By Emily Yang
On the 4th of August 2022, John Pauwels – co-founder of Galgos Rescue Almeria – found himself dealing with a case of cruelty which shocked him. The authorities in Almeria, Spain, had closed down Patan, a dog pound after receiving reports about the terrible state their dogs were in. On the same day, countless rescue organisations in the vicinity moved in to take in as many dogs as they could. Galgos Rescue Almeria took in a particularly severe example: Eden, a Spanish Greyhound. „Even the vet said: “It was the worst case I ever saw,“ John Pauwels told me in an interview. „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 is still legal in some states of the United States, Ireland and Spain etc. It is especially prevalent in Spain. Hare coursing is a sport that involves using the „galgo español“ – or Spanish greyhound – to track and kill hares. The winner is decided by seeing which dog hunts its prey the most quickly and in the most aesthetic way (the galgo has to closely follow the fleeing hare in a zig-zag line). If their dogs don’t perform to their satisfaction, hunters will either gruesomely kill them or abandon them after snapping their legs, which ensures that the dogs won’t be able to run back home again. 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,” Sarah Hegi, an employee from “New Graceland”, a greyhound rescue organisation based in Switzerland, states.
One of the cruellest ways of killing galgos is described as “piano playing”. The hunters hang the slowest dogs by their neck with their front paws facing the floor and watch the dogs grapple and run in the air for a futile attempt to flee the inevitable suffocation. Usually, they would hang for hours or even days in fear and pain before they die. The owners want to see the dog “run until their very last breath”. This does not just stem from the pleasure some get from watching the dog’s torture but due to tradition passed down by generations of hunters.
The abuse of the galgos 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. (…) 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,”, Sarah says. If future generations are educated on these views, it would be possible to break these traditions and the terrible mistreatment of the galgos.
Currently, it is hard to turn the tide due to the large number of hunters in Spain. 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. They [the 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 (…),” John comments.
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. Manuel Gallardo Casado, the president of the Royal Spanish Hunting Federation, commented on the situation by posting a video titled “Animalism or Freedom” on the federation’s official site: “Reading this grotesque text of 89 articles gives me the impression that we live in the most absolute chaos, where the biggest problems are not the 3.5 million unemployed or the 11 million people who are in social exclusion or homelessness, education, health, pensions even corruption, but the rights of animals,” he says.
Sarah Hegi sees things rather differently: “This is a huge step back for our efforts against the maltreatment of all hunting dogs [in Spain]. (…) 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. The walk has already been hosted in countries such as Spain, Germany, Poland and Croatia. This year, Switzerland’s first galgo-walk was organised by ‘New Graceland’ and took place in Zurich on 28th January. The reason why New Graceland decided to plan the walk on a cold winter’s day was because this is the time the hunting season ends. Around 300 people participated, many of them being greyhound owners themselves.
“People outside of Spain should also protest because it increases the chances of the politicians listening to our side [the view that greyhounds should no longer be treated as livestock],” Sarah comments. 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. (…) Many of them go to Northern Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Finland,” John Pauwels says.
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 decided to cooperate with Spanish organisations. Thus, by donating and adopting, people who don’t live in the affected area can also help the cause.
After the protest, New Graceland received countless emails and messages on social media from people expressing their gratitude and approval of the walk. “It was due to your organisation (…) that I first came into contact with galgos… Since then, we have had 3 galgos… Educating simply helps… We’ll join [the walk],” Annerose Steidler commented on a post under New Graceland’s Facebook. Social media has played a vital part in gathering a community in Switzerland. Because of this large community, it has been possible for New Graceland to organise the galgo-walk and make it a great success.
Eden, the galga 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. There are many galgos that are still suffering in Spain. “People put it in the media and people see it, many people know about it. But more people abroad have no idea what is going on in Spain,” John Pauwels says. Protests, like the galgo-walk in Europe or the great global greyhound walk that takes place around the world, are being held every year and help bring attention to other dogs like Eden in Spain. John Pauwels is convinced, “It’s the only way things can change.“