José Manuel Vela, with Rafaelillo in his arms, at the moment they were reunited. / SUR

Lost dog that hid in Malaga Cathedral on New Year's Eve reunited with owners

Rafaelillo bolted from his walker at noon and was found later that evening


Rafaelillo, a much-loved Portuguese hound dog owned by the family of José Manuel Vela in Malaga, was known to be a bit jumpy. When the family made plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve away from home in a hotel in Nerja, they warned the dog’s carer in the city that he might make a run for it when he was out on a walk. And the dog did just that.

"We left him with a lady who is a per carer and warned her to be careful, he is a dwarf Portuguese hound and is very nervous, sometimes he pulls and comes off the collar," said José.

The dog broke free and ran at full speed away from his walker. When she notified that family after fruitlessly searching for him, José immediately returned to Malaga, "I cannot live without him, nor he without me, love is mutual. When they told me I felt sick, I went crazy, I came straight away from Nerja to Malaga with another friend to look for him in the area where we left him, in La Goleta, and then in Eugenio Gross, where the dog walker lives." Neighbours also helped in the search and his family pleaded for help on social media.

Later at around 10pm, a young couple spotted a very scared dog that had taken refuge in the door of the Cathedral that looks out onto the Plaza del Obispo. Although they could not reach him they brought him food and posted his picture on social media.

The story reached Julia Cobaleda, rescue coordinator for the Malaga Animal Protection Society. "As soon as we ate the grapes, I changed my outfit for my work clothes and went out to look for the dog." She was accompanied by her sister Inma and her brother-in-law José Luis, who are both also volunteers. "He was there, the poor thing, crouched in a corner, scared to death," she said.

The couple who had seen him first were still in the area and two local police officers who were passing by offered to help. They were going to call the fire brigade when they realised that the gate had not been padlocked and could be opened. Rafaelillo was distraught but rescued and only calmed down when put in a car.

Meanwhile, his owner José was alerted to the rescue by a friend and was reunited with the run-away pet.

"I want to share this story so that it can serve as an example for other cases in the future, and for everyone to know that there are many good people in this world. Christmas spirit exists, and in my household we have experienced it." he said.