The furore of the supermarket summer selling of horse meat inclusion in processes products was shocking enough but less than 18 months ago in Spain a full investigation was going on when it was suspected that the stolen carcasses of hundreds of stray dogs had entered the food chain. How on earth could that happen? Fifteen tons of dead, stray dog carcasses were discovered in a warehouse which the authorities presumed were to be processed into protein and fat ready to be added to both animal food and products for human consumption.
Processing plants in two areas of Spain were found to be contaminated by evidence of unacceptable protein. The fact is that the disposal of stray dogs is a massive problem in Spain, the numbers are difficult to come to terms with and while they are bound for incineration after death the grisly remains were seen as a potential source of money to a gang who really had no conscience about contamination of foodstuff for both animals and humans.
The typical pound in Spain is dangerously overcrowded, ten or more dogs to a pen where, of course, fights break out among the stressed animals. The reason there are so many abandoned dogs has similarities with every other European country, financial strain, breakdowns of relationships and no feeling of responsibility towards owned animals. Add to this is the burden of expats leaving Spain over the last few years because of the financial downturn, walking away from their pets rather than paying for a pet passport and to top it all, the abuse of hounds and gundogs in the hands of careless hunters who see little reason to feed a dog who does not come up to a high expectation and there you have the horrifying mass abandonment of Spanish dogs in a country twice the size of the UK.
Over the last few months a new organisation has come together to target a specific group at risk in Spain. I spoke to Cheryl Newland and Diane Bridgwater founders of Settusfree about why they have focussed on Setters in particular. Diane said: “Setters have always been close to my heart and in my house! When I realised how many English Setters in particular were being destroyed in shelters in Spain I felt I had to do something. Cheryl and I have always been involved in rescue either working alone or helping various organisations, so it made sense that if we could help, we would.”
The problem of English Setters in Spain is totally disproportionate to the issues here and in Eire, it seems that the English Setter is a preferred hunting dog there but the wastage of dogs is astounding. All of the Setter types tend to produce quite large litters so the numbers are against them from birth. In the isolated two of Campo hunters are known to hang the dogs that are of no use to them, not even wanting to waste a bullet for a quick death.
If it wasn’t for the sudden closure of a pound in Northern Spain with the impending destruction of all the held dogs, Settusfree might never have been formed but as soon as they were made aware of the emergency Cheryl, Diane, Lynn Holland and Pat Yarrow came together to search for homes in Europe for the 20 English Setters under death sentence. It wasn’t as easy as just finding a home, they decided to work with the available rescue organisations in Spain as well as several breed rescues in the UK to ensure that not only were dogs transported securely and legally but that they could be properly assessed, vet checked and that there was sufficient back up should there be problems when they reached their final destination.
Fundraising and a website followed (www.settusfree.co.uk) from the initial appeal on Facebook and the community responded, offers of help and money have begun to come in through the PayPal account. The cost of rescuing a dog in Spain is frightening, not only is there the release fee from the pound but the cost of kennelling while the vaccinations are given and the wait until the all clear is given for the efficacy of the rabies vaccination. There is also the considerable cost of blood tests for diseases prevalent in hotter climes such as leishmaniasis and the organisation of drugs for any affected dogs.
Transport takes a huge chunk from any fund if it is a decent quality and really it should be for such a long journey. Working closely with Marta Aranoa of Setter Rescue Spain the dogs are held under veterinary supervision while awaiting the results of tests and before they begin their journey north. I know we all have our personal opinion as to whether we should only rescue in our own backyard but it does appear that English Setter Rescue Association already has its hands full with many of its dogs coming from abroad independently of Settusfree, while in the home of the English Setter they are thin on the ground and comparatively rarely arrive in rescue.
There are so many stories of poor or ignorant treatment of these gentle, intelligent dogs that this group is trying to help. Not all of them will be fit enough either mentally or physically to travel immediately and some may never make it to our shores. In the great pool of abandoned dogs in Europe this is barely a pebble dropped into the edge but I would always cheer someone on who tried to make a difference.
The cold nights are creeping into Spain now too, the plea has gone out for blankets and dog coats to offer a promise of warmth to the dogs awaiting their fate, rescues here need the same items. Wherever you choose to send a gift of aid it will be appreciated as winter approaches.
To find out more go to .. Settusfree.org.uk