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Maribel Vila: "Dogs must be left to be dogs, to get dirty, to smell others, to run and to bark"

Posted on 24/1/2018 by
Irene Dosil

Vila warns that "dogs are not toys": "Their welfare depends on us and they have special needs that must be covered"

The specialist in TAA warns that this year there are 137,000 animals in protective waiting to be adopted: "before buying, we can adopt", recommends.

ANNABEL SAAVEDRA AND CLARA DE MELO.- Maribel Vila, Technician in Assisted Therapies with Animals (TAA) receives the QHE team at home with her five dogs. She takes them everywhere, she talks constantly with them - she uses a different voice for each of them; each one resembles the tone of their barking - and affirms that, for her, "they are part of the family". Vila confesses that animals are his passion and works with them to help groups with needs: from prisoners, to people with eating disorders, among others. It tells us that giving a pet "should never be an impulsive act, but meditated and consensual with the family" and recommends that "if it is not clear, there are other options: go to a shelter or acquire another pet that does not require so much work".

QHE- In full crisis, back in 2007, you left your job in a big company to make your childhood dream come true: work with people and dogs. Ten years after your adventures, would you give up again everything to dedicate yourself to the world of Assisted Therapies with Animals?

Yes, without a doubt. In the end the important thing is the desire and motivation you have to do something.

QHE- Why and how long did it take you to make this decision?

After living a few years in the United States, when I returned to Spain one day I asked myself: Is this what I want to continue doing until I retire? And the answer was clear: no. And that's when I went for my passion: animals. I started training in the subject and a day came when I made the decision that this dog world was compatible with my usual work.

QHE- What exactly are Assisted Therapies with Animals? Are they the same as canine training?

The therapies assisted with animals consist of introducing a dog into a therapeutic team that works with groups with needs. They are collectives as diverse as: prisoners, people with mental disorders, geriatrics and eating disorders, among others. Animals are a great motivation for this type of group, since most people do not reject therapy because it is something they like, that motivates them, that makes them feel safe.

QHE- "The Dog Whisperer", "Malas Pulgas", "Amores perros" ... Today, canids eclipse a large part of the television network and social networks. What do you think of these programs?

This type of dog training programs bring us closer to the animal world and, therefore, give us information, which I think is positive. But not all programs are equally recommendable. There are some who use techniques of pressure, submission, control and nowadays the training should be positive: reinforce those behaviors that we want to repeat and ignore or redirect the negative ones. In summary: there are programs that have done a lot of good and there are programs that have looked for the media show and the magical solution of training. And in canine behavior, as in humans, there is no magic formula.

QHE- Spas, luxury canine fashion, sushi for dogs ... The pet industry billed 1,000 million euros in Spain in 2016. Should we worry about the 'pet mania' and the relationships that some humans have with other species?

Dogs are gaining in comfort and well-being and sometimes we forget that dogs are super social animals that need to get out and be in contact with other dogs. Physical well-being is very good, but we must take care of animal welfare: they have to go out, interact and get to know other areas. Dogs must be allowed to be dogs: to get dirty, to smell others, to run and to bark.

QHE- But dogs are not liked by everyone ...

It is true. Any type of therapy has to be voluntary, because otherwise it is not very difficult to be effective. And sometimes we find people who are more cautious or who do not like animals so much. Therapy is voluntary and sometimes it is a matter of time: when we leave enough space many people end up collaborating because they see that they are trained dogs and that they are looking for contact. But there are people with a phobia of dogs or who even have allergies, so for this type of people this therapy is not the most appropriate. In any case, there are few cases of this type.

QHE- Dogs and cats #AreNotAToy, they are much more. Under this slogan, the Affinity Foundation has launched a campaign to treat animals with love and respect, especially at Christmas and during summer vacations.

Gifting a pet should never be an impulsive act, but meditated and consensual with the family It is a decision that is sometimes taken lightly. And if it is not clear, there are other options: go to the Animal Protection Association or acquire another pet that does not require so much work. Dogs are not toys, they have special needs and you have to teach the children and the people around them that they have their playing time but they also have to rest, eat, etc. In our hands is their well-being. You have to be very clear before adopting any dog.

QHE- Dogs of breed or from protective associations?

The Affinity Foundation says that this year there are 137,000 animals in protecitve acossiations waiting to be adopted. I think that before considering the purchase of a dog it would be ethical to go to a shelter. There are dogs of all kinds and it is a good option because, on the one hand, we are acquiring a pet and, on the other hand, we are giving a dog a second chance at life. It is true that there are people who like a particular race, and it is lawful. But I think we should not ignore the option of the protective: even there there are dogs of breed.

QHE- One of the main handicaps of large cities are the few canine leisure spaces.

