Rebel with a Cause
by Helen Daniel
Vasco Reis is a prominent figure in the Aljezur community.
Having been the municipal vet from 1989 until 2008,
he is well known and much respected.
Rebel with a Cause
by Helen Daniel
Vasco Reis is a prominent figure in the Aljezur community. Having been the municipal vet from 1989 until 2008, he is well known and much respected.
In 2001 he founded AEZA, an active and successful animal shelter. At the age of 83, he is as devoted to the rights of animals as he has been for his whole life. An animal activist and campaigner, who speaks five languages, he organises and attends protests against bullfighting, and defends creatures from cruelty of any kind. He is such a committed vegan that his healthy, contented cats and dogs are fed veterinary-approved plant-based food. “I don`t understand people who say they love animals, yet they eat them,” he laments.
Born in Mozambique in 1938, Vasco grew up surrounded by wildlife and livestock. “I was fascinated by every single one of them,” he explains. “My empathy and compassion for animals began when I was very young.”
Vasco came to Portugal at 17 to study medicine at Lisbon University, going on to specialise in veterinary medicine, his vocation, and becoming the President of the Association for Veterinary Students. In 1962, he became entangled in the riots of the Academic Crisis. At this time there was a dictatorial regime (Estado Novo) and the students were angry that the national holiday known as Dia do Estudante was cancelled for political reasons. The riots got out of hand, and Vasco had to flee the country in exile.
Vasco transferred his studies to Germany and became a fully qualified vet in Hannover in 1967. Here, he met a fellow vet, a German lady, who soon became his wife and they went on to have three children. Switzerland then became his home for seven years and he applied himself to diligent veterinary work during this period. “For eight months, I was based in Zurich Hospital and was responsible for the care of the laboratory animals that were used for medical science experimentation. This heart-wrenching experience contributed towards my later decision to become a vegan.”
The Revolução dos Cravos on April 25, 1974, is when the Portuguese people backed a military coup and overthrew the Estado Novo dictatorship. This day, also known as Dia Da Liberdade, is celebrated every year with a national holiday. “From April 25 in 1974, I was free to enter Portugal again,” Vasco asserts, “So for the next 10 years I came for holidays, bringing my children so they could meet their grandparents and get to know Portugal.” During this time, he ran a veterinary clinic in Hamburg, finally returning to live in Portugal in 1984.
Working as a vet in the north of the country, Vasco then went for three years to the Azores to work on Ilha Terçeira. In 1989 – missing Portugal – he entered and won a competition to become the municipal vet of Aljezur. “So that is how I ended up in this town,” he declares. “Not all went smoothly though. As a result of leading an effective protest against the construction of a pig farm and slaughterhouse in the area, I was suspended for a year!” During this time, he became the vet that accompanied 1050 cows on a boat from the Netherlands to Angola. “This was a Canadian enterprise funded by the EU,” Vasco explains. “Angola needed help to restore their milk production.”
Caught up in the troubles of the country’s civil war, he was almost kidnapped; however, he managed to return in one piece to Aljezur to resume his veterinary duties.
Vasco, a dedicated environmentalist, always unconventional, radical and cutting-edge, is busy. When he is not physically protesting, he writes for PAN – Pessoas-Animais-Natureza. Recognised as the most highly praised vet for animal welfare in Portugal, he appears on television, in magazines and newspapers. My main passion in life,” he announces, “is to bring more awareness and empathy for the rights of animals.”