Make a Paw-sitive Change

Most days, you will find Gabi Shepherd driving across the Algarve to work with street cat colonies. As a semi-finalist in the Algarve Business Awards in 2023, her impact extends far beyond improving living conditions for street cats.

WORDS Stephanie Toft-Jones

This is not the life Gabi planned when she first moved to the Algarve in 2021 following the pandemic. “My partner is retired, and the plan was that I was going to take two years off work and we were going to travel.” The universe had other plans! 

Shortly after arriving, Gabi noticed a family of black and white cats around the village. She started feeding them, believing that they belonged to someone. Gabi says, “I have had an interest and care in the animal world all of my life and have been fortunate enough to travel throughout East Africa, often yearly, for the past 15 years to observe and study wildlife behaviours.” However, she was totally ignorant of the often sad fate of cat populations in the Algarve. The life expectancy of a street cat is short compared to a domesticated cat. Many don’t live much longer than four years, and kittens live less than a few months. 

People around the village noticed the work that she was doing and, with the help of a fellow volunteer, Gabi was able to sterilise her first cats. As she explained, “Trapping feral cats isn’t easy. I had no idea, but an experienced animal welfare volunteer showed me what to do.” By the end of the first year, Gabi had sterilised 40 cats, but it came at a price. Not only had her travelling plans been put on hold, but there was an increasing strain on her own finances and on her health and well-being. Realising it wasn’t feasible to continue in the same way if she was to have a real and lasting impact, she decided to set up the Pakadora Association. 

Establishing the Pakadora Association has provided a more sustainable solution. “Going down the legal route means I can apply for funding from the local câmara in the future, and I can begin fund-raising,” explained Gabi. It also meant she could form partnerships with other organisations, for example, she has worked with Loulé câmara, through another charity, offering free cat sterilisation as part of its public health scheme. This initiative dramatically impacted the work of the Pakadora Association, with 121 cats being sterilised. But it’s not enough to just sterilise the cat. “If they are going to return to the colony, we also need to address the health of the cats and manage the spread of disease,” explains Gabi. 

Gabi is also very conscious that her work is not achieved in isolation and forms the basis of another aim for the charity: to support and work alongside other charities across the Algarve. It is why the word ‘cat’ is not in the name of the charity. Already, the Pakadora Association has donated dog food and has benefitted from unwanted donations to other charities. As Gabi said, “People donate items to charities, some of which aren’t suitable for us. With a network of charities across the Algarve, we can support each other, whether they support cats, dogs or people.” This network has enabled her to recruit volunteers, organise donations of food and bedding, and a carpenter to build the all-important cat houses that provide the cats with much-needed shelter from the Algarvian weather.

Spending time with Gabi, it is easy to understand how she was nominated for a small business award after only one year of establishing the Pakadora Association. She is incredibly passionate and organised. Once she decided to embrace the route of establishing a charity, she approached it as she would any other business venture by creating a five-year business plan. Sticking to the business plan is vital for the success of the charity. “I was genuinely humbled by the nomination for a small business award. It’s unusual for an animal charity to receive recognition, especially one that is so recently established in the Algarve.” Gabi continued, “I didn’t do this to achieve an award. I did it to try and show people what they can do to help.” Her efforts have also been recognised by The Animal Star Awards, which awarded Pakadora a finalist place in their International Rescue Of The Year category. This recognition places Pakadora among the top contenders from over 700 animal charities. The nomination is a testament to the small charity’s tireless efforts in managing and caring for feral cat colonies throughout the Algarve district. 

The Pakadora Association also aims to educate communities, an aspect of their work that she believes is fundamental to the continued improvement of cat colonies across the Algarve. “Sadly, it is still very much part of the culture in Portugal to live alongside street cats and feral colonies. We’ve got to change that mindset. It’s a myth that cats will always follow their instinct and catch mice. For a cat to follow its instincts: to chase, play with and kill their prey, they need to be healthy and have their basic food and welfare needs met.”

However, she sees that one of the most critical aspects of helping cats is technology.  She wants a database to support her work and that of other charities across the Algarve. Besides practical uses in terms of calculating the quantities of food needed to support the cats, the captured data would provide evidence of the number of street cats and the success of sterilisation programmes. It would enable charities to approach their local câmara and businesses with concrete proof of the help that is needed, the progress that has been made and to measure success in the future.

Gabi’s resilience and determination in the face of these challenges are truly admirable, and her story is a testament to the power of one person’s commitment to make a difference.

A survey has been developed to conduct research into colonies and street animals across the Algarve and the Pakadora Association is asking people across the Algarve to contribute their work.

Please complete the Pakadora Association’s survey by visiting:

If you are interested in volunteering or finding out more about the work of the charity please contact Gabi at

Watch the cats in their homes:

Main picture: From right to left: President of Bensafim Margarida, her assistant Ana, Gabi Shepherd, Alistair co-founder of PDA , Vitor Village chairperson


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