One Algarve Residents Battle for Animal Welfare in PortugalThis an article in recognition of a very special Algarve resident acknowledging his ambition and dedication in realising his dream that is also close to our hearts. We are proud to be a small part of and support him in achieving his vision.
Animal Rescue Algarve (ARA)
Founded in 2017, Animal Rescue Algarve (ARA) is a charitable association which owns and operates an animal shelter dedicated to the improvement of dog and cat welfare in Portugal.
ARA is a legally constituted Portuguese Charity Association, its prime objective is caring for and subsequently, rehoming stray abandoned and distressed dogs and cats.
The charity was founded by Algarve resident and English businessman, Sid Richardson, who funded the total capital cost of the project and has also financed running costs since its beginning.
The governing body of the Association comprises twelve individuals who are all volunteers. Especially important to ARA is not just the improvement of animal welfare locally but hopefully throughout the whole of Portugal.
Sid Richardson’s “I have a dream”
The dream of creating ARA has been developed over many years I’ve been an animal lover all my life and I’ve supported animal sanctuaries and shelters in England before I moved to Portugal over 25 years ago.
Around 20 years ago I rescued a retriever from an animal shelter in the Algarve that dog became my best friend.When looking at the state of animal welfare in Portugal it was clear that someone needed to improve the situation and attempt to open the eyes of the bodies that could do so.
As a successful businessman both in the UK and Portugal and having accumulated wealth, I woke up one morning and decided why wait until I’m dead for this to happen let’s do it tomorrow.
Most people regard Portugal as an advanced European country, but when it comes to animal welfare I’m afraid it’s not. And so the idea was born, our intention was to open a self-sufficient shelter for abandoned and distressed animals.
So we found Cabanita which is a beautiful place in a valley as a starting point. It was basically a forest so we spent the first six months clearing and over an 18-month period we built eco-friendly insulated shelters.
We were always careful to respect nature and not to cut down trees. The kennels were all made with thermally insulated air boxes with fireproof tiles.
If you go back two years you wouldn’t see stray dogs in the streets because of the simple reason that up until that point, and this applies to most municipalities across the Algarve, they would collect healthy dogs and destroy them if they weren’t collected within seven days.
A law was passed in 2018 that became enacted, they had a two-year lead-in period, and the responsibility is with each local council to provide shelter for abandoned animals. You would think this was good news and perhaps one day it will be good news, but I can tell you that the facilities and the funds available for this purpose would account for less than two per cent of abandoned animals.
When a new animal arrives we always do a quarantine period of about 15 days to see if the animal has some kind of problem or disease. Obviously, if it is an animal that is very weak and sick, it is immediately sent to the veterinary clinic.
Usually what we do are prevention, vaccinations, deworming, microchips, prevention of the most common diseases, and sterilisations and we take care of animals when they are sick.
It is very common in diseases like leishmania, for an animal to reach a very bad condition and close to dying, but that for us is not an impediment to rescuing and treating them, we try everything possible. With the right treatments, love and care they can end up recovering and having a normal life.
The only way to make rehoming of animals work is to have a ratio of staff to the number of dogs so that dogs can be socialised walked and prepared for rehoming I know of many shelters where the dogs won’t get re-homed because they just wouldn’t fit into that environment.
So what saddens me is that probably 60-70 of domestic dogs that are rescued are destined for a life of being locked up like wild animals which they’re not.
The Cabanita is a fantastic place where we operate with the universal platform “Workaway” and I suppose it’s to our advantage that we are in the Algarve which is a popular spot to work away with many people. So at any one time, we provide accommodation for up to 20 work away volunteers.
We have local and Workaway volunteers, whereby we provide accommodation and food in exchange for daily hours of work.
Usually, the volunteers who come here are all animal lovers and this energy is felt and passed on to the dogs which decreases the animal’s stress and nervousness.
All of this I think is a great differentiator between our association and other associations that have volunteer programs. Our experience is so immersive that it always benefits the animals.
We couldn’t afford to pay 20 volunteers and that’s why it works so well they, also help us in adoptions they help us spread the word. Fortunately for us, we get great reviews and we actually have a waiting list.
It’s amazing and we are very proud and very pleased with what we have achieved. The lessons we have learnt and the adoption rate. Because the main reason we are here is to save animals but then ultimately find them a forever home and we’re doing that very successfully, we are now averaging 25 adoptions a month.
In my opinion, what ARA offers is a quality of life for the animals and that is one of our fundamental rules. We do not allow more than two dogs in each kennel unless they are siblings or mothers and children.
During the day they have access to the parks when they go for walks, they are together and socialise, they are true animals and can be in contact with nature and each other.
At the end of the day, they rest in their kennels where each dog has their own bed, and clean blankets, we also have the lights and heat lights on during the night when it is cold or recovering from surgery.
We try to be very conscious in our adoptions, when a family wants to adopt an animal, we always ask them to come to our shelter at least two or three times, especially in the case of adult dogs, so they can create an emotional link and not be a drastic change in their environment.
When adopting an animal families sign a term of responsibility. Animals are never taken by the adopter, it is always the team members who take the animal to the family home.
What we will evaluate is whether the animal will have access to the inside of the house, if there are already other animals and if they will react well to the presence of the new animal. So really if the adopted animal will be a member of the family.
For us, it is important to have constant feedback about the animal’s welfare when they leave the shelter. One thing we mention to all the families that have passed through the shelter and adopted an animal is that if anything changes in their life or circumstances we will always accept the animal back.
For us, they are not numbers but are part of our family and if they have passed through the shelter, they will have left their mark and will always be welcomed back.
If you bear in mind that we have eight permanent staff and 12 permanent volunteers because they come to stay for two or three weeks, so we always have volunteers, it takes a lot of money to run the place and that’s with a hundred dogs. Imagine what would it cost to run 300 dogs!
Our costs are split into three basic areas which are vets’ costs, dog food and wages. These places cost a lot to run but there is significant money out there even if it’s international money, when you look at the UK, the charity monies that come into institutions, particularly dog homes are huge.
Unfortunately, Portugal is not a big charity-minded country, that’s just a fact it just doesn’t have that kind of background so raising funds and raising money to run places like ARA and others is critical.In January 2020 we opened a charity shop in Almancil. The store is named Wooff – Worn Only Once Fashion & Furniture – and was created to serve as an additional source of income for the shelter.
The Wooff charity shop is a fundamental way for ARA being able to get funds to support the ongoing costs all of the items sold in the shop are donated by the general public.
It’s completely run by volunteers, they give up their precious time every week to support ARA and without them, it would be impossible to keep the costs down and maximise the profits going into ARA.So successful has the shop in Almancil been that in January 2022 a further shop was opened in Loule.
We would just we’d like to continue the way we’re we’re doing a Cabanita but our big, big desire is to see a general improvement in attitude and will on behalf of municipalities and government towards the welfare of animals problem.
We have the opportunity here perhaps, with the help of outside people, when I say outside people I mean outside entities from Portugal, to perhaps be able to do something greater for animal welfare in Portugal and to be able to indicate to the government at all levels that something is not quite right.
In fact, something is very wrong and given that we could show them how to perhaps do different things, be able to bring in international people to assist the government to create awareness and perhaps an umbrella situation where many of these sanctuaries and homes could relate to.
We could create something much healthier for animal welfare in Portugal. Once we feel the job has been done here, we may be able to help another shelter improve.
I have that dream. Sid Richardson