11 min read

Woman On Vacation Finds Dogs Who'd Been Chained Up For Years

“I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, how is this [rescue] going to happen?’”

Tired of life in busy Barcelona, Sara Ortín León traveled into the mountains in northern Spain to spend a couple relaxing months at her family’s home in La Rioja. She took her three rescue dogs with her, including Ginger, whom León had rescued in Zambia a couple years ago — but little did León know that she’d soon be rescuing more dogs.

During her stay in La Rioja, León was doing a lot of hiking, and one trail led her to an old sheep barn with two skinny Australian shepherd mixes chained outside of it.

The dogs didn’t have any food or water available for them, and their chains were so tight around their necks, they seemed to have trouble breathing. The chains were also about 3 feet long, which didn’t give them much movement.

At first, León assumed that they belonged to someone, and they probably weren’t kept like this all the time. But when she returned to the shed the next day, the dogs were still there without food and water. She visited the next day, too, and the dogs remained in the same position.

Woman holding the face of a dog
Opis, the older of the two dogs | Sara Ortín León

“I thought, ‘OK, this is weird,’” León told The Dodo. “If they would be off [the chain] at some point, they shouldn’t be there all the time.”

At that point, León wasn’t sure who owned the dogs, but a local friend of hers was familiar with the dogs’ situation.

Chained up dog
Sara Ortín León

“He said, ‘They don’t get [much] food and sometimes they don’t even have water. What they sometimes get [are] vegetables and tomatoes and beans and things like that. And they are chained 24/7.’”

León knew she needed to rescue the dogs, but she had to figure out whom they belonged to. Since La Rioja was a small town, word would spread if she took them without permission.

Scared looking dog in shed
Mori, the younger dog, seemed unfriendly at first | Sara Ortín León

Another problem León anticipated was getting the dogs used to her. While the older black dog, whose name she learned was Opis, was very friendly, the other dog, Mori, was skittish and scared.

“She wouldn’t get close to me,” León said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, how is this [rescue] going to happen?’”

Dog locked up on chain
Sara Ortín León

León started visiting the dogs every day, spending several hours with them each time.

“I gave them food … and I would read to them,” León said. “It’s something that relaxes the dogs, because when we read, there is no movement, and it’s just your voice … it’s nice for them.”

Woman offering food to dog
León trying to offer food to Mori | Sara Ortín León

She eventually found the owners — they were an elderly couple in their 90s who used to farm sheep, and Opis and Mori had been their shepherd dogs. Mori, who was about 8 years old, was the mother to Opis, who was 6.

“They said, ‘We sold the sheep years ago, but since they were good working dogs, we didn’t want to kill them as all of our friends did,’” León said.

León realized the couple thought they were doing right by the dogs.

Woman feeding dog
Sara Ortín León

“It’s so difficult in these situations because you realize that they don’t know better,” she said. “They didn’t really think that the dogs were suffering. They thought that they were doing them a favor by keeping them alive.”

León calculated that the dogs had been chained up for years — possibly even as long as six years.

When León broached the subject of taking the dogs from them, the elderly couple were hesitant.

Woman petting dog
Sara Ortín León

“They said, ‘When our granddaughter comes here, she likes to go there and spend time with the dogs,’” León said. “They said, ‘Talk to our granddaughter. If she says ‘yes,’ then we will give them to you.’ So of course, I sent her a message.”

The granddaughter was also hesitant about León taking the dogs, even though she admitted not spending much time with the dogs when she visited her grandparents.

Woman with two rescued dogs
León with Mori and Opis, who have been chained up for years | Sara Ortín León

As León waited for her to make a final decision, two months passed, and León started to give up hope.

“I started getting really sad, and I had to stop thinking about them,” León said.

Woman trying to feed dog
Sara Ortín León

Finally, León got a reply from the granddaughter in early July — she had permission to take the dogs.

León had returned to Barcelona by that point, but she journeyed back to La Rioja to get the dogs. The owner met her at the shed and unchained the dogs.

Man putting leash on dog
The owner unchaining Opis | Sara Ortín León

León still wasn’t sure how Opis was going to react to being handled, so she’d brought a muzzle — but she realized she didn’t need it.

Woman holding two dogs on leashes
Sara Ortín León

“She was the best doggy in the world,” León said. “As soon as she got out of there, and I got her on the lead and I touched her, she started licking me and I was like, ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow.’”

Woman walking with two dogs
León walking away with the two dogs | Sara Ortín León

The dogs also couldn’t get enough of each other.

“They could touch for the first time for, I can’t imagine, how many years,” León said. “They were licking each other and licking each other. They were super cute.”

León had arranged for Opis and Mori to go to a no-kill dog shelter called Lliga per a la protecció d'animals i plantes de Barcelona, whose staff had promised to give Opis and Mori vet care and find them forever homes. But before traveling back to Barcelona, León brought the dogs back to her family’s house.

Woman giving dog a bath
León giving Mori a bath | Sara Ortín León

“It was like having something wild in the house,” León said. “It was crazy. They wanted to eat everything. They got a packet of raw pasta, opened it and started eating it so fast. But we had to give them very little amount of food because they’re not used to food.”

Woman bathing dog
Mori getting a bath | Sara Ortín León

León managed to bathe them, and she took them for a couple hikes in the mountains.

Dog snuggling together in the grass
Sara Ortín León

At one point, León even decided it was safe to let the dogs off their leashes so they could experience running. But instead of racing around, Opis and Moris just laid down together and cuddled.

Dog cuddling together in the grass
Sara Ortín León

“They were a ball of fur together, just kissing and licking,” León said.

“These dogs have been chained up for six years, and now they want kisses and cuddles,” she added. “They are amazing dogs. They are gems.”

Woman sitting in grass with two dogs
Sara Ortín León
If you live near Barcelona and you’re interested in adopting Moris or Opis, you can contact Lliga per a la protecció d'animals i plantes de Barcelona. You can also follow León’s dog rescue adventures on her Instagram page.

Thinking about adopting a dog of your own? Then meet Dodo Adoptbot, an interactive guide for new pet parents. Get started on Facebook Messenger or text HOME to 38349.