Not just man's best friend

A protection dog practising a deterrent manoeuvre at the RayoCan facilities in Alhaurín de la Torre.
A protection dog practising a deterrent manoeuvre at the RayoCan facilities in Alhaurín de la Torre. / F. Torres
  • The Proyecto Pepos initiative trains dogs to protect victims of gender violence

The Proyecto Pepos initiative in Alhaurín de la Torre has only been running for a few days, but has already set its sights high. Based on a similar association in Madrid, it is a multidisciplinary organisation that helps women all over Andalucía who have been victims of gender violence to reintegrate into society.

The organisation, set up by Sebastián Rayo and Sebastián Sánchez, offers legal aid, therapy, psychological help and above all, protection dogs that are trained "to prevent possible assaults" and fulfil their therapeutic function by helping their owners emotionally.

The organisation began searching for institutional backing three years ago, but their objectives have always been very clear. "We meet the needs of gender violence as regards protection, social integration, overcoming fear and increasing self-esteem by working with the guard dogs," Sánchez says.

Although the dogs are the face of the organisation, Sánchez explainsthat an evaluation process is carried out in each case before the dogs are handed over to their owners.

"We study the victim's home environment, the ruling that there may be a risk of another attack, and everything else that affects the victim," he adds.

Following that process, the psychological and legal departments get to work and continue to provide therapy and assess victims.

Rayo confirms that once the rigurous assessments have been carried out, and they feel that a dog can be trained to fit the requirements of the victim, the dogs enter the scene and begin to form a unique and long-lasting relationship with their future owner, a link built on the feelings of security and empathy.

"The work begins in our centre, where the dogs have lived since they were puppies," he adds.

The animal's future owner will then go to the RayoCan facilities, and once there is a good understanding between human and animal, they begin to get to know each other until the day comes when they can go home together.

However, their first meeting signals the start of an eight-month training period where specialist professionals teach the victims how to interact with the dogs.

Moreover, in case another incident of gender violence does occur, the dogs are trained "not to attack, but to deter a potential attacker and give the authorities time to arrive on the scene," says Rayo.

To get the dogs to act as protection dogs, he explains that they have to "channel their protective instincts which come from their time in packs into a feeling that focuses on the protection of their owners, but always under orders and under control".

However, if it ever seems that the dog feels compelled to intervene, it is necessary that they are brought back to the centre for what Rayo calls "emotional recycling".

Marí F. Roa and María J. Navarro, the heads of the association's legal department, also explained how the dogs help victims socially by giving them "the courage to go out in the streets".