It's been a year and a half since I was at El Refugio. The welcome has been just as warm, the dogs just as adorable and it's wonderful to see so many improvements. Including the new lunch room with coffee machine and a fridge. Last time I was here it was a store room.
Some of the changes are not visible, like the pump. Others can be seen the moment you arrive. Here are some photos.
The splendid A.C.E./Shin transport ...
.... seen from the other side
... and the back - Max, Pommie, Pasha and some of the gang
The smart new entrance
Shelter and food for the cats below the new stairs up to the field
The A.C.E.statement, just inside the entrance
In the lunch room!
Everywhere lovely illustrations and paw prints, in soft colours on pastel painted walls
It was my first visit to a killing station. El Refugio is full to bursting; even so Fabienne had promised me I could take one little dog. Or maybe a medium sized one. I knew it would be hard. I had, nevertheless, expected that one dog in particular would stand out. That while it wouldn't be easy to leave the others, there would be one that would be an obvious choice. It didn't happen like that. I was so confused, thoughts whirling round in my head - choose this little dog? Or that one?
In the first cage a small, beige dog with sticky out teeth drew my attention. I felt I should choose him simply because of the sticky out teeth. With him was a small, lively black and white puppy jumping up and down - 'me, me, me'. And two other puppies - bundles of matted fur - were very sick. Besides, ACE is already caring for an unprecedented number of puppies - with more arriving almost daily.
In the cages of the killing station were dogs of all shapes and sizes - big ones, small ones, medium sized ones. All colours. Some quiet. Some putting their paws through the cage. In the end I simply had to do it quickly. I chose Pippy because she seemed as confused as I was. She would take a few steps forward and then retreat in fear. I had no idea how young she was, nor that she too was not well. And then, when she was out of the cage and in my arms the killing station man told Amalia, who had come in with me, that her sister was still in the cage.
I was supposed to take one - taking even one was stretching it. Although it would have broken my heart I thought I might just have to put Pippy back, how could I separate her from her sister? Amalia phoned Fabienne. Fabienne, wonderful compassionate Fabienne, said 'yes'. We took Cloie out of her cage to join her sister. What I didn't know at the time was that another little dog that I thought was sleeping was yet another sister. But she was already dead.
I was so happy to have saved these little ones. However, it wasn't all straightforward. For a start they were not so much little dogs as puppies, about three and a half months old. More puppies! And not very well, Pippy especially. Fabienne warned me not to get my hopes up, but everyone would do their best. They would go into foster with Isabelleke who would take great care of them.
We were to meet Isabelleke the next day at the airport. In the meantime they would see the vet at the Refugio and get some good food and lots of cuddles. The following day they already looked so much better. For various reasons we were not able to hand them over as planned; they went off very early the day after so I didn't get to say goodbye.
That is not important. The important thing is that they are getting better, I believe, though I can see from Fabienne's posting on Facebook on 16th that they are still very weak. But there's hope and even more good news for if I have understood it rightly they are both already reserved and will stay together. They won't be separated.
Pippy and Cloie - together forever
In spite of all this happy news I found I was haunted by the thought of the other dogs and in particular by the lively black and white puppy 'me, me, me' and even more by the little beige dog with the sticky out teeth. I talked to Fabienne about it, because it helped and I knew she understood so well. She herself had been unable to go into the killing station, knowing she couldn't take any dogs herself because she simply couldn't fit them in.
She doesn't give up. She found a way. The puppies in the first cage, including 'me, me, me' are now in foster care. My sweet little sticky out teeth is with a lovely man called Michael. Pippy & Cloie are with Isabelleke until they go to their golden basket. All safe. They owe their lives to Fabienne, as do so many others. Nearly 15,000 now - and counting. What an extraordinary and wonderful achievement.
On this, my third visit to El Refugio, I've been struck once again by the contrast, the enormous and striking contrast between cruelty and indifference on the one hand and love, humanity, generously and selflessness on the other.
To take just two examples. Fabienne picked me up from the airport and after a coffee and a catch up we drove off to a killing station. I am not going to say which one - for obvious a reasons. El Refugio is full but Fabienne with her enormous loving heart had promised Amalia that she would takes two particular dogs, dogs Amalia had identified earlier. Fabienne keeps her promises. She also gave me the opportunity to save one dog - a little one or a medium sized one.
