Part II: A Trip to Midas
This series of posts is mostly a way for me to process the trauma of going through this. If you’re expecting happy travel content, this ain’t it. This story is number 2 in a series of 5. You can find Part I here. Here you can find the subsequent stories about rescuing a kitten in Porto, Portugal: Part III, Part IV, and Part V.
Are you going to Porto and would you like to do something good on your travels? You can donate money to Midas via Facebook fundings.
Sunday 15th of July
Too damn early, Jonas and I get up to hike from our neighborhood down to the river. That’s where the other Citizen Circle members are waiting to visit the animal shelter Associação Midas. The group is not too big, but altogether we do fill at least four Ubers. We drive west outside of Porto’s ring road. Things look familiar to the metro route we took from the airport; no shit, it’s the same area.
I’m sitting in the car with people who are familiar with Jonas, but not with me. We were promised that the group would get to pet, cuddle, and play with shelter dogs and cats, and people are excited about that. The last few times I’ve been to an animal shelter it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. We arrive at the animal shelter to a closed gate. There’s a constant stream of barking sounds.
The gate requests visitors to please not throw the pets they’re abandoning over the gate – I’m fucking shocked that this apparently needs saying – as it can injure and kill the pet. I’m already crying internally, and the barking is getting to me. While we wait, we can actually peek through the fence into what is unmistakably the cat area. Some looked a little patchy from either life on the streets or from medical treatment, but all of them were quiet but curious.
At last, someone opens the gate for us.
Sounds, Smells, and Smiles
Joana is a young woman in overalls. She’s guiding the group through the animal shelter and does the most talking, as she speaks the most English. Joana also introduces Inês, an older woman who has also been with Midas for a long time. Other, unintroduced people are walking around on the premises as well, just going about their business with wheelbarrows and shovels. With so many animals defecating, it doesn’t smell particularly nice. My senses are a bit overwhelmed as the stench reaches my nose and the barking increases.
Joana gives all of us a handful of snacks, to feed to the dogs. We go through one corridor of dogs in cages, and people start feeding and taking photographs of the dogs. At this point, none of us have an inkling about exactly how large the compound is. Some dogs are in alone in cages with warning signs, or even behind extra fences. Those can’t get snacks.
By we see that the corridor continues left, most of us are out of snacks already. The path leads to more cages with often more than two dogs. All the cages have up-to-date signs with their resident’s names, gender, weight, and size. Then there is an approximated birth year, in case the dog wasn’t chipped before. The sign also informs potential new owners of whether the dog behaves well among other dogs, if it accepts walking on a leash, if it can keep its chill around cats, children, and the elderly. Then it tells you which medical processes the dog has gone through at Midas, like deworming, vaccination, sterilization/castration, and being chipped. There’s always a totally amazing and glamorous picture of the dog, usually giving you its best smile.
We Don’t Deserve Pets
Volunteers like Inês and Joana are the best, most honorable people on earth. They sacrifice their time, money, and energy to fight against a problem that shouldn’t exist to begin with. To clarify: domesticated animals like cats and dogs are human creations. They wouldn’t exist without human interference. We created them to be our companions, keep us safe, and perform work that we’re shit at. They, and I cannot stress this enough, cannot survive in the wild. Pets cannot be abandoned. If they are abandoned, they will suffer.
Add to that the problem of not having any control over their own reproductive system, and you get problems like street dogs and cats. Sterilizing them is an act of compassion to try to put an end to the cycle of suffering. Adopting a shelter pet softens the impact of the person who abandoned that pet (or parent pet), and disincentivizes the business of breeding pets (also known as ‘puppy mills’). Adopting a pet from a shelter and giving them another chance of a loving life with a human companion is a good and honorable thing to do. If you’re looking for a pet and can afford to take care of one, please adopt.
(Thank you for coming to my TED-talk!)
Close Encounters and New Fears
We continue our journey through the compound. The path got wider and there’s some tree to hide under. With Joana’s permission, help, and encouragement, we enter some of the cages.
Now I should mention that I used to be afraid of dogs as a kid after a close encounter as a toddler – which was wholly my asshole-who-doesn’t-know-boundaries fault. I grew out of it when we got a dog into our family. After many years of happily interacting with other dogs around the world, I regret to inform myself that I’ve become, once again, quite afraid of dogs.
In my two years in South America, I’ve been bitten in my ankles, unprovoked, by a tiny hostel dog (and the owner was an absolute dick about it) in Bolivia. In Colombia, I’ve experienced a tight situation when walking to my hitchhiking spot with a Fairly Big Toothed Dog that resulted in me screaming. Like a gringa. In the middle of the street. Until a man shouted something at the dog and it returned to where it came from. (Thank you, shouty man!) By now, my general reaction when a dog starts barking is to freeze, put my hands in front of my face, and possibly cry. Until I notice it’s behind a fence and can’t actually get to me.
