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!