The Telegraph 30/01/2013
Britons abandon dogs as they quit Spain
British expatriates are dumping their dogs by the side of motorways or leaving them to starve in boarded-up villas as the credit crunch forces them to abandon their Spanish dream and fly home.
Rescue centres along the Costa del Sol report that their intake of animals has almost doubled in the last year, leaving them full to overflowing with some 1,000 abandoned dogs - and unable to care for any more.
Although it is not always possible to be certain who owned the abandoned dogs, these figures and the experiences of animal welfare workers suggest that scores of Britons, defeated by the credit crunch, have simply flown home and left their dogs to fend for themselves in Spain.
Despite the UK's reputation as a nation of dog lovers, one rescue centre manager claimed that when it comes to abandoning pets "the British are the worst culprits".
Among the worst cases encountered were pets left tied to balconies or released at popular nature spots in the vague hope that a dog walker might find them and take them in.
"It's incredible," said Maria Stevens, kennel manager at the Adana animal rescue centre. "People find the time to pack up their furniture and other belongings and yet their pets' welfare is an afterthought."
At the centre in the hills above the resort of Estepona, more than 150 dogs are crammed into enclosures designed for only half that number.
"We simply don't have the room for many more and yet they keep coming," said Mrs Stevens, 47, explaining that until last summer an average of 90 dogs were held at the centre at any one time.
She pointed to Sally, a cocker spaniel with her nose pressed against the fence. "She's an absolute sweetie but she is suffering trauma after being found in the central reservation of the motorway near the airport. God knows what her owners were thinking."
Recently three small dogs were found in a boarded up villa on the outskirts of Estepona weeks after their British owners left because they could not keep up their mortgage payments.
"It was an incredible act of cruelty," said Mrs Stevens. "The dogs had been left some food and water but if a neighbour hadn't heard the barking and called us they would have eventually started eating each other before starving to death."
At the AAA rescue centre near Marbella, its administrator Celia Lago said: "It's always the same story. People have to go home to their countries because their dream life hasn't panned out here in Spain but it's the animals that suffer. And the British are the worst culprits."
Mrs Lago explained that British quarantine laws made it especially difficult for returning British expatriates to take their dogs with them. She said the pet passport scheme, which allows animals clear of rabies to be brought into Britain, can take up to seven months and cost £1,000 in vet and kennel fees.
"The Germans or Dutch just put their pets in the back of the car and off they go, but the Brits don't have that option," she said.
Her centre is currently caring for 200 abandoned dogs, and in the last two months it has dealt with a total of 300 dogs - almost double the number for the corresponding period last year.
If this trend continues, the centre estimates it could face an intake of up to 2,000 dogs in 2009 compared to 916 in 2008. Most of these, Mrs Lago said, were abandoned by expatriates.
An estimated million Britons have made their home on the Costas. But as unemployment reaches the highest in the eurozone and with the pound plummeting against the euro many are now returning home.
"That doesn't excuse the huge number of British people who just abandon their pets," said Mrs Lago. "A dog is like a member of the family. They wouldn't just leave their children behind would they?"
Animal lovers have already become distressed to see so many dogs roaming the streets. Susan Broadley, 60, a property management agent who has lived in Estepona for 27 years, rescued a dog that was in "a terrible state", coaxing it into her car. But, she said tearfully, it had to be put down.
“People don’t seem to realise that turning their dog out to fend for itself is a form of cruelty. It’s horrible and it’s happening more and more,” she said.