The galgo is a popular hunting dog in Spain. But a worldwide network of dog lovers march each year to stop a practice they believe is inhumane.
On the left Eden, a rescued Spanish Greyhound, was found covered by ticks when rescued from a pound in Almeria, Spain. On the right Eden is healthy after rehabilitation. (Credit: Galgos Rescue Almeria)
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In August 2022, John Pauwels and Sandy Cortebeeck, founders of Galgos Rescue Almeria, found themselves dealing with a case of cruelty that shocked them.
The authorities in Almeria, Spain had closed down Patan, a dog pound, after receiving reports about the terrible state the dogs were in. A number of animal rescue organisations in the vicinity took in as many dogs as they could.
Galgos Rescue Almeria took in a particularly severe case: Eden, a Spanish Greyhound.
“Even the vet said, ‘It was the worst case I ever saw,'” Pauwels said. “Eden was littered with thousands, if not millions of ticks. That same evening, we had to give her a blood transfusion because she was completely drained and anaemic. There were more than a hundred dogs … most of the dogs were skeletons, filthy, hungry — the living dead. I cannot describe them any other way.”
While banned in most of Europe, hare coursing — using the “galgo español,” or Spanish Greyhound, to track and kill hares — is still legal in some parts of the United States and Ireland and is especially prevalent in Spain.
A hunting tradition many find cruel
Sarah Hegi, an employee from New Graceland, a greyhound rescue organisation based in Switzerland, said that in hare coursing, the winner is decided by seeing which dog hunts its prey with the most speed and in the most aesthetic way (the galgo has to closely follow the fleeing hare in a zig-zag line).
If the dogs don’t perform to satisfaction, hunters might gruesomely kill them or abandon them after snapping their legs, which ensures that the dogs won’t be able to run back home again, Hegi said.
This usually happens during the first months of the year, because this is when the hunting season ends in Spain, when the hunters, known as “galgueros” dispose of the dogs they don’t care to feed anymore. Often, dogs are found mangled in rubbish bags or on the side of the streets.
“Around 50,000 to 100,000 galgos are abandoned and killed every year,” Hegi said.
This type of abuse of the galgo is deep-rooted in tradition. “Children are taught how to train and kill the galgos by their parents, and their parents were taught by their own parents,” Hegi said. “It is important to educate future generations on animal rights and protection and help them see the galgos not as hunters and livestock, but as pets and companions.”
Lobbying to end greyhound hunting
According to figures from the Spanish government’s Ministry of Culture and Sport 2022, the total number of hunting licences that were issued in Spain during 2021 was 337,226, and 12,236 licences were issued for the keeping of galgos. The document stated that the number probably would have been even bigger if it had not been for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Politicians in Spain are reluctant to incur the wrath of the country’s strong hunting lobby. That’s why they continue to neglect animal rights.
“It’s a big industry and a powerful lobby,” Pauwels sadi. “[Hunters] have to pay for their licences and other things. Many people think that the hunters are only in the lower parts [in society] but … there are very many hunters in high positions in politics and in the police.”
A recent example would be the new animal rights bill, which was filed last year.
It stated that all pets, including dogs, have to be trained to not harm other animals. However, hunting dogs were officially excluded from the bill last December due to the protests of the Royal Spanish Hunting Federation.
People march for animal rights.
Manuel Gallardo Casado, the president of the Royal Spanish Hunting Federation, criticised the actions of animal-rights activists by posting a video titled “Animalism or Freedom.” In the video, he argued that it is wrong to be so concerned about the rights of animals when millions of people are unemployed and millions more are homeless or lack education or healthcare.
Hegi sees things rather differently. “This is a huge step back for our efforts against the maltreatment of all hunting dogs [in Spain],” Helgi said. “We can only hope that the politicians acknowledge our protests.”
One of the yearly protests that greyhound-rights activists around Europe organised is the “galgo-walk.” It is a peaceful protest that speaks out on behalf of the dogs that are being mistreated in Spain. These events have taken place in Spain, Germany, Italy and Poland.
This year, Switzerland’s first galgo-walk was organised by New Graceland and took place in Zurich on 28 January to mark the end of the hunting season. Around 300 people participated, many of them being greyhound owners themselves.
After the protest, New Graceland received countless emails and messages on social media from people expressing their gratitude and approval of the walk. Social media has played a vital part in gathering a community in Switzerland.
“People outside of Spain should also protest because it increases the chances of the politicians listening to our side,” Hegi said.
Animal lovers around the world look to Spain.
Another way to help is to adopt dogs and donate to animal rescue shelters in Spain.
“Ninety-nine percent of our dogs go outside of Spain,” Pauwels says. “Many of them go to Northern Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Finland.”
New Graceland itself is an organisation that houses rescue dogs from Spain. They work with a shelter based in Madrid, ‘The Association for the Protection and Defense of Animals, Plants and the Environment of Leganés (PROA)’.
After some dogs are picked from PROA, they are sent cross-country by car to be received and taken care of by New Graceland, and later adopted by Swiss people.
Many other shelters outside of Spain also cooperate with Spanish organisations. Thus, by donating and adopting, people who don’t live in the affected area can also help the cause.
Finding new homes for abused dogs
Eden, the Spanish Greyhound from Patan, is now in a much better condition after spending a few months under Galgos Rescue Almeria’s care. She was adopted by a household in Switzerland in December 2022.
However, there are still many galgos that are suffering.
“People put it in the media and people see it, many people know about it,” Pauwels says. “But more people abroad have no idea what is going on in Spain.”
“It’s the only way things can change,” Pauwels said.
Three questions to consider:
- Why is hunting with greyhounds popular in Spain?
- What is it that most concerns people who argue that it is wrong to use greyhounds for hunting and racing?
- Do you think greyhounds can be used for hunting or racing without being mistreated?
Emily Yang is in the fourth year of high school of Realgymnasium Rämibühl in Zurich, Switzerland. Her favourite subject in school is Biology and she plans to study Medicine in the future. She likes to draw and read during her free time and is also currently trying to brush up on her volleyball skills.