Well, there were just too many hours in my day that I had to twiddle my thumbs, so I decided to fill a couple of them with helping out at my local rescue shelter. I have to admit to being rather apprehensive before I visited. I've seen pictures and heard stories from Spanish rescues, and I'm well aware of how grim they can be. But, I thought, if I can offer a little help for just one or two dogs, a couple of hours a week, then it has to be worth it. Yesterday, we popped along to find the place, but today was the first day of actually doing anything. I've decided that, for now, I'm going to limit my involvement to walking dogs and doing a bit of basic training with them. I know how easy it is to be sucked into these organisations, and you feel you can't say no, so I have to be quite hard and say what I'm prepared to do, and not. The rescue itself is small; there are 34 dogs there at present, plus three lots of puppies. I think this is a perfect size to be able to get to know the dogs and their personalities, so I can hopefully help some of them become more adoptable. They are separated into spacious kennels, by age and who they get along best with. Most of the kennels have a large area under cover, with a den inside for sleeping, and gates which are open onto large uncovered runs. In the middle is a small courtyard area, and the dogs are let out, according to who gets on with who, for playing together. It is as clean as you could expect; the kennels are cleaned out and washed down twice a day; even those where the dogs don't toilet in the kennels, the floors are soaked to cool the concrete. The courtyard area is a constant battle of man vs poo with that many dogs using it, so they just keep picking up throughout the day. The kennels with the pups are cleaned more regularly. Would I want my dogs living there? No. But I think, for Spain, it's as good as you could possibly expect. All the dogs seem healthy enough. A few are underweight, but none are terrifyingly so. I was ready to grab a couple and take them out for a walk, but, sadly, that wasn't to be, as the rescue itself has no collars and leads! Obviously, you can't go walking rescue dogs around the campo with no leads, so that will have to wait for another day, once I've bought a couple in different sizes. So, J and I simply spent about 90 minutes getting to know the dogs. We had pouches full of kibble and ham and we were very popular for it! I fell in love at least ten times. Some, like Mammy (what looks like a Spanish Mastiff cross, and the mother of 9 young pups), and Tito (a rough-coated something-or-other; I'm so useless at Spanish breeds!) were there all the time, bugging us for cuddles and food. Just gorgeous, happy dogs. Others, we had to win their confidence; Timi the timid Spanish pastoral dog who wouldn't leave his den, and Atilla the very elderly bitsa, who hid in the corner, but eventually crept closer and closer as J tossed him bits of ham, until he was eating from his hand. The one who I think is going to be my little project is Negreta, a tall black bitch with the most AMAZING ears, who was so nervous, but eventually started to approach. I'm keeping things simple for now. It's hard to do anything approaching training in that sort of environment; the confident dogs push in front of the anxious ones you're trying to work with. Amazingly, there was no bickering of any sort about the food, so I managed to get a little bit of a system in the end. I shut myself in the kennel with Negreta and her kennel-mate, Conchita, who was a touch nervous and serious, but so desperately wanted to be loved, you could tell. My focus with them all is a simple hand touch. That has to be important, right? Not only is it a very simple game that is perfect for starting the learning process, it's surely got to make a dog more adoptable, if they will approach an open hand. And, oh my, the little lights I saw appearing in the eyes of these dogs as they realised that, if they moved towards my hand, they got a treat! One thing I noticed was how these dogs don't sit down. It's quite peculiar. Put a treat above a dog's head, and they'll sit, right? Not these, not a one. I wasn't seriously trying, just dipping my toe in the water, but it was something they all had in common. I'm guessing that they are all on edge just enough that they want to stay prepared for flight, until they're locked back up in their kennels and can relax. And, oh, the poor necks of some of these dogs. Mammy especially, and another sweet little thing (I'm guessing a Podenco cross) called Laila, I think, both had awful scarring around their necks where they had obviously been chained up. Heartbreaking, and yet these dogs are so loving and trusting. I found it so rewarding - essentially, we spent ninety minutes just playing with some lovely dogs, so that's not exactly hard work, but it meant the world to them. Yes, they need people to feed them and clean them and attend to all the basic needs, but they also need people to spend time with them, to communicate with them, and that's one thing I'm more than happy to do. We'll be going back again in a few days; I hope to make it something I do twice a week. I came home and told my crowd just how lucky they are.