Zélia Santos
Zélia Santos

Zélia Santos devotes her life to street cats

“Algarve cat colonies growing out of control,” says APAA volunteer

Zélia Santos, a volunteer at animal charity APAA, speaks to the Resident about the reasons behind the ever-growing number of street cats in the Algarve

For decades, Zélia Santos has been dedicating most of her free time to helping animals in need.

Anyone who has ever found a street cat or needed help catching, feeding or simply helping an animal in need in the Algarve has likely heard of, or met, Zélia.

Making sure that people are educated on the importance of sterilising street cats and that every cat or dog that lives outdoors is sterilised have been some of the main goals Zélia has been pursuing for years.

That is why she says it is especially frustrating to see that the number of street cats continues to grow in the Algarve.

“The situation is out of control,” Zélia told us this week. “APAA (Association for the Protection of Animals in the Algarve) receives calls for help from every borough in the Algarve because of stray animals. It is total chaos.”

One of the reasons is clear to Zélia: even with all the awareness campaigns carried out and the support provided by animal associations and municipal councils, many people continue to refuse to sterilise their pets.

Unsterilised cats living on the street are effectively ‘multiplying machines’, Zélia explains, leading to countless unwanted litters. Tragically, some people resort to placing unwanted litters in bags and throwing them in the bin.

Volunteers are needed to deal with so many stray animals

Others abandon their (often unsterilised) pets without rhyme or reason, even when some associations are willing to help.

Animals are abandoned for no reason at all, without any second thought. We do not have enough resources to deal with this, and there aren’t enough families to take in all the animals that are abandoned. We are exhausted,” Zélia lamented.

Another issue pinpointed by Zélia is the aggression with which animal association volunteers are treated at times when trying to capture animals for sterilisation.

“Sometimes even, the people who call for our help become uncooperative. Volunteers like us have lack of any protection, leaving us exposed to verbal and physical violence,” she told us.

Like virtually every other animal association, APAA is a volunteer-based association which relies on subsidies and donations to continue carrying out its work.

But the subsidies and donations it does receive are largely insufficient, meaning volunteers have to pay for the fuel to reach the colonies they look after (or to travel to an animal in need) and to feed the animals they care for out of their own pockets.

Cat colony
Cat colony

Zélia, who is based in Portimão where she carries out most of her work although she often travels all over the Algarve to help animals in need, says that the municipal veterinarian in Portimão does a good job but is clearly in need of at least one other vet to help him deal with so many stray animals.

One other way of tackling the growing number of stray animals is toughening up Portugal’s animal protection laws, which Zélia says do not defend animals which are subjected to abuse.

Zélia Santos (right) with volunteers Manuela Gonçalves (left) and Paula Ferreira (centre)
Zélia Santos (right) with volunteers Manuela Gonçalves (left) and Paula Ferreira (centre)

How can you help?

APAA is happy to welcome new volunteers, who can help out in many ways, such as manning its charity shops. The association is also always thankful for donations, no matter how big or small. You can learn more by visiting APAA’s website (www.apaaportugal.com)

 To contact Zélia Santos directly, please email [email protected]



[email protected]