Thousands of pets are being abandoned across Portugal, either being dumped at the gates of charitable associations or simply taken far from home and left behind, as owners struggle to make ends meet due to the continuing financial crisis.
Figures released by the National Veterinary Authority, Direção Geral de Alimentação e Veterinária, show that in the Lisbon area alone, a total of 5,629 stray cats and dogs were caught last year, up from the 4,442 caught in 2010.
Data for this year is not yet available, but signs are that this problem is not only continuing but also on the increase, everywhere, especially in the Portuguese capital.
Adding to the problem is the fact that Lisbon's municipal kennel is not collecting stray animals and is currently closed for refurbishment work but has no date for reopening, Lisbon's urban environment councillor, José Sá Fernandes told Expresso newspaper this week.
Animal associations around the capital are also struggling to make ends meet and pay the expenses of looking after other people's unwanted animals as the number of paid members has fallen, along with the number of animal adoptions.
Association SOSAnimal, which has its headquarters in Caparide told Expresso that it receives "30 to 40 requests for help every week," describing this past year as "critical".
Added to the age old reasons for abandoning animals in Portugal, such as allergies, summer holidays or divorce, is now the lack of money and the increasing migration of families abroad in search of jobs and better living conditions.
Sintra-based animal association Associação São Francisco de Assis currently houses between 350 and 400 animals.
Speaking to Expresso, one of the coordinators of the association, Maria João Pulido, laments the "reasonable" percentage of animals that are returned by adoptive families after a short time, which adds to their problems of lack of space and ability to pay the running costs.
A significant number of pets are also abandoned at veterinary clinics. As money becomes tight in family households, many owners stop treating or vaccinating their animals, while others simply forget to pick them up from the vet.
With no sign of the financial crisis easing up in Portugal, it appears that there is no quick solution to this problem, although the governing body for veterinarians, Ordem dos Médicos Veterinários, is thinking of a legal way to improve the situation. Their problem is that many vets have to "get rid" of the animals that have been left behind, with often no legal way of doing so.