What a sad life some dogs lead! I don’t mean dogs that are starved or abandoned or beaten. That is a dimension of even greater suffering. I am referring to dogs, mostly in the country, who have a home and are fed but whose lives are utterly sad.

The other day we went to catch a glimpse of the cyclists in the Vuelta, the All-round Spain Cycling Race. We found a vantage point that would afford a clear view. As we waited for the racers to arrive I began to observe a dog, a black mastiff, at a house across the road.

He was not chained or tied up which is a great step forward as most dogs in rural areas are tied up 24 hours a day. He had a chain-link enclosure about 6m2 with a kennel, and that is where he spends his whole life. He lay inside the kennel for a while and then stood outside looking towards the house and watching the chickens scratching outside his enclosure. That is sad enough.

Then his ears pricked up and he stood focused on the house. Shortly the owner appeared. He was coming out to collect the eggs from the chicken coop. Before the man appeared the dog began to pace and circle the enclosure. Then when the man appeared he moved to the fence, wagged his tail eagerly and waited. No response. He licked his lips and yawned. No response. He stood and gazed quietly. No response. And then he gave up.

After a while the man came out again and crossed the road to watch the cyclists. The dog stuck his nose to the fence and watched him across the road. No response. He was a living being but totally invisible. To all intents and purposes he did not exist. How sad is that!

What to do? Should we say something to the man? These are always delicate situations because people probably think that by feeding the dog and keeping him safe from traffic on the road they are doing a good job. From that point of view they are, but the animal’s emotional needs are completely ignored and probably the people are unaware that such a need even exists.

In the end we decided to say something, so I asked my husband to go over and talk to him as I thought that it might be more acceptable to hear these things from another man. He struck up the conversation by congratulating the man on his beautiful orchard and vegetable garden which were truly wonderful. Then he congratulated him on having such a lovely dog. From there he went on to point out all the calming signals the dog had displayed in an attempt to catch his attention and how dogs, being social animals, do need interaction. The conversation went well and perhaps some of the points will remain in the man’s consciousness and stimulate a greater interaction in the future. Hopefully Czar’s life (That is the dog’s name) will be tiny bit more fulfilling in the future