Entering the Cages
So we’re entering the cages. It’s hot and I’m already an emotional wreck. The sound is not just getting to me; it has arrived. There are two dogs: Black and Billy. The veterinarians have put the age of Black at 14 years old. Black is definitely a Good Boy who likes our snacks, petting, and attention. Though the animals are well-cared for and all look very healthy, I’m amazed that Black has reached this age in the shelter. It’s just impossible for them to receive all the love and attention they need from the volunteers. It pains me that a sweet dog like that might die in there. So I try to fight the tears until I pet Black and I just can’t. I do a big, silent, ugly cry and do that the entire tour until we are done with the tour of the big dogs.
We end the tour of the dog area back at the entrance. Joana and Inês chose three dogs to go out of their cages and walk around us freely. The dogs are frantic and use the opportunity to the fullest to walk as many large circles as they can. I finally calm down.
How Midas Assesses Character
During our petting break, Joana and Inês tell us more about the arrival of the dogs, and how they fill in the cards attached to the cages. For example, how do they find out a dog is good with kids? “We test them on our own children,” Joana says. Some of the audience is shocked, Gasp! to put your child at that kind of risk! But for the volunteers at Midas, it’s a helpful test to find out more about these dogs that often come without a history.
Just think about it. If people are coming to Midas find a dog, it helps to know if that dog fits those people’s future plans. Do they plan on having human children? If the rescue dog understandably doesn’t like children, it’s good to find this out early, before the people dump the dog back in the lap of Midas. If a potential adopter envisions themselves walking in the park with their rescue dog on a leash, but the dog doesn’t accept that, there will be a different rescue dog that fits their life. This kind of information is crucial in the process of adoption and to end the cycle of dumping pets.
Quarantine and Puppies
After a short break, we continue with the cat area, right next to the entrance and visible from outside the compound. We first get an introduction from outside the big, shadowy, cat area. The cat area is a totally different vibe; there are no sharp sounds: just a steady stream of meows and heavy breathing. More than half is asleep, relaxing, or otherwise emanating Zen. Ears are damaged, patches of fur are shaved-off, and eyes are sewn shut or cloudy. The barking fades into the background noises.
Before entering the cat cage, we first go by the quarantine area, the puppies, and the clinic in a smaller group. There are only a few dogs in quarantine. All the animals first have to go through quarantine and get dewormed, chipped, vaccinated, and castrated/sterilized before they can join the other dogs in their cages.
Quarantine is very lonely. One quarantined dog named Rafa has no other information on its sign, but its name and date of birth. It’s an exact date, so it seems that Rafa’s owners either passed away, or abandoned him. Under condition, it says “in quarantine”. He’s only 1,5 years old, but already looks defeated. Our hosts encourage us not to try to touch quarantined dogs.
Then there are a few cages with puppies. One is all by itself and very active when we come by, needing attention. Inside the cage is another, smaller fence to keep the pup away from the big fence. Another puppy cage contains a whole nest of goofy little pups. In the darkness, I count five of them. Technically, their youth makes them more easily adoptable, but it’s still an incredibly tough start at life.
We enter a small building with the cat quarantine area. The cages are smaller and everything looks more clinical. It’s harder to follow what Joana is saying about them since it’s such a confined space. I try to read the signs. There’s a special space to write whether the cat tested positively or negatively for FIV, which I learn is HIV but for cats. Most are negative or still have to be tested.
We get a warning for one particularly chonky cat, that apparently has aggressive tendencies. Another cat has a sign that says that it’s not up for adoption; through the microchip, they’ve tracked down the owner and found out that the cat is merely lost.
Our tiny group exits the clinic. We’re going into the big cat cage now. Some people who weren’t too enthusiastic around the dogs become suddenly very psyched. They grab toys and look for a willing cat to intrigue them with movement. I don’t know how to play with cats. I only know how to pet them in an acceptable manner so they won’t claw me and sometimes I manage to let them sleep on my lap.
The cats who don’t like our presence seclude themselves from us. There is one blind cat with the most beautiful ombré coat. She doesn’t move a lot, except with her cute head. It’s harder to connect with the cats in part because they’re not in semi-individualized cages that group them by character, like the dogs. The name and picture signs are on the outside. All of them are just named Cat, Kitteh, Floof, Clawpaws, and Mr. Grumps to me.
I remind myself of the trapped kitten back at our Airbnb and suddenly feel the urge to ‘Study the Cat’.
Jonas and I ask Joana for advice about our situation.
Asking Midas for Advice on our Kitten Situation
Joana asks us what the situation looks like. We tell her about the abyss-like shaft between apartments, the different levels within the shaft, and where the kitten can and cannot get to. She tells us that as long as it’s on private property, Midas would need permission from the owners to take action for a rescue operation. Only in public places can they really be called up and help. Maybe with police intervention…
This news breaks my heart, as there must be so many places in Porto where kittens go to die.
The Money for Midas
It’s the end of the tour. The event organizer uses the time to make a little speech about how much money they’ve raised for Midas (€1400). I am uncomfortable, and already at home in my mind with the kitten. If only we had a ladder!
In this post, I’ve altered some names for privacy and anonymity.