I now find myself in Brazil (more precisely Bahia, the city of Vitoria da Conquista). It’s a long way from the UK; as Tolkein put it “It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
The city is bustling and although it’s winter, still hot and sunny most days. Each day I watch countless straydogs on the street too but since I came here with strict warnings not to bring them all home I went to the local animal rescue shelter, Associacao Amiga dos Animais (AMA).
This shelter is run almost single handedly (with the help of her children and a few volunteers) by a lady called – yes, for real – Nice (pronounced Neesy). She has hundreds of stray dogs and cats in her care in different degrees of health, from those with no visible problems aside from hunger to those with missing limbs, paralysis or cancer of the mouth. Many of the dogs in Vioria da Conquista simply go to AMA themselves (the place has become a bit of a celebrity cause if not in the human world at least in the world of street dogs) so the residence is always teeming with new cases.
Arriving in the door of Nice’s home the first day that Andre brought me to visit AMA I was greeted by an orchestra of excited barking, after which the surprisingly small, strong and cheerful Nice appeared to let us in. Her young son was there and they were in the middle of removing hair from a small (previously white) dog badly in need of treatments for wounds caused by a car accident. Once the matted hair could be removed, they would be able to see the extent of the damage and more easily disinfect and clean the dog. In the meantime about 10 other dogs wandered around the yard; a chocolate labrador tied up and drying after a wash; a 3-legged miced breed with a broad grin on his sandy-coloured face; a huge, soppy rottweiler wagging her body with excitement and (hold your breath) a little tortoise looking deceptively like a small rock.
To help support Nice and her work in creating AMA I offered to paint some of the residents for the cause; an offer which she enthusiastically welcomed. She assured me there were 3 dogs she especially wanted me to paint; and as promised Andre and I returned on the sunday to take their photos. We arrived in time to wash and walk a young, enthusiastic yellow labrador (who didn’t know the meaning of the word lead and thought it a great sport to roll in the acres of red dust on the roads straight after being washed); after which I was introdiced to the models for painting.
The 3 dogs brought themselves over to greet us despite paralysed hind legs (more car accidents); their faces bright and friendly. Or – more accurately – the 2 girls were friendly. Ninu, a little black dachshund, preferred to defend his females and tell every intruder to back off in no uncertain terms. After lengthy negotiations all 3 dogs were specially dressed in little t-shirts and placed in their wheelchairs for a photo shoot. The were was one more added complication; the 2 girls were at that time of the month only experienced by females and which made them a beacon to all the other resident male dogs. This Ninu could not tolerate; he inflated his tiny form to 6 foot tall and hurled abuse across the wires of the enclosure where he was held.
In the end, the photos were taken, and Nice explained that she would love to reascue some of the many overworked and homeless horses, donkeys and mules too. But they had never had anyone to work with them who had experience to offer. My limited work for a year and a half at Lee Valley Riding Stables interested her a lot; so with promises that I would love to help and to let me know any time Andre and I began to plan the future…