Category Archives: A.C.E.
Some people have made vast fortunes playing with money. Others have let them do so – by turning a blind eye, either to maintain the status quo, line their pockets, keep their parliamentary seat or preserve the possibility of honours. Although relatively few in numbers, the damage these people have done has had brought countries to their knees. It has affected and is affecting thousands, millions of people.
The story I’m about to tell is just one among these millions. It may appear insignificant in the great scheme of things. But for one man and his old dog, their world has shattered. Their story is not unique. Similar scenes are being played out all over Europe.
Spain, like many other places, has been badly hit by the recession. People have lost their jobs, their houses. Families have been broken up. One of the consequences is that people are no longer able to keep their pets. So they bring them to the killing stations, abandon them, or in some few cases try to find them a place in rescue centres.
The organisation I’m involved with is called ACE – Animal Care Espana, in Southern Spain. The rescue centre itself is called El Refugio, founded by Fabienne Paques nearly fourteen years ago. Like all the others it’s full to bursting now, with ever more dogs arriving or being dumped at the gates daily.
He came to the gate in tears. A young man of about 35. He’d lost his job. As a result his marriage had broken up. His wife had thrown him out with just a backpack and his dog, his Joyma. He had no car. No family he could call on. He’d been trudging from refuge to refuge to ask them to take Joyma. He loved him too much to even think of bringing him to a killing station or to simply abandon him. All the centres were full, besides nobody was willing to take in an old dog.
El Refugio is full, over full. But Fabienne couldn’t turn him away. She couldn’t find the young man a home or a job, but she could take his dog. She’d make room. She would give him the only thing she could – the assurance that his Joyma would be well taken care of. It was distressing for everyone, so emotional. Heartbreaking. The dog was drooling in fear – clinging to his master. Don’t leave me.
The young man left, weeping. His Joyma is safe and will be found another loving home, but that’s of no interest to the old Cocker Spaniel. For he is grieving, pining for his best friend whom he lost today. As to the young man he too has lost his best friend. He’s lost everything. Tonight he’ll sleep on the street. Alone.
This is the human cost of the recession.
I find it almost impossible to believe that just over a year ago, on 19th May to be precise, I had never been to El Refugio, the rescue centre in Spain. It’s called El Refugio for a reason - it truly represents salvation for thousands of abandoned and abused dogs. They come in all shapes and sizes – some are old, some are hardly born, many are damaged physically. From the moment they come into the Refugio or into foster care, every single dog is treated with kindness and care – a visit to the vet, a nice bath, good food, kind words and above all a cuddle. And, soon, very soon we hope, the golden basket – a loving family of their very own and no more sadness and pain.
I’d left England the day before, May 18th, on a very early flight. I settled into my apartment, slept and prepared to go up the next day.That night, around 2a.m., I was woken by the most violent thunderstorm I have ever experienced. The sky was a pulsating electric blue, the rain lashed the windows, the wind howled. It went on for several hours. Next morning the sky was blue, the sun shone, the air was fresh. I phoned for a taxi to take me to El Refugio. I got there at 10. At this point I still had no idea of the enormity of what had happened. I soon found out. As I walked up towards the portakabins I could see it. The place was a sea of mud, the dogs were covered in mud, parts of the hill had slid down in several places. People were busy digging, hosing, sluicing. Marjolijn, a Dutch volunteer, introduced herself, showed me where to find a sluicer and we just got stuck in. A generator was brought in.
Everyone worked non-stop. All that day, and the next day and the next. People came from everywhere. The phone never stopped ringing from 7.30 am and into the night. The local radio station appealed for help. Another dog charity brought a van load of food. I hadn’t known it at the time, but over the next days I discovered that the deluge had destroyed all the food stores, all the medicine, all the towels and the blankets and much else beside. The weaker dogs were in danger and some died. From pneumonia, from hypothermia. It was the saddest of times. A time that no one associated with A.C.E. will ever forget.
May 19th 2012 – the pictures tell their own story. Bigger, better, stronger. Nevertheless, the demands are great and growing daily. Spain is in a dreadful state, the dogs are under even greater threat. El Refugio is constantly under pressure. But it’s still going, thanks to the immense efforts, love and devotion of the founder of A.C.E. Fabienne and team Spain, of team Holland and of Team Belgium – of every single volunteer, worker, student, supporter, donor, foster parent – everyone and anyone who makes this brilliant organisation what it is today. And the work goes on.