Cloie and Pippy, safe at last.
It's so hard. You want to take them all. Impossible. Fabienne works miracles, but sometimes you just cannot physically fit any more in. Even so, in the end my one little dog became two little dogs. Because after I had 'chosen' a small dog who seemed particularly frightened and confused, we discovered that she had a sister in the same cage. What do you do? Take both of course but more of that in another post. For now let's stick to contrasts.
The killing stations do just that, just what it says on the tin. They kill dogs. I mean there's a tourist industry to think of isn't there? And money to be made. OK they say. You want to rescue a dog, or several dogs. You're mad of course, but after all it's up to you. Your choice. But it will cost you. Take them off our hands by all means, they say, but you have to pay us for each dog you rescue (it varies between €34 and €74 for each dog.) Nice little earner, even without mentioning the fact that this is actually saving the killing station money. Half the time they don't even feed the animals. What's the point! That's the way they think.
All this is horrible, really horrible. Yet there's more. There's the hypocrisy. In the reception area - the public face of the killing station - there are posters with pictures of missing or stolen dogs with emotional appeals for their safe return. Don't they see the irony? Obviously not. And then there are the leaflets. "An animal isn't a toy" they proclaim. "This is a campaign to wipe out the incidence of abandoned pets"they write, urging sterilisation and micro-chipping. Huh! This the same place that accepts unwanted pets - unwanted for the flimsiest and most selfish reasons - yet allows the same people to leave with yet another dog, a younger and prettier model. Which in turn will be brought back in a few years time when it's older, when the people are tired of it. The place that keeps the animals in appalling conditions and makes you pay to save them! Give me a break.
Some of our dogs. Clean, loved, fed and hoping for new homes.
In contrast you have all the determined, courageous and loving people who devote themselves to animals - to their own family pets and to the abandoned and abused ones. Who rescue them either physically or by supporting those who do by giving money and time. I'll give just one example. Winston. His story is already in Fabienne's Diary on the website. You can read all the details there. I am just going to relate what I witnessed yesterday at the gates of El Refugio. I had read the email sent by a lady called Jean Sampson, though at first I hadn't made the connection. But I did recognise Winston, the goat dog. The dog that Jean and her friend had found living behind their apartments, old, sad, abandoned and mistreated - his ears have been cut and a rope was cutting into his neck.
They fed him, they treated his fleas, they spoke to him kindly and showed him love - almost certainly the only love he has ever known. Jean and her friend have three dogs each. They couldn't take Winston in, however much they longed to. So Jean wrote to Fabienne, acknowledging the difficulty, that El Refugio was full. But begging, asking not for herself but for Winston. Anyone who knows Fabienne will be in no doubt of the outcome. So yesterday afternoon I was in the Refugio waiting for her when someone came to tell me she was outside 'with two ladies and a dog. ' Jean, her friend and Winston.
Winston: so badly treated, yet still so trusting.
It was touching, the way they cared for that dog. Heartwarming to see how thoughtful they were - they had brought food, soft bedding and on top of that a substantial donation towards Winston's keep. He is safe now and hopefully he will have a family of his own before too long. Something he has never known. He is beautiful and gentle, even though he's in constant pain - we now suspect that he's been hit by a car. He can't stand properly.
Diana is taking care of him with her other foster dogs. Fabienne will make sure he gets treated. He is a beautiful dog with the most wonderful, amber eyes. Like jewels. He looks at you trustingly. God knows humans have done nothing to earn that trust. Until now. But he can trust ACE. And he seems to know it.
A beautiful dog like Winston deserves a beautiful and loving home.
From the cruelty and hypocrisy of the officially sanctioned killing stations to the boundless care, love, devotion and tireless work of all those who work in and for ACE and for all those nameless people who do what they can for all animals in distress.
... some pictures sent by Fabienne last week. The state of some dogs on arrival has to be seen to be believed. Luckily we have two lovely visiting 'beauticians' who know just what to do. Their work means a lot to us and to the little dogs who are able to lose their filthy, matted tick infested coats and start afresh all clean and light.