In the cities there is very little space for the dogs to run. The ideal is to have a dog under control but that the dog can walk at ease, and cities are not the most appropriate places. Every time there are more 'pipicans' and some big parks like Collserola, the Carretera de las Aguas of Barcelona, ​​etc. It's hard to find those spaces, but there are more and more places like this where we can go with the dogs.

QHE- A pet friendly restaurant?

Luckily, there are more and more. Very rarely they do not allow dogs to enter the premises: I always go with them and they do not usually give me problems. I would say many, for example: the Velodrome, the Moritz factory ... There are even guides that indicate where you can go with the dog. In general, if there is no sign prohibiting entry, it is usually possible. I encourage people to take their dog everywhere; They are usually accepted.

QHE- Speaking of eating habits, food intolerances also affect animals. How is it diagnosed in dogs?

They have more and more intolerances, yes. The most common are the itching, there are also many otitis, intestinal problems. Just like human beings. Most of them are related to diet. If we have a dog that has recurrent symptoms, we must take it to the veterinarian.

QHE- In addition to traveling around the world teaching masters, conferences, assistance dog training ... Maribel also has time for writing: in 2013 you publish "La Sonrisa de un Perro" based on your own experiences in the field of TAA. How was the experience as a writer?

I wanted to capture how dogs can help us. Sometimes we do not realize the power they have when working at a therapeutic level. In the book I explain how dogs can help us emotionally and I tell several real cases. In the end, it is a tribute to dogs and people with problems that struggle every day.

QHE- You have recently traveled to Colombia to teach one of the courses of El Racó de Milú. Have your dogs accompanied you?

In this case, to Colombia, I did not take them because the trip is very long and I did not want to expose them to being so many hours in a cage. Now, whenever I can take them, I take them. They are very used to traveling. For me, having the family together is to have them all, also my dogs and they behave very well, they do not give any problem, so whenever I can, I take them with me.

QHE- Tell us about the program "A pata de calle", which you carry out with the educators of the Adsis Foundation.

This program works with groups at risk of social inclusion in Ciutat Vella (Barcelona). They called us to do a pilot test and it was incredible to see how the environment in which these people were was changing: from a hostile environment and isolation, little by little, to start talking to us. It is a program that is done once a month and what you want is to introduce the dogs in a friendly way to approach them and help them.

QHE- What would you say to someone who is considering adopting a pet?

That they know that it will be a commitment of many years, that they think about what lifestyle they have and which dog can adjust to that lifestyle and that, when they have it, educate the dog from the first moment, have fun with the dog and show respect, above all.

QHE- What guidelines should we follow to travel with animals?

Luckily, there are more and more spaces that you can go with pets. The first thing to do when we arrive at a place of vacation is to locate an emergency veterinarian, for what may happen. It is also important, especially if we travel by car, to control the temperatures a lot. During summer a dog in a vehicle can die in 15-20 minutes, since the temperature of the car can reach 60 degrees. And it is important that the dog can drink water, that we can bathe him if he is hot, that we can walk with him to be aerated, etc. If we travel in an airline, we must have a health card or passport and know their requirements: in general, those who weigh up to 10kgs can fly with us; the rest must travel in the cellar. If you are going to travel in the cellar, you have to habituate them to the cage so they do not suffer much stress.

QHE- During the interview, I saw that you talk a lot with your dogs and you change your voice depending on which dog you are talking to! I am amazed ...

[Laughs] Yes, when I was little I used to use different voices for dogs and now all my family and friends do it too. I would love to put myself in the skin of a dog for a few hours. I would love to see the world as they see it. It's something fun that I wanted to do since I was little.

QHE- And this advice is for me - and for all the readers who are in my situation-: How can I get my dog Calçot, that is six years old, to stop eating all the buns, sandwiches and chocolates that he founds in the Street?

This is one of the behaviors that costs more because Labradors, Goldens and some other breeds have an obsession with huge food. You can try to avoid it with good obedience, but it is very difficult for them to avoid catching the food they see. It's a matter of educating them for many days.


• A breed of dog?

I do not have a favorite dog breeds. I like them all.

• Sea or mountain?


• A destination to travel with pets?

Anywhere where I can take them.

• You're crazy about ...

Bonbons of white chocolate.

• A fetish garment?

A fleece.

• Fried potatoes wedges, with spacy salsa or not?

With spicy salsa.

• If you had magical powers, which one would you choose?

I would become a dog for a day.

• Faithful, elegant, noble, sweet ... Dogs have qualities that many humans would like. Which of them does Maribel identify with?

They are always willing to play and live the moment.

• Apart from writing, outside of work, do you have any hobbies?

I love reading and sports.

• The secret of happiness is in ...

In trying to take life with humor and in living it to the fullest.

• Are you passionate about what kind of food

Thai food.

• An indispensable book?

"The Persian boy" by Mary Renault

• What song do you sing to your pets often?

Any song by Marc Anthony.

• When you grow up you want to be

I want to stay as I am because I do what I like and I am happy that way.