[Hunters guilty of animal abuse? Imagine that.]
With the start of September comes the start of hunting season, an anticipated moment for hunters across Portugal. But with it come fresh concerns for the dogs used in the activity, particularly after the discovery of a ‘hunting kennel’ in Rogil, Aljezur (Algarve) in May this year, where more than 30 dogs were being kept in shocking conditions.
Emaciated, wounded, and terrified; one by one six dogs were collected from the Rogil kennel by animal rescue association SOS Algarve Animals after weeks of pleading. The owner finally relented, but gave up just half a dozen of his thirty-something dogs. The dogs’ pathetic states were witnessed by The Portugal News as they were loaded into volunteers’ vehicles; their discovery opening a can of worms for local, regional and national authorities. Fortunately for the rescued animals they went on to make full recoveries at SOS’s farm in Almancil and have since been re-homed abroad. But, according to animal welfare associations, the case is far from being a one-off in Portugal and calls for tighter control over hunting kennels in Portugal are growing. According to the European Society for Dog and Animal Welfare (ESDAW), “In Portugal, Spain, France and many other southern countries, dogs are used specifically as a hunting tool. In many of these countries, it is a cruel and deep-rooted tradition that the dogs are believed to hunt better if they are kept starved or even emaciated.” Portugal’s Party for Animals and Nature also believes that the situation in Rogil is “paradigmatic” of what happens in the north and south of this country, and says it is “urgent” that Portugal creates a legal status for its animals so punishment for neglectful owners is on a par with the rest of Europe. National animal rights association Animal has launched a petition ‘For a New Animal Protection Law in Portugal’, which at the time of going to press has amassed close to 72,000 signatures. Yet despite the furore surrounding the Rogil case, so far no action has been taken against the kennel’s proprietor. The kennel in question was first visited by SEPNA nature and environment protection officers, which are part of the GNR police force, on 9 December 2012 after they were contacted by worried locals. At the time the officers counted 31 dogs and listed 29 offences committed: 28 for lack of proper licensing and one for keeping too many dogs in a rustic building. The kennel did have a valid licence issued by the ICNF Nature Conservation Institute for keeping up to 25 hunting dogs for the 2012/2013 season. A letter from SEPNA’s head offices states that at the time of the visit in December no injuries requiring medical assistance were seen on the dogs. But a few months later, in May, The Portugal News received photographic evidence clearly showing otherwise. In one horrific photo a dog has a massive open wound towards the end of its leg with a broken bone visibly jutting out. Other photos show evidently undernourished dogs chained up in pens with floors covered inches-deep in faeces, many dotted with sores and wounds. Authorities eventually returned to the kennel on 23 May this year, but on arrival all but three of the dogs had disappeared. Confronted by SEPNA, the owner claimed he had given his animals to acquaintances and friends. He told the authorities that twelve dogs had been sent to Spain, from where they had originally been purchased; ten had been given to a kennel in northern Portugal, which he refused to identify, and two were given to local friends, who he also refused to identify. He further said he would be taking the three remaining dogs – which a local municipal vet who was accompanying the authorities deemed to be in good health – to a nearby relative’s house. A petition launched by SOS to bring the owner of the Rogil kennel to justice has so far gathered 1,212 signatures, though any action against him has yet to be taken. “I think it is appalling and clearly evident that [he] is allowed to have however many dogs he wants and to treat them however he wants”, said SOS founder Laura McGeoch. Speaking to The Portugal News this week a GNR spokesperson insisted an investigation to verify the location of the missing Rogil dogs is still ongoing. “We are on a good path in terms of material to confirm their whereabouts”, the spokesperson said, adding “all efforts are being made” to locate them. The GNR source further revealed that since the Rogil kennel was brought to their attention the Algarve regional SEPNA is paying closer attention to such set-ups. He elaborated: “The Algarve isn’t really a place where there are many registered kennels; they tend to be found more in the Alentejo. But we are taking great care in inspecting this matter and not just because of the incident in Rogil.”