The driver of the bus which transported them from place to place appeared one day with a young mongrel puppy, just a few weeks old. Patricia Chica, a 36-year-old from Malaga, was working temporarily in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, as a waitress with the Dani García group: the chef's company was doing the catering for the African Union summit which took place recently. Patricia is an animal lover and rescues strays in her spare time, as well as fostering newly-born abandoned puppies in her home at Torre del Mar.
"I saw our driver at the hotel with the puppy and when I asked him about it he said a friend had given it to him. Then he pointed to a pan on the ground and made gestures to show that he was going to eat it," she says. Her reaction was instinctive: without thinking of the possible consequences she grabbed the puppy out of his hands and ran off, to hide in the kitchen of the conference hall, while the man stared after her in astonishment. When they heard what had happened, her colleagues came to her defence and refused outright to return the puppy to him.
That was the start of the story. "I didn't expect to end up in that situation, but I couldn't bear the thought of a puppy ending up on somebody's plate as part of the menu. I know they'll eat others, but there was no way I was going to let them eat this one," she said, speaking to us while she was still in Africa.
The situation soon turned into a matter of State in this African country. Patricia explained what had happened to the person responsible for protocol in the Mauritanian government; she took charge of the dog and assigned a staff member to look after it while Patricia was working at the summit. In fact, she did even more than that. She got the president of Mauritania, Mohamed Uld Abdelaziz, personally involved.
Patricia says he gave orders for the puppy's health certificate to be processed in record time by an official vet and for it to be given its first vaccines, and he paid the costs for this to be done. As a result Mauri, which is the name Patricia gave the puppy, would be able to leave the country for its new home in Malaga.
We spoke to Patricia as she and most of the Dani García team, about 50 people, were about to start their journey home. Despite having the official documents for the puppy, she was still worried about what might happen because the journey involved crossing borders between Mauritania, Morocco and Spain.
"It breaks my heart to think that in some countries they still eat puppies, but I am so impressed and delighted at the bravery and generosity of these young people who become involved in saving this one," says Carmen Manzano, president of the Sociedad Protectora de Málaga. The association advised Patricia about the documents and veterinary checks the puppy would need in Mauritania. Carmen sees this case as a 'symbol' in the fight for animal rights.
Finally, Patricia was able to bring us up to date and report that the journey home had been uneventful. She carried Mauri in her arms as they crossed the borders, and hid him in a rucksack on the flights. Now, she is looking after him temporarily until her colleague Juan Luis, who has offered to adopt him, arrives. "They're all fighting over him still, though," she laughs.
"In Malaga we have many animals for adoption, but none of them has had an adventure like this one," she says. She hopes her experience may serve to inspire others who decide to give a future to an animal that really needs one.