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How the problem began

In order to begin to understand the tragic situation of Galgos (Spanish sighthounds) in Spain, we must go back to past times first to have a global vision of the present situation.

From upper class to lower class

It is believed that the Galgo was introduced into Spain by the Arabs, and that it is descended from the Sloughi of North Africa. These animals, in their countries of origin, were practically venerated, in the same way that the Saluki, a cousin of the Galgo was only possessed by the Sheiks, and it was a great honour when a Sheik had given one to a guest as a gift. In such a way was tradition preserved. In the beginning Galgos were noble animals, and only persons of the nobility could possess them. These animals were used in great hunts but among all, Spanish naughtiness is well-known, and persons of humble origin, who cared for these animals, began to make off with some animals, extending the breeding of Galgos indiscriminately.

From that moment on the Galgo was no longer a noble animal belonging to nobles, but became an animal associated with the lowest strata of Spanish society. At the same time that this occurred, the noble classes in the south of Spain began to import Greyhounds from Ireland because of their great speed, which the Spanish Galgo did not have. The result was the creation of a new Anglo-Spanish breed. The curious thing is that these dogs are known as English Greyhounds, when in truth they never came from England, only from Ireland.

Again, the people who took care of these dogs were of the lower classes, and began to cross their own female dogs with the Irish males they had in their care, once again extending the cross-breeding between the Spanish Galgo and the Irish Greyhound in a rapid manner. The Irish blood gives the greyhound speed, and their Spanish blood gives them resistance (stamina) in the chase. Nowadays, depending on the place where on is hunting, an English Greyhound is better than an Spanish one or vice versa. For example, in the great hunting preserves of Andalucia where the hares have good weather and an abundance of food all year, the Irish Greyhound is used more, since their power is more valued because the chases are short. Nevertheless, in Castilla & Leon and