OPINION: The pleasures (and perils) of relocating to rural Spain with pets

Bringing pets to any new country can be tricky, writes Heath Savage, who discusses perils both real and imagined after relocating to rural Galicia from the Sydney suburbs.

OPINION: The pleasures (and perils) of relocating to rural Spain with pets
Heath's menagerie include Raphael, Mario and Minnie.

There are considerations for their health and safety that you have to take seriously. Our two furry fiends have adapted and settled in well, and our mobile vet keeps them in the pink. Minnie is an elderly house cat, in danger only of sliding off a cushion. But the dogs, Raphael, and Mario, do venture into the great outdoors. Although Raphie is always supervised, being tiny, but unaware of that fact. Classic “Wee Man Syndrome.”

Back in Australia, where our local wildlife queues up to have a go at you every time you step outside, we kept a close eye on our pets. Even in suburban Sydney, several of my friends and family lost cats and dogs to snake and spider bites. One gung-ho cat of my acquaintance lost his right eye to a psychotic magpie.

Up in the Northern Territory or Queensland, magpies are the least of their worries. Crocodile attacks are more likely! One mate’s dog was taken by a tree python, and her chickens kept disappearing, until the culprit was finally caught and relocated. Another friend ran, naked, into her front garden one morning, fresh out of the shower, after reaching into the press for a towel and encountering a Taipan.

I did a bit of research before we came, and I was a bit surprised to find that there are a number of creatures that it’s best to avoid here in Green Galicia.

The ticks here are nasty, but ours back in Aus. cause fatal paralysis, so we don’t worry too much about Spanish ticks, and we carry a pocket tick-remover.

The processionary caterpillars that infest the pinewoods are pretty spooky though, and our region also boasts three types of venomous snake.

Being Aussie, I am genetically predisposed to give anything that slithers a wide birth, and a couple of impressive Montpellier snakes in my orchard have elicited undignified girly shrieks from me.

One was a good two metres long, and he was not a friendly bloke.  The: “They are more afraid of you than you are of them” brigade can get lost. I am way more afraid of them than they are of me! Our neighbour’s cross-eyed, knock-kneed cat, fondly known as “The Ar**”, habitually drags live vipers into the house. He’s down to three lives by now, I reckon. Him and his owner.

A couple of weeks back, I took a drive to a local ferreteria (which, I was disappointed to discover, did not sell ferrets) and encountered four deer playing “Chicken” across the road. I had to perform a nifty swerve to avoid turning them into venison burgers.

On the return journey, the car was surrounded by long-horned cattle, who had escaped a nearby field and gone walkabout. The huge dog who was supposed to be minding them was sound asleep on the verge.

Now I am on the look-out for toads. Raphael got a bit too up-close and personal with one last night on the terrace. I am told that licking them can cause a violent, sometimes fatal, hallucinogenic reaction. I can’t say I was tempted, but the dog was.

The “leave it!” command that I taught him as a tiny pup has prevented a couple of near-death experiences over the years, and it saved him a trip to the emergency vet last night. Mr Toad was deftly flipped into a bucket and taken to the orchard, where I released him to the mercy of the snakes, unlicked.

Since arriving in Galicia, our garden has hosted field mice, weasels, mink, foxes, jabali, aforementioned reptiles, and thieving storks, who nicked all our kindling to use as building material for their nests. I was tempted to climb up the village clock tower to nick it back.

Now it is hunting season, and the guns are blasting away in the surrounding woods. Everything is running for cover. These guys fortify themselves with frequent toots of home-made hooch before locking and loading, so it’s best not to go walking, if you are wearing anything trimmed with faux-fur; you might find yourself staring down from someone’s trophy wall!


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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.