When we first retired over 17 years ago, my lovely wife and I ended up in the old town of Panama City, Panama.
One day while standing near Bolivar Square and talking with a friend, my lovely wife witnessed a car come careening around a corner. As it passed by, a puppy was thrown out a window and hit the curb with a squeal. As the car sped away, the ladies ran over to see if the pup was okay. Stunned and dirty, the little orphan seemed to be in one piece. Meanwhile, on the sound system of a nearby café, Barry Manilow’s immortal hit ‘Copa Cabana’ could be heard: “Her name is Lola, she is a showgirl…” and a young bystander said: “Well, I guess her name is Lola.”
With that, Lola became a legend. Cleaned up with dozens of ticks removed, she began her new life as we were at the beginning of our retirement. With golden orange wavy fur and eyes that appeared like she had on mascara, she looked like a mix of a small golden retriever and a fox.
By taking long walks in the mountains and spirited runs on the beach, she got stronger. Lola always pulled on her leash, but not too hard, and became quite accustomed to hanging out under the table of cafés and, in fact, was a regular, with her own table at the site of her original rescue.
She liked riding in small planes, didn’t mind open boats and enjoyed golf carts, tuk tuks and dune buggies, and the back seat of our car. When we started visiting Portugal, she flew back and forth twice, secured sleepily in a crate, before we settled in the Algarve.
Lola was a sweet and loving companion, got along fairly well with most other dogs and didn’t like cats. She did like to party. Up in the mountains in Panama, after I noticed she was not around for a while, I’d walk over to a house nearby, occupied by some college students, and knock on the door. “Hi, is Lola here?” I could already see her on a couch, over a shoulder. So yeah, she’s been to more parties than we have.
Walking her along the seafront in Panama City, she was a babe magnet – a pretty girl, an attractive lady, actually most women, stopped to give her a pet on the head. The few times I was out on the street without my dog, the neighbourhood children, vendors and street guys would always enquire “Dondé es Lola?” I was fairly sure that they didn’t know my name.
We had her for 15 years. When the end came, she was calm, stoic, dignified even. Her domain around our cottage near Santa Bárbara de Nexe simply shrunk in size and she slowed down gradually but slow down she did. Of course, there were tears at the end, but it wasn’t tragic or painful – but rather peaceful and inevitable.
So yeah, we mourned for a while and tried to get used to being without a small loyal life force in our bungalow. It didn’t take long for us to realise that we needed a wagging welcome when we got back from the grocery store or a night out. Walks seemed lonelier without a steady tug on a leash. There was no wet nose that served as an alarm clock. Neither one of us liked to play with a tennis ball that would skid on the tile floor, and it was easy to find enough room on the couch near the fireplace. So, we began a search for a new dog, with help from our friends.
We visited several kennels operated by generous animal lovers and took our time with the selection process, even deciding against a couple of frisky, cute candidates for a variety of reasons basically based on hunches. Then we spotted a reserved, medium-sized dog, not that much bigger than Lola at the back of a pen filled with barking maniacs.
When we took her for a walk, she was calm and attentive and sat patiently at a table and chairs when we discussed her with the lady in charge. We decided to come back for a visit, and she came right up to the fence making it clear that she recognised us. Named Elsa, she is a Podengo-Belgian Shepperd mix with prominent high pointed ears and a beautiful smooth tan coat.
When we got her home, after a ride in the car during which she got sick, we initiated the ritual of changing her grotty shelter collar for a brand-new orange one that we bought just for her. This meant that, for approximately five seconds, when I had the old one off and was preparing to put the new collar on, I did not have control of Ella, which was her new name. In that moment, she was out the front door.
Over the years, Lola never left and we had become lax. As I sprinted after her, I watched her clear the wall in an easy leap (again, nothing Lola ever did). After I dashed out the gate, I did manage to catch up to her since she hadn’t realised the path was much lower on the other side of the wall and she was briefly stunned. The point is, we had her for about a minute before the first time she was able to escape.
Yes, in addition to Lola, we had dogs before – Labradors in Maryland, usually two at a time in a fenced-in yard where they stayed and guarded our house while we were at work. Ella was different. She was an escape artist. She shredded our drapes in the bedroom and opened the screen with one dainty paw. She passed through the screen on our sliding door to the terrace like a knife through butter.
I watched her chasing a garbage truck passing by on the outside on the street and then clear the seven-foot wall with one little skip at the apex. We spent a thousand euros on fencing, but she found other avenues of escape. We ended up keeping her on a long lead while outside on the patio and didn’t dare take her up to the rooftop terrace. Being restrained at all times is usually what we try to rescue dogs from having to endure.
