A sense of justice | FPN student stories

Rachel Barros Custódio’s affinity with fairness and justice started early when she looked around her Portuguese hometown of Lisbon and saw the mistreatment of animals. “A lot of people in Portugal treat their animals like things, sometimes even worse. They don’t view them as living creatures with feelings”. During her bachelor’s in psychology studies in Portugal, she started working at a Bianca Animal Shelter where she cared for the animals and helped them find new, loving homes.

Thom Frijns

Move to Maastricht

After the bachelor’s, it was time to find a master’s programme that suited her interest in human behaviour. Specifically, in the field of forensics and criminology. At the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience at Maastricht University, she found the specialisation Legal Psychology, focusing on psychology in the justice system. “There aren’t many places in the world where you can follow this programme, so that is what brought me to Maastricht. When I came here, I was shocked to see that there were no stray dogs or cats anywhere. At first, I thought it must be a coincidence, but I soon learned that there is a huge difference in the way the Dutch treat their pets. In that way I feel a lot closer to the Dutch culture than the Portuguese”.

Leaving the shelter behind

“The hardest thing to leave behind in Portugal was my work at the shelter. But my boss had a great plan”. Most of the animals in Portuguese shelters go to either the Netherlands, Belgium, or Germany. “So, in combination with my studies, I go to Portugal once a month and pick up a few sheltered animals to bring them to their new owners in the Netherlands. I love the work, because you get to see the happiness in both the new owners and the dogs. So, if you see someone at the airport with a lot of dogs, chances are that it’s me”.

Legal Psychology

“In Portugal, you see that often people get away with crime, similar to the mistreatment of animals, due to the legal system that fails on many levels”. Seeing this crime in her surroundings sparked her interest in Legal Psychology. “How the human mind works, has always been of great interest to me. And I desperately wanted to know what causes people to commit criminal acts. What are the mechanisms in their head that make them cross that line?”. Rachel’s ambition would be to work with law enforcement to find their suspects more efficiently with profiling and psychological analysis. “Sometimes physical evidence is not enough, and I would love to bring in that extra perspective and help with interrogations to make sure that you don’t get false confessions. Now, I need to start working on my Dutch”.

The dream

“If I could choose to do anything in the world, I would open my own shelter. A place where we could take care of the wellbeing and rehabilitation of animals, as well as people”. In this dream-shelter, Rachel would create a space for stray animals from Portugal to recover, find a new home, and be part of a therapeutic sessions. “When we focus on the rehabilitation of an animal that needs care, that has been traumatised, we find that we can start rehabilitating ourselves in that process. There is a lot of anxiety in society, being with animals can relieve part of that anxiety and stress”.


“I want to continue to work for the shelter and bring awareness to the animal situation in Portugal, and I hope that at some point the culture in Portugal will have learned a lesson from the Dutch treatment of animals”.

Read more about the Bianca Animal Shelter