I have very little to complain about my life in Spain and the Canary Islands. It is a wonderful place to live and work, and the decision to leave the UK for a new life in the sun was the right one for us. However, I am sometimes asked if there is anything that I regret and, apart from leaving family and friends behind, I would say that animal welfare is my main concern.
Over the years, animal cruelty in Spain and the Canary Islands has horrified and distressed me. I long for the equivalent of the UK’s RSPCA, which, although not perfect, does its best to fight and challenge cruelty in the UK, with the full backing of law. In Spain, this responsibility is mostly left to the police. In recent years there have been signs that this responsibility is beginning to be taken seriously, but frankly I have little confidence in a police force that used stray cats and dogs for target practice on the deserted beaches of the Costa Blanca early in the morning, which was reported to me by a correspondent some years ago. Fortunately, such horrific incidents were stopped by the local Town Hall, because of its detrimental effect upon tourism.
Similarly, the poisoning of stray cats, which are treated as vermin, is relatively common in the Canary Islands. Again, this was stopped by Town Halls in the tourist areas of the south, as it was not viewed as acceptable by tourists staying in nearby hotels, many of whom witnessed the carnage. Sadly, this barbaric practice still continues in local villages and I remember the desperate cries of a child in the village where I live, whose much-loved cat was in its final death throes as a result of such barbaric activities.
The global recession has made matters much worse, with many pets being abandoned at the beginning of the summer holidays, because families claim that they cannot afford boarding or veterinary fees when they go away on holiday. The numbers of healthy abandoned animals who are destroyed in Spain and the Canary Islands remain at horrific levels, yet pet shops remain full of puppies and kittens for sale, many imported from puppy and kitten farms and transported over long distances from Eastern Europe.
Fortunately, animal welfare has improved over the years, thanks mainly to the large expat population in Spain. There are many groups of Scandinavian, German and British expats working closely with their Spanish and Canarian neighbors to re-home stray and abandoned animals. In the Canary Islands, for instance, large numbers of dogs are flown to Germany and the Netherlands for re-homing each year by groups of dedicated volunteers.
During my time as a reporter in the Costa Blanca, I began to ask many questions about why there were so many healthy looking, but stray dogs in municipal pounds. The answer gradually became clearer when I moved to the Canary Islands. Much is due to cultural traditions. Many people on the islands have dogs and cats as pets, and they are mostly well cared for, but not in the traditional British sense. In the Canary Islands, many dogs are let out of their homes onto the streets after breakfast to roam freely until the end of the day when they return home for their food. In the old days this may have been acceptable in villages without cars, but nowadays it is both foolish and dangerous, yet the tradition persists. I have known of many instances where a well-meaning expat has seen a dog roaming the streets and, thinking it must be homeless, has taken it to the municipal pound for re-homing or worse. The reality is that in many cases Pedro has been let out for the day, has a home, and intended to return to it for his evening meal, until the well-meaning expat intervened.
The spaying and neutering of cats and dogs is not the norm in Spain and the Canary Islands, as it is in the UK and many other European countries. This is mainly because it is very expensive, and there are few opportunities for this service to be provided free of charge to less advantaged families, thereby reducing the stray dog and cat population.
Life in Spain and the Canary Islands is pretty good overall, with the exception of animal welfare. The old adage that you can judge a civilized society by the way that it treats its animals is very true, and the country’s leaders and its citizens would do well to remember it.