Ella was also unpredictable and sometimes quite aggressive. When I would take her for our daily walk, she really tugged on the lead. Then if we passed a barking dog behind a fence (and that can happen here in Portugal), Ella would go bonkers and literally spin on the taunt leash like a helicopter. She also helicoptered when some cars went by – not all cars, but some. She also had a look in her eye, even when I rubbed behind her ears that said, “Fine. This is nice but leave the gate open and I’ll be in western Spain before you know it.”
Ella became obsessed with a barky dog less than a block away and often headed in that direction when she escaped in order to bark fiercely at the gate with a mastiff twice her size on the other side shouting back. The other dog’s owners got used to the confrontation and we would exchange pleasantries as I dragged the visitor away.
In order to have a peaceful walk, my lovely wife ended up taking Ella out at around three in the morning (or the middle of night, however you want to look at it), while the rest of the watchdogs were sleeping on the job. At that time, Ella didn’t pull as hard, and it was quiet with an occasional shooting star streaking across the dark night sky. I always worried that strolling around after midnight, even with a guard dog, wasn’t that safe.
Needless to say, we weren’t able to take Ella to our neighbourhood bar, even if we sat outside. When we tried, tables flew.
So yeah, we hired a dog trainer who was recommended by a friend. We worked with Ella for weeks and frankly saw very little progress. After eight months, even though she did like to sleep by the fireplace and at the foot of our bed (not on it), we finally came to the conclusion that she was more dog than we could handle.
The deal was we were encouraged to return her to the original kennel and they would accept her back, which they did with open arms and her old name of Elsa. They also spoke to her in Portuguese, which may have been another problem with dealing with a four-year-old who was set in her ways. As the gate to the kennel closed, Ella did give me a final look that said, “Oh wow, you gave me back.” It was heart-breaking but needed to be done.
Well, what are you going to do? If at first you don’t succeed and all that … There are plenty of other dogs in the Algarve that need a loving home. We also realised that we needed to be needed too. So, we had a couple of trips planned and figured that would give us some time to recover and then find a new pup.
It took a while. I think we were more careful and deliberate. Maybe the personnel at the previous kennel should have warned us about the athletic prowess and stubborn nature of our new buddy, but they didn’t.
After checking some sites, my lovely wife noticed she was receiving more and more doggie posts on Facebook and checked most of them out. Then she spotted this fuzzy little female dog, with a funny serious face and clipped ears. When we visited her foster home, we also noticed that she didn’t have a tail, just a button. The nice lady theorised that maybe gypsies had altered her for unspecified reasons. This pup, with curly blotches of brown on white needed to be rescued and that’s what we did.
Her original name was Lottie, but we changed it to Lulu and since often call her Little Lu. As before, she had all her shots and was chipped and neutered before she had any litters. Ella, on the other hand, had had two litters and was more her own pup of the world.
The most important consideration was that Lulu was much smaller than her predecessor and couldn’t clear any of the new fences. Even more importantly, she didn’t seem to want to. Right away, she took to her new surroundings and became quite affectionate and even cuddly. Yes, she likes to hop up on the bed at night but seems quite content to share the covers.
At approximately two years old (our vet agrees with the estimate), Lil’Lu still has the energy of a puppy and likes to chase a ball but is not a pest about it. Poor Ella never played with any of her toys and never seemed to grasp the concept. We’re pretty sure that wherever Lulu spent her formative years, she was not abused.
Again, poor Ella would flinch if somebody made a broad gesture and was afraid whenever we took out the broom to clean up after her. Somebody had hit that dog with a stick and she never got over it.
Lulu walks easily on the leash and seldom pulls very hard, which is better than even good ol’Lola ever did. Like maybe most dogs, our Lu is quite interested in other barking dogs but will walk by without a frantic confrontation and seems to have an instinctive dislike for stray cats. So, we keep an eye on her.
We have taken her on a few outings and so far at outdoor cafés no glassware has gone flying. It does appear that we took Lulu for her first visit to the beach. With very dainty big front paws, she tiptoed through the sand and then reacted to the surf with surprise. Like a sandpiper, she runs back and forth without getting wet.
Little Lu has brought a new level of joy to our household. She returns our love with plenty of her own and is always happy to see us when we return from errands or an evening out. How do we know Lulu’s happy, since she doesn’t have a tail to wag? She wags her button. Not only is she lucky to have somebody who will feed and care for her, but we are lucky to be the caretakers of a cute and adorable ball of fur.
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 – [email protected], Facebook: ADAP Portimão
▪ Associação para Proteção dos Animais de Rua, APAR (Moncarapacho) – [email protected]
▪ Cadela Carlota & Companhia (Lagos) – 917 448 583, [email protected], Facebook: Cadela Carlota & Companhia
▪ The Cacela Dog Haven (Vila Real de Santo António) – 926 767 544, [email protected], Facebook: Cacela Dog Haven
By Pat the Expat
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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.