Attitudes to Domestic Animals in Rural Portugal

The attitudes toward domestic animals in rural Portugal was one of the first, and the hardest, lessons I had to learn on arrival here. In Portugal, with the exception of a few pampered pooches and overindulged kitties in the cities, most animals the western world consider to be domestic animals are, in fact, considered working animals and are treated as such.

These are not the “Bo Obamas” the Portuguese Water Dog that shares the White House, these dogs are yard dogs, usually tethered but with access to shelter from the sun and lots of water. They function as guard dogs, early warning systems; they are also used for hunting and for animal herding. They are fed basic food — usually dry kibble and if they are lucky, scraps from the table.

In most villages you will find informal packs of dogs which roam through the village — they are adopted by the village and feed them in return for the “protection” that the dogs provide.

The same goes for cats. In some ways, they are more important for the farmer and for the villagers — they are vermin control. In the villages, there are known “cat corner” feeding stations where all the feral cats are fed the scraps from local households. They eat a lot of rice.

Farm cats are the same as farm dogs — they are working animals — they are cute and fluffy and NOT allowed in the house. They have jobs to do! They get basic rations and are expected to hunt for any extras.

They are not neutered there are two veterinarian fees for this are extortionate and the attrition rate is very high. They are vulnerable to attacks from dogs, birds of prey, and mongoose. They are also at risk from poisoned animals such as mice and rats and traffic and farm machinery. The two females we have usually have small litters; we usually keep one from each litter and share the others with our neighbours.

We have managed to find a balance between the English and the Portuguese way. The females get fed milk in with their kibble when they are pregnant. They also get protected housing such as the garage if they wish — one does the other does not and they get extra food when the kittens arrive.

When I arrived there was a tribe of four unrelated cats; Touriga, starring at the head of this article, and named after Touriga National — a variety of Portuguese Grape; Black Mommy, a stray who arrived and who fostered two male kittens that were a year old when I arrived called Roberto and Mr Grey — because he was grey.  Left to right Roberto, Black Momma, Mr Grey:

There being cats and a mad cat lady like me, you can be sure there will be more adventures to come — because as we all know cats rule the internet!

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12 thoughts on “Attitudes to Domestic Animals in Rural Portugal

  1. This is a wonderful, inventing, and touching article, Nicola! Thank you for writing it. I am so sad looking at the cat on the roof.

    I am glad you are able to take up the effort to help provide love and support for these animals, and I know it isn’t easy. Janna and I grew up in the Midwest and our parents came from farm country. They have ZERO tolerance for any sort of cat or dog as “pets.” Cats, especially, are forsaken — and NEVER allowed in the house — because they are made to live in a barn to catch mice that eat the horse feed.

    Dogs, as you suggest, are sentinels warning against the unknown and the foreign.

    We were both able to finally get cats in our childhoods, but the costs was many deaths. Cats are made for living inside the home, and our mothers would always push them outside. Everything outside is bigger and meaner than a cat and their chances for survival out there alone, are pretty slim over the long arc of many days. It’s hard to learn to say goodbye a lot to your cats when you are young.

    1. P.S. —

      I don’t like to pick favorites between cats — but that first image of Touriga is stunning! Now, that’s a cat who knows how to have fun! SMILE!

  2. […] I introduced Black Momma and Touriga in my last post. These are the matriarchs of the tribe.  Next in seniority is Fleabag. Fleabag holds a special place in my heart. His mother Touriga sought sanctuary in the house after a particularly loud and vicious fight during my first weeks here. She arrived meowing on the doorstep with this tiny little scrap of a kitten audibly begging to be let in. […]

  3. The cat on the roof is one of my favorites – she lurks there most afternoons waiting for dinner. The roof gives her a good vantage point which equates to first place at the plate! if you are very lucky you may get a leg rub as your pass if she is at ground level.

    The attrition rate is hard to deal with – Roberto and Mr Grey have both now vanished – along with a whole litter of Black Mommas last year.

    One thing I like about our house is our outdoor dining area that runs alongside the house and which is now covered – this is where the feeding frenzy takes place and where box city resides it keeps the cats who do live outside close by and gives them shelter.

    Touriga has the most amazing colouring and I am glad to say she has plumped up a little bit now she has been looked after – I will keep you updated.

    We may have a new arrival on the way – I was offered a neutered part siamese male kitten today who is 8 months old and desperately needs a home. WATCH THIS SPACE !

    1. I’m glad “Roof Cat” is getting love and attention. I don’t know if I could handle the wondering of where the cats have gone… I would always tend to tip to the worst…

      I love the new arrivals! That will always keep things lively and fun!

      We need more cat articles!

  4. I had hoped to get a picture of roof cat and or the other corner cats – took a special trip out the other afternoon with the camera but the weather was so bad they were all in hiding – there was not one cat or dog to be seen ! It was however comforting to know that they had found somwhere to shelter.

    The gentleman we visited today told us a story about the time he visited England. When he left he had five cats – five days later when he returned he had fifteen !

  5. […] Torrega has had her kittens; three were too weak to survive longer than about 36 hours.  Two have made it thus far, a little ginger tom who we are calling Mr B until the real life Mr B comes to name him and a Tortoiseshell female who will be called “little witch” or Bruxinha in Portuguese and who has been claimed by our neighbour “M.” […]

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