Guard dogs are a regular sight on the hand of the blind and disabled, but one organization is providing dogs for an entirely new purpose. In Madrid, a non-profit is providing victims of domestic abuse with a furry friend for protection.

Ángel Mariscal, a dog handler for a company called Grupo Security Dogs, began the organization seven years ago when he received a call from a woman asking if he would train her dog to protect her from an abusive partner. Mariscal initially declined, but then realized that dogs were naturally protective. 

Using the endearing term “pepo,” Mariscal started training dogs to help women debilitated by abuse. Unlike guard dogs, pepos aren’t trained to attack, but rather protect at the sound from the owner.

GettyImages-578258970 The Canary Mastiff (Presa Canario in Spanish) is one breed used by Grupo Security Dogs. The breed is a gentle giant, protective, alert and even-tempered. Photo: Getty Images

At least 20 women in Spain currently have a protection dog, with 16 more on the waiting list. Training a dog is time-consuming and requires that both animal and owner undergo a course of up to 200 hours. Women who approach the foundation are first assessed by a psychologist, then undergo an initial 20-hour course under police supervision. This is followed by a further 150 hours in dog handling, during which Mariscal and his team choose a dog that fits the adoptee’s character and situation.

“We prefer it if the courts have already issued a restraining order against the woman’s partner, but we will look at cases where women are too frightened to report their aggressor to the authorities,” Mariscal explained to El Pais.

The service is free of charge and is funded privately from Mariscal. He receives help from dog trainers, psychologists and coaches who work for free. For the victims of domestic abuse, the service is a godsend.  

“I couldn’t sit in a circle with 10 other women listening to all the terrible things that had happened to them, and much less tell people about what had been done to me. It was too much,” said América, one of the women using a protection dog.

The program is already gaining traction beyond Spain. Mariscal said he has been in touch with the Mexican government to start a program n Mexico, where femicide is a major concern, similar to the one he founded.