The Canary Islands were not named after canary birds – although wild canaries were first discovered on the islands. No, they get their name from a different creature altogether – dogs. For many in Tenerife however, the name is sadly ironic, given that the island is stuffed to the gunnels with unwanted and abandoned dogs.
Not so long ago, Tenerife’s animal shelters received bad press brought about mostly by overcrowding. With few resources to deal with the burgeoning population of unwanted dogs, those shelters that did exist, simply became overwhelmed. Add to that some unseemly in-fighting (which I neither understand not care to write about) and the outlook for dogs on the island grew ever more bleak. Thankfully all that is in the past. Today, while the number of unwanted pets remains a challenge, the different animal shelters and organisations on Tenerife have pulled together and there is a greater spirit of co-operation between them.
Using Facebook as a communication base, the charities and privately run shelters share information on specific dogs or cats (and occasionally goats, horses, rabbits…) and and work together to raise funds and find homes. Even with this new co-ordination however, the task of caring for the islands unwanted four legged friends is relentless. Why then is one small band of volunteers trying so hard to bring yet more unwanted dogs to the island?
Giving Death Row Dogs a Second Chance
Shirley Burton of PetEx Tenerife, is the person to call if you need to organise getting your pet shipped into or out of Tenerife. She also boards dogs, keeping her charges not in outdoor kennels but in her own house, treated for the duration of their stay as a part of her family. On top of that and less well known, Shirley handles a constant stream of homeless cats and dogs, working with a handful of foster homes to keep the animals safe and in a loving environment until forever homes can be found.
On 17th of July, Shirley received a link on her Facebook page:
“When I clicked through my heart stopped. The link went to a gallery of dogs and cats that were scheduled to be put to sleep in Gran Canaria. The pictures are heartbreaking. Presumably the shelter is killing these cats and dogs because they are, like the shelters here in Tenerife, already overcrowded but the selection seems to be being made on a first in – first out basis with no though given to the adoptability of the dog or cat.
There are puppies and kittens on the deathlist as well as dogs that would appeal to breed lovers including a Boxer, Dalmations, English Bulldogs, German Shepherds and Yorkies.”
Shirely and Sharon from Cat’s Welfare, agreed to each sponsor a Gran Canaria dog to save it from being euthanised at the end of the month and then Shirley posted the story on the Paws 4Thought Facebook page, a members page set up to highlight lost or abandoned pets in Tenerife. The response was immediate.
Within a day the two English Bulldogs, the Boxer, one of the Dalmations, a kitten and a few mixed breeds had been sponsored and two dogs adopted. Paws for Thought members pledged financial support and started to share the Death Row Dogs story among their friends. To help get the word out, local resident Steve Sands of Pets 2 Vets, created a page to display the Gran Canaria kill shelter dogs and keep interested members updated on progress.
Perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone in the animal care community in Tenerife is completely in agreement with the Gran Canaria pet rescue plan. A few questioned why so much effort was being put into rescuing dogs and cats from a neighbouring island when our own is overflowing with strays and unwanted pets. Asked to comment on this Shirley says:
It is entirely understandable why questions have been raised. There are many dogs already on Tenerife that have been living in a shelter for years and there are others who will be PTS before homes can be found. There is no sugar-coating the size of problem. However, the outpouring of support for the unfortunate animals in Gran Canaria has maybe highlighted that more has to be done to get the word out. Why shouldn’t the animal organisations across the Canary Islands do more to support each other? Imagine a central database where every stray, lost or abandoned dog is listed, joint fund-raising and cross-island co-ordination. As an autonomous community of Spain, perhaps the residents of all the Canary Islands could pull together to demand better conditions and governement support for strays and abandoned animals. Maybe then the name Canary Islands really will mean Islands of the Dogs.
This story has only just begun. Gran Canaria resident and authorof Gran Canaria Local, Matthew Hirtes, has volunteered to contact the shelter in Gran Canaria and co-ordinate the release of the first of the dogs to Tenerife. Once that is in hand, the real work of getting them rehomed will begin. Whether for the Gran Canaria ‘death row dogs’ or Tenerife’s own multitude of homeless animals more foster homes and forever homes are needed.
As an animal lover and Tenerife resident I am watching with great interest and will keep you updated.
Although the effort to save the Gran Canaria death row dogs was first posted to the Paws4Thought facebook page, the admins there have made it clear that they do not wish to be involved. They wish to concentrate on the many pets that are in need of help in Tenerife. Given the great job they do locally with so few resources, this is perfectly understandable. Therefore, if you wish to donate, foster or adopt any of the Gran Canaria death row dogs or have any information about urgent rescue cases in any of the Canary Islands, please visit Death Row Dogs Canaries.