to spend some time with the animal. They can come here whenever they want, spend however much time they need with the dog and even take it for a walk outside the property,” Carvalho added.
Although the shelter has only been open for a short time, there are many plans in the pipeline, such as the construction of an area exclusive for cats and activities with children linked to volunteer work.
“We want to work with schools in order to raise awareness about the adoption of abandoned animals. Then we will try to strike partnerships with associations in the UK that have a lot of knowledge and experience. At the end of the day, we all fight for the same cause and have a lot to teach and learn,” she added.
Biggest issue is “lack of support”
Sid Richardson names the lack of support from local authorities and the government as the shelter’s biggest constraint.
“Forty-nine out of 50 shelters are illegal because people become frustrated with the laws that prevent the construction of infrastructures of this kind. That is our goal, to try to change that law,” he told Barlavento.
“As most shelters do not have property licences, there is no contact with the government or local councils. There are things that should be done and said. But as we do not have licences for the buildings, the councils also do not have solutions and they act like we don’t exist. It is an absurd situation,” said Richardson, adding that it is a “shame because there are partnerships and amazing things we could do together”.
Original article written by Maria Simiris for Barlavento newspaper.
Photos: TAYA MARIA