Louise Coppin moved with her family from the UK to the Alentejo region of Portugal to begin a new life. She soon found that the local dogs needed a champion and then her life really changed. Here’s her story of dog rescue in Portugal.
An interview with Louise Coppin
What made you decide to do what you do?
It was never my intention! When we moved to Portugal, we wanted land for our horses. It was nothing to do with dogs. We had just one dog. Then we saw the way stray dogs are treated in Portugal. I found one, had to take it home. That’s how all it began really. Now I have sixteen dogs!
I found some of them. Some needed to be re-homed. People bring dogs to me. At the moment I’m not accepting any more because I don’t have the funds. I got three from another rescue centre that was closed down because the dogs were so badly looked after. Some I’ve had for a few years now as they’re not easy to re-home. Those are older dogs, bigger dogs, the type people aren’t really interested in.
Who or what helps you do what you do?
Me, myself and I. Just me, no help whatsoever. It’s not a great deal of work but there are times when it would be nice to get some help, but you know they are my dogs. I chose to take them all on so they belong to me. But I feel I don’t have a choice, they need me.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
I’m aiming to re-home some of the dogs and provide a nice home for the ones I can’t. This year I actually managed to re-home three dogs. One of them went all the way to England. A couple arrived in this area having lost their dog and they were drawn to one called Patch because they felt sorry for him. He wasn’t as sociable as the others and didn’t like being in a pack. I was thrilled as I never thought he would find a home. He got the best life ever in the end.
Then there was Itchy Scratchy who I had for three years. I couldn’t think of a name for him but I always used to sing the Itchy Scratchy dog song and the name stuck. I’m really pleased the new owner has kept his name. It was hard letting him go because we had such a bond. He came to me when he was a four week old puppy and he was so little. He went to Germany and I was really worried about him. But his new owner sends me films and pictures and he looks really happy.
I almost think of it as providing a refuge rather than re-homing, because all the dogs are part of my family. They all come indoors, they’re all treated the same and they love being in a big pack, they’re all best friends.
I did take in a gorgeous puppy recently because it’s always easy to home a puppy and this one was a pedigree, a Portuguese sheepdog.
How come a pedigree dog was abandoned?
Over here even though they’re pedigrees, that type of dog is very common. They take care of the sheep and their life is just to go in the field and do that. So the Portuguese don’t see this as a valuable dog. Most Portuguese don’t like stray animals but the dogs breed and breed and often the puppies will be drowned. The Germans and the English quite like these dogs though. I think this puppy just wandered off from his mom and got lost, but the people who found it couldn’t keep it. Someone in Wales saw a picture of the puppy on Facebook, they showed their neighbour and he agreed to adopt it. So the puppy will move to Wales when he’s a bit bigger and has had his vaccinations.
And I previously re-homed a dog to France too so I run an international re-homing service!
How do you fund your work?
With great difficulty! I’ve set up a formal association to try to raise money but I don’t get any funding for that. There’s one person who gives me a regular donation every month and she adopted a dog from me. An amazing, lovely dog and they are absolutely smitten with her. They kindly donate €15 a month and there are a couple of people who drop a couple of sacks of food every now and again. But literally that is it. I pay for absolutely everything.
How do your family and friends react to what you do?
They think I’m mad. No, they think it’s lovely, that I’ve got a kind heart and am obviously helping the dogs. But I think they can all see the strain on all my resources.
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
Well, I don’t really have a life anymore! I just feel I need to be there for the dogs and look after them. It doesn’t matter if it’s five dogs or fifteen, I would still feel the same. It’s still the same responsibility and the same commitment.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
Oh my goodness! Well, it’s definitely about passion. Something like this literally takes over your whole life, but there are so many dogs suffering. Sometimes their teeth and ears get cut off. I found one dog actually wandering along a very busy dangerous road and I stopped the car and got him. In the end he had cancer but he had the most amazing end of his life with me. Such a sweet thing. All his teeth were cut off – they do it to stop the dogs biting. But yeah my advice is “If you love dogs go for it!”
What do you love most about being the age you are?
Well, do I love anything?! I’m more confident now. I know more about what I want especially in a relationship. I’m not scared of saying what I want. Yeah! I wouldn’t want to go back to twenty that’s for sure!
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
Seeing the wrinkles when I look in the mirror. Thinking I look old now. I’m changing shape too but I don’t hate that as much. But that’s just vanity!
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
Do what makes you happy. I’m poor but I’m happy. It’s better to do something you love than just survive in a boring job.
Which woman do you most admire and why?
I admire the model Celia Hammond, the cat woman. She’s a top model and has devoted her life to rescuing cats.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
I wish I’d had more confidence. My way of dealing with lack of confidence was always to be the clown. I make jokes and entertain people as a way of covering up really. I’m not as bad now but I’m still quite shy even if I come across as a confident person.
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
Yes, I think because I look after animals, that’s all they see, just someone who looks after dogs. They don’t realise I’ve actually had good, challenging jobs in the past. There’s more to me than just the dogs!
What would you like Mutton Club readers to do?
Adopt a dog would be nice! I’d love readers to visit and like my Facebook page for my Association for Abandoned Dogs and you can see the dogs available for adoption on there. I’m always delighted to receive donations for the dogs too. Readers can message me through the Facebook page.
You may also like Our Dog Love Affair. Who Needs Kids? and our other Midlife Reinvention features.