Wave of Canine Emigration from Madeira

Written by Sheila Toney

For years, Madeiran people have moved abroad to find new opportunities for a better life. Now, increasingly, hundreds of new emigrants are following their example. They are the Island’s unwanted dogs in the care of SPAD – Madeira’s Society for the Protection of Domestic Animals.

The dogs are being found new homes in Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and other European countries, where they are particularly prized for their gentle natures and robust health.

Christopher is typical of the many SPAD strays soon to travel to a new home abroad. A large energetic dog with a big personality, Christopher today bears little resemblance to the half-starved animal found as a stray by a British couple in Santo de Serra last October. David Roberts, a cabinet-maker and sculptor and his wife, Barbara, who live near Chichester in England, took Christopher to SPAD. They returned to the U.K. determined to adopt him. The dog has passed his blood test for rabies antibodies and already he has his own pet passport. As soon as he has completed his quarantine period, he will join David and Barbara in England.

Menina is another SPAD emigrant-in-waiting. A beautiful, friendly little dog, she was noticed by another British couple, Reg and Sheila Limpkin of Battle, East Sussex, while they were staying on holiday at the Pestana Bay Hotel in Funchal last Christmas/New Year. Menina (Portuguese for “young lady”) was living in the hotel grounds with her litter of puppies. Reg and Sheila decided to adopt the dog and they contacted SPAD for help, before they returned home early in January. Menina and her two puppies are now in the care of SPAD at their Funchal kennels, while she waits for the completion of the formalities, which will enable her to travel to England.

Foreign adoptions of SPAD’s stray dogs have been greatly increased, over the last 12 years, by a 69-year-old grandmother, Barbara Linkis of Warnemunde, near Rostock in Germany. Astonishingly, Barbara has single-handedly taken more than 800 unwanted SPAD dogs to new homes in her country. She says simply: “I feel it is my mission in life to take Madeiran dogs to start new lives in Germany. There, they are loved a lot because of their sweet dispositions, perhaps because some German breeds are noted more for their intelligence and strength than for their kind natures!”

Barbara makes frequent visits to Madeira for “working holidays” as a volunteer for SPAD. She helps out with cleaning, feeding and walking the dogs. “Most of all, I give them lots of love and attention”, she says.

After her most recent visit last month (February) Barbara returned home with nine dogs, which have been adopted by German families. She has six SPAD dogs of her own and she also runs a “cat village” for 40 animals. Barbara tells heart-warming stories of the improvements, which adopted dogs have made to their new owners’ lives. “For instance, there was this eight-year old boy, so ill with a serious respiratory disease that he had to receive frequent cortisone injections. After a cute, white dog called Jacky arrived from Madeira to live with him, the boy was completely cured”, she recalls.

Another remarkable recovery from chronic illness was experienced by an elderly woman called Marlene from Barbara’s home town of Warnemunde. She had suffered from depression for eight years and was under constant treatment at her local clinic. The arrival of a dog from Madeira meant that Marlene started to go outside her home to take the animal for walks. Her depression lifted and now, after three years, she remains completely well.

Because her ship’s doctor father had told her that Madeira was “a paradise”, Barbara had always wanted to come to the Island but she was unable to do so until travel restrictions for East Germans were lifted some years ago. On her first visit here she saw a dog running between cars on a road in Funchal. She took charge of the animal and later arranged for it to be adopted by a family in Schleswig Holstein. That was the start of her campaign to facilitate German adoptions of Madeiran dogs.

Over the last 12 years, Barbara has noticed a great change for the better in the way that animals are cared for on Madeira. She says: “A major improvement has come about through the work of SPAD’s dedicated staff, especially young veterinary doctors, such as Sofia Vasconcelos and Raquelle Estudante” She adds: “Even though animals are better treated on Madeira these days, there is still an urgent need for SPAD to receive more help and support from animal-lovers everywhere. I have been especially saddened by the sight of many homeless puppies, which are brought to SPAD without their mothers.”

Doctora Vasconcelos agrees that the multitude of motherless puppies does present SPAD with an ongoing problem. She explains: “We neuter five dogs every day but still the puppies keep arriving. They all need homes with caring owners so we want many more people - local as well as foreign - to adopt them and also more volunteers to help us look after the hundreds of beautiful animals (cats as well as dogs) in our care.”

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