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Minister appeals to all animal refuges: “ask for help because you never know what will happen during wildfires”

In the wake of the eastern Algarve wildfire horror last week in which 14 animals burnt to death, environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes has made a special appeal.

He wants all animal refuges to ‘ask for help’ and ensure they are not overlooked in times of emergency.

“The appeal is for all entities, because no-one knows what will happen during wildfires”, he told Lusa. “All those who have animals in their care – even those that are not licensed – at a time like this they must ask for help from ICNF (the forestries institute) and the municipal councils.

“We can deal with the licensing afterwards. But for now, we need to save these lives”.

Mr Matos Fernandes is fully behind the inquiry that has opened to try and understand how the animals were left to die such a hideous death.

Calling the incident “unacceptable”, he stressed his ministry has already tasked local authorities throughout the country with making a full list of shelters in their areas, so that disasters like this do not happen.

“We already know of a lot (of shelters), and because of this, the year has run without any great issues with regard to animals”, he said. “But there are many situations that we are not aware of, thus our commitment to carrying out a rigorous survey with the help of local authorities”.

The deaths of the animals in the Santa Rita refuge (Vila Real de Santo António) has already run into all kinds of political issues: PAN (the Peoples Animals Nature party) claims local authorities knew it existed, and should have done more; the local mayor says otherwise.

The bottom line is that volunteers claim they were not allowed (by authorities controlling fire-fighting response) to rescue the animals in time.

The real tragedy is that there was time enough to have reached the dogs and released them. 

They need not have died.

As this desperately sad chapter awaits the results of the inquiry, animals associations SOS Algarve Animais and ARA – Animal Rescue Algarve – have seized the moment to write an open letter to Mr Matos Fernandes, saying this is a perfect example of how “new policies” are needed when it comes to the way authorities deal with entities working to improve the lives of Portugal’s abandoned and stray animals.

The two entities say a meeting to “explain the immediate difficulties of the region” could contribute to “a drastic reduction in tragedies”, as well as in ensuring that Matos Fernandes’ own plans for animal welfare are taken as far as they can go.

Earlier this summer, the minister announced a raft of new measures designed to improve the lot of domestic animals in Portugal. Both associations described themselves as “ecstatic” to have heard them as “the sad reality is that there have never existed a sufficient number of shelters for animals that are adequately run in this country”. Nor has there ever been “efficient and immediate sterilisation programmes” to win the battle against a rising ride of unwanted animals.

“There are many issues relating to animal welfare that we would like to see discussed”, say the two privately-funded organisations, “but we also believe that to be effective, everything should be secondary to a programme of mass sterilisations”.

ARA and SOS Algarve Animais are “hoping for a response” and the “possibility of fixing the date for a meeting”.

For those unaware of either, ARA prides itself on being a blueprint for how animal refuges everywhere could be run (click here and here). SOS Algarve Animais on the other hand has ‘cracked it’ when it comes to sterilisations: this year it has already managed to raise the funds to sterilise 890 animals (at a cost of over €54,500) while according to figures published by the local council (Loulé) the municipality only managed to neuter 192 animals during the whole of 2020.

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