IT WAS the last place 70 year old Manuel Maniee wanted to go and when he got in there; all he could do was cry.

Dog shelters, as we know them in Britain, just don’t exist in Spain. No, there man’s best friend is simply put down, dispatched in date order – first in, first out.

But time was running out for the lung cancer sufferer and he hadn’t found a new home for his beloved dogs Xia and Dana.

Julie French, who lives in Ponteland now but has spent four years of her life in Spain, said: “He went into his local kill-shelter, crying his eyes out and the volunteer there started to cry too. He was begging for help.

“This breed of dog – one is a Podenco and the other a Podenco-cross – is the most common type in Spain.

“The shelters are full of them, so they both knew Xia and Dana didn’t have a chance.”

But Manuel got the answer he so desperately wanted.

One telephone call later between the volunteer and Julie French, who has fostered more than 50 dogs in England and Spain over the years, and the dogs had been thrown a lifeline.

An appeal was launched over the internet, entitled A Dying Man’s Last Wish, to raise the thousand or so pounds needed to spay and inoculate the pair, get them pet passports and then on to flights to Britain.

“The money was raised in five minutes flat!” said Julie. “It was such a sad story and the two of them had already been through so much, it really touched a chord.”

Manuel had rescued them from almost certain death once before. One of the dogs was prised out of the ownership of a hunter frustrated by the fact she was too little to be an effective hunting dog.

The abuse he subjected her to was such that she gave birth to nine dead puppies.

The other was found tied up in the mountains, where she had been left to die.

Julie said: “Xia and Dana became inseparable when they were living with Manuel – they sleep on top of each other.

“Dana in particular needs the comfort of having Xia close by. She lies on top of her, and when she has her bone, cuddles up next to Xia while she’s chewing it, and she copies everything Xia does.

“They are aged four and six now and they are such sweet, friendly, loving little girls.”

They have been with Julie for four weeks now, and have settled in happily with her while she searches for their forever home.

But she would dearly love to be able to tell Manuel she has succeeded.

“The volunteer has been into the hospice to tell him they are safe in Britain now and happy,” said Julie.

“But we so want to find a happy ending for them as soon as we can – we don’t want Manuel to die without knowing what’s happened to his beloved girls.”

Julie works hard to get a good match between her charges and their prospective new owners, and carries out a home visit to ensure the dogs really are going to good homes.

“I have had two offers for Xia and Dana, but they were from people down south and I like to do the home checks in advance,” she said.

“I also like to be reasonably close by too, just in case any problems arise and I can go and get them. Mind you, I know that won’t happen with Xia and Dana.”

Anyone interested in adopting them can contact Julie on 07590 232222.