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Abandoned pets find haven

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Two years later, the results are encouraging. Although keeping the animals alive is more expensive than euthanizing them, so far the regulation is functioning well, says Oriol Batista, the town's head of Public Health. "The citizens of MatarĂ³ understand that this is something we have to do," he says, "that this is a more rational, more humane means of treating animals."

Altarriba runs Barcelona's municipal shelter as well, and the effects here are even more striking. Of the 2,132 dogs rescued in 2003, only 35 were put to sleep, a drop of 94 percent from the previous year. Altarriba's active publicity campaign, with a website featuring photos of every dog and cat in Barcelona's shelter, has kept interest in adoptions high; last year, 1,788 dogs were placed in homes or returned to their owners.

The Law for Animal Protection comes with some real costs, however. "Right now, this shelter is receiving dogs not only from Barcelona but from all the surrounding areas," laments Yolanda Valbuena, director of the shelter. "People no longer take their dogs to Hospitalet or Badalona, because they know that they'll be euthanized there. Everyone brings their dogs to Barcelona. We're accepting six, seven, 10 times as many dogs as we're capable of handling."

The shelter's kennels are in fact overcrowded, with two and three dogs sharing cages built for one. Without adequate quarantine facilities, the shelter has been troubled by the spread of infectious diseases. Explains Manena Fayos, the shelter's veterinary assistant, "We don't have the infrastructure to deal with this problem properly."

The Altarriba Foundation has tried to address these concerns by creating additional refuges for animals that no one will adopt. Run by Altarriba president Gloria Casas, the Family Refuge near the town of Sant Feliu de Guixols, for example, is home to 31 dogs and 30 cats who will spend the rest of their days roaming the estate's olive orchards, swimming in its pond, and sleeping in the rooms of its spacious country house.

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