She insists she wasn’t afraid, and points out that the move was technically legal: the owner had signed a contract permitting her to access the farm and take Margarita away, so it wasn’t breaking and entering. But the authorities – whom Tova called next day to explain where Margarita was – were, as she puts it, “super pissed off. They turned up at the sanctuary. Then the press came, and TV cameras – we were on the radio and in the papers.” Eventually, the strength of public opinion forced a change in the law. “Now, in Catalonia, when a cow is unidentified, they can’t kill her.”
Tova was only nine when she began caring for abandoned dogs and cats. She even stole snails and crabs from supermarkets, so they wouldn’t be killed. When her parents refused to allow her to bring any more animals home, she took food to an olive tree where the animals knew to wait for her. But doesn’t it take its toll, this level of care and concern for creatures who are abandoned and abused, who get sick and injured, and always, eventually, die? Yes, she says, it does. “We are very happy, but we have an inner sadness that’s very difficult to get rid of. So you have to be pragmatic, put your focus on the positive things you can change and think about the animals rather than yourself and your feelings.”
Even though keeping their operations running is a constant financial struggle, both sanctuaries are nursing bigger dreams. Fernández Abella wants to expand Gaia so they can save many more than the 500 animals they’re currently caring for, and hopes their stories will turn more people towards veganism. Tova, at El Hogar, promises to open a small animal hospital onsite “if it kills her”, so terminally ill animals can die in their own home.
As for Palacios, she found herself changed by her time photographing the sanctuaries, almost a year ago. “It was the profound bond between animals and humans that really struck me,” she says. She hasn’t eaten meat since.
Lots more photographs at: