Almost a year ago, our dog named Lola died after spending all 15 years of our retirement so far as our loyal and loving companion.
Lola was a classic rescue. My lovely wife was talking to a friend on a corner in the historic old town section of Panama City known as Casco Viejo. Another animal lover, they were actually talking about our desire to adopt a puppy. A moment later, a car came speeding around the corner. A small dirty puppy came flying out the window. Apparently thrown, it hit the sidewalk with a squeal.
The friend, my lovely wife and a few others ran over and discovered that the puppy, which was festooned with ticks, was basically unhurt. As my lovely wife was already deciding that this forlorn orphan would be the pup we adopted, the music system at a nearby sidewalk café was playing Barry Manilow’s immortal hit ‘Copa Cabana’ … “Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl…” And that is how she got her name.
(Some suspect that the friend was actually an agent of the Humane Society, who chatted up likely suspects and when it was determined that the mark was interested in rescuing a dog, would signal other agents, who would then drive by and distribute the potential rescue. It’s not a bad idea. You throw 10 to 12 puppies a day and place as many as seven or eight. Others suggest it was just a coincidence. Either way, after a trip to the vet, the dog was ours).
Soon, Lola was recovering from tick fever, her bare spots were filling in with curly hair, and her back legs were getting much stronger with long walks, both on a leash in the city and up and down mountain roads out in the interior. Lola joined us on most of our retirement adventures.
Lola has attended dozens of parties, sat under hundreds of outdoor café tables, chased her fair share of cats, been scared by fireworks and thunderstorms, travelled by ferry and open boat, ridden on a train, flown on both light island-hopping aircraft as well as airliners (twice back and forth from Panama to Portugal), and joined us on several road trips from Vulcan in the highlands of Panama to Porto and Monsanto in Portugal. She managed to avoid snakes, cane toads and tarantulas and even chased a jaguarundi into the jungles of Panama and survived being hit by a car and an Alsatian attack on the roads up in São Brás de Alportel.
Her demise was gradual and elegantly stoic. When she finally departed, we mourned for months. Our house was strangely empty, lifeless, but we weren’t sure we wanted to commit to another dog. Like Lola, we had gotten much older. We wondered if we were up to it, but eventually realised that we were indeed “dog people”.
With the decision made, it was then up to us to find “the right dog”. Good ol’Pat would like to suggest that the best way to go is to adopt a rescue dog from one of the many shelters in the area (see list below).
Yes, they’re mostly mutts but that’s generally a good thing. Mixed breed dogs tend to be calmer and, in many cases, smarter and, in a strange way, more grateful and appreciative.
This time around we didn’t want a puppy since, as renters, we didn’t want to discover that the new member of our family liked to chew furniture. We decided it would be nice to give an older dog a place to live (in the past, I always wanted a puppy because they’re so darn cute and funny, especially the first few months, but it doesn’t last that long).
Soon, our friends offered leads on where to find a suitable rescue from shelters they knew about and recommended.
First, we went with a dear friend to see a female dog (I prefer females because they are less likely to go on “toots”, which is ironic as you’ll find out if you keep reading) at a sweet little shelter, The Cacela Dog Haven (Vila Real de Santo António). The cute but very energetic pup turned out to be quite young at just over a year old and a bit too bouncy and rambunctious for us and so we passed, which is allowed. We kept looking.
We ended up at the APAR shelter (Associação para Proteção dos Animais de Rua) in Moncarapacho near Olhão, which was also recommended to us by a thoughtful friend. There we met up with Amanda Howarth, who introduced us to several dogs, since they had plenty of furry orphans to choose from. Eventually, we spotted a somewhat reserved, mid-sized female lurking near the back of the pen but watching closely as several of her sisters in arms barked enthusiastically and jumped around at the front fence.
When Amanda got her hooked up for a walk around the yard, she seemed shy but not frightened. She looked like mostly a medium Podengo with a little Belgian Shepard thrown in. At about fours years old, with a short, smooth shiny light brown coat and “Yoda” ears, and a perpetual worried look on her face, her name was Elsa. We told Amanda we were interested but had to think about it.
My lovely wife and I visited a couple of days later (a sure sign we were smitten) and Elsa acted like she remembered us and came right up to the fence to greet us (smart dog).
This time, when my lovely wife took Elsa for a stroll around the yard, they ended up sitting at a small outdoor table, like you might find on a café terrace, which is quite appropriate for a couple who like to take their dog with them for al-fresco dining. We were sold and signed all the necessary papers and became the proud owners of a dog that was fully vaccinated, neutered (she had already had two litters) and chipped.
We changed her name to Ella (close enough so she wouldn’t be confused by our slightly classier choice), and she jumped into the backseat of our car and came placidly to her new home.
When we got her in the house, we initiated our ritual of having a new dog by switching her old, grotty kennel collar for a brand new DayGlo orange one. That meant that, for about five seconds, I had no direct control of our new pup. Having developed lax habits with our old dog, we happened to leave our front door open. In an instant, Ella was out the door and as I ran (faster than I had moved during the entire lockdown) after her, she jumped our wall and was out of sight. This was not good. After being “home” for less than five minutes, she had already learned how to escape.
I soon caught up to her and she didn’t resist returning. A couple of days later, when we returned from running some errands, we found her playing happily in the front yard with our neighbour’s dog. That was a bit of a surprise since she had been locked inside. It turned out this time that she didn’t jump through the screen in our bedroom – instead she used her claw to slide the screen open. So, we had an escape artist on our hands.
Nobody said that getting a new dog was going to be easy. There will be challenges and an adjustment period. Even though there were no costs for adoption, we did spend nearly €1,000 on a much higher fence (Podengos can really jump).
We’re still adjusting, but we feel that we’re making real progress. Unlike Lola, who was a citizen of the world, Ella is a new soul. For example, she doesn’t do toys. Apparently, she never had any when she was neglected by her shepherd owner. It took her a week before her tail wagged regularly and she barked for the first time. Now when we leave her, we lower the shutters so she’s not tempted to flee the premises.
Lately, when we let her out, she does not hesitate to return home (where the food and loving is) when called or even on her own. Almost everything is a new experience and mostly positive. The first time I built a fire in our fireplace, it was clear that Ella had never seen anything like that before.
We often wonder what’s she’s thinking, like: “Yikes, they just started a fire in the living room. What’s that all about?” Or “This couch is nice”. Or “I never knew that people gave you plates to lick after their dinner” (she gets them dishwasher-ready).
She really seems to enjoy what we call tummy tucks (belly rubs) and now acts very happy when we come back from wherever.
Sure, it’s a lot of work and we might have gotten a bit more dog than we bargained for, but it’s mostly fun and very satisfying. Ella has become accustomed to the routines of our household and, more importantly, she is now a loving member of our family.
Remember during this holiday season that dogs aren’t gifts, they’re commitments. Personally, I think the best method is to talk to your friends and neighbours who have rescued a pup and ask them how they did it.
Here is a list of contacts that you might want to use if you’re interested in adopting a rescue dog
▪ Associação Amigos do Canil de Portimão (AACP) – www.friendscanilportimao.com, Facebook: Friends of Canil de Portimão
▪ Associação de Defesa de Animais de Portimão, ADAP – firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: ADAP Portimão
▪ Associação para Proteção dos Animais de Rua, APAR (Moncarapacho) – email@example.com
▪ Cadela Carlota & Companhia (Lagos) – 917 448 583, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: Cadela Carlota & Companhia
▪ The Cacela Dog Haven (Vila Real de Santo António) – 926 767 544, email@example.com, Facebook: Cacela Dog Haven
By Pat the expat
For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.