Students of Social and Work Studies at the University of Malaga (UMA) witnessed first hand the work of the Fundación Mariscal and its Pepo project for victims of domestic abuse this week.
María, a fictitious name given to protect her identity, was invited to tell students her disturbing tale of domestic violence which began when she was just 14 years old. One week after getting married, she received her first beating, she said, and over time "I suffered all type of mistreatment; I've got eight stab wounds as a result".
At 24 years old, María and her three-year-old child managed to escape from her abuser, taking advantage of a momentary lapse.
Going alone was difficult, she explained, but she told the students how she learned about the Pepo project after reading about it in a newspaper. Through it, women who have suffered domestic violence are equipped with protection dogs.
As "it was difficult to even speak to men", María "very shyly" made contact and spoke to Ángel Mariscal, a veteran dog handler who set up the foundation eight years ago, and her life changed forever.
María explained to the students that Conan, her four-legged friend, has helped her to recover from the trauma she faced, giving her back the freedom she lost.
This was not an easy task, as to train a dog for this job takes around 300 hours. Both the dog and owner have to go through an intense training programme to ensure they are both ready for real world situations.
Yet, it was worth it, as Conan gives María the freedom she had lost as she was "unable to go out alone" out of fear.
And, as María explains, having a dog gives you a series of responsibilities: "You have to take it out and then you meet other owners who greet you and talk to you. You can relate to them and this gives you security."
María insists that she is stronger now thanks to Conan and Ángel, as well as the other women who are part of the project and who have become "family".
Ángel points out that the dogs that are chosen for this project must have an imposing physique, as well as the most vital characteristic: the instinct of protection. "Not all dogs have it, but for this project it is very important. We do not want the dogs to attack randomly or stray from the owner, but to protect the person in question and be able to defend when attacked."
Ana, (not her real name), is another victim of domestic abuse who the Pepo project has helped. She was given Logan, a German Shepherd, who she claims has given her "the strength she needed". Ana recalls that before Logan she was terrified of the world outside. She says that she "could not even approach a man. Now I even go out alone at dawn and feel very calm".
Ana and María are just two examples of the many women who are fighting to reclaim the life they had taken from them by their abusers.
Together with the foundation, they are working towards freedom for those women affected by domestic violence, and pairing them with protection dogs that can help to change their lives.
The Pepo project is able to run thanks to the money Mariscal makes from his security business, making it fully accessible to women from all backgrounds.
The project has already donated 50 protection dogs to women like María who have been affected by domestic abuse throughout the country but the fight continues for these dogs to be able to accompany the women in all public spaces, like guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired.