#40 - Man’s Best Friend

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“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights.
That is the way of a whole human being.”
Abraham Lincoln


Anybody that knows anything about me really knows that I am a dog lover. In fact, I am an overall pet lover as seen by my family’s animal menagerie of three dogs, two cats, and two chickens. We consider each animal a family member – each with a name and a personality – contributing to our overall happiness in various ways whether it be by giving us that egg to fry or by giving us that extra nudge to take some exercise or by just the satisfaction of seeing how happy these furry and feathered friends are with simply a little cuddling and petting. These things bring me, my wife, and daughter joy. Isn’t that what life is all about?

My family and I are actually known for our pets. In fact, my best man at my recent wedding started off his toast saying that to know us (meaning my wife and I) was to know our animals and went on to say that he met us through one of our dogs. So you can see these furry, feathered and previously gilled creatures have given us so much…dear friends included. So please don’t laugh when I say that –yes!- I attempted certain resuscitation techniques that I had looked up online to save one of our goldfish that we once had. Unfortunately she passed on despite my attempts…hopefully to a better place.

Though I have always loved animals, I do not claim to have always been the most responsible of owners. Obviously maturity has made me a better pet owner. I am far better with taking the dogs out more regularly and consistently and for an adequate amount of time. I am more concerned about the food they eat and about balancing tasty treats with their health needs. However, despite any shortcomings that I may have had or indeed, still have, I have always treated my pets in a humane way. In fact, my maturity is only one factor that has improved my ability to care properly for my animals. The greatest contributor to my being what I consider a decent pet owner has to do with the sadness and shock of how pets (in particularly dogs) were treated here in Portugal when I began living here almost 14 years ago. Not much has changed.

At the time, though, I was truly shocked to see dogs living their entire lives on a leash or chain in the front or backyard of people’s homes in the countryside…areas where they could and should have plenty of space to move about. I was shocked to see dogs that had been abandoned at the end of the hunting season and during summer holidays when owners either no longer needed or wanted their dogs. Not wanting to pay an extra expense to board a dog or take the time to find someone to look after their dog, many owners simply preferred to abandon their pet when it came time for their holiday. Sadly, many still do. A former student of mine once told me that her boyfriend worked for bridge security in Lisbon and that I would have been surprised at the amount of cases where pets were simply thrown off bridges as families made their way to the Algarve for their beach holiday.

As I have said, not much has changed since I have been living here, especially in terms of people’s overall mentality towards their pets. There are still plenty of dogs abandoned and good many continue to live their lives attached to a chain. But I have newfound hope. As of July 25th, Parliament approved a bill first proposed last December by the PSD Social Democrat party which will make the mistreatment and/or abandonment of pets a crime that will be included in the Portuguese Penal Code. Such crimes will now be punishable with stiff fines or prison sentences. The fact that this bill was even proposed let alone passed as law surely must be some indication of a changing mentality. Of course, it will all come down to whether such a law will actually be enforced here in Portugal. Though hopeful, I am wary as many laws here are simply overlooked or become extremely difficult to implement successfully. I truly hope the law will be taken seriously and will lead to educational initiatives that will further shape public opinion for the better. As Kant so eloquently wrote… “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.

Let’s open up our hearts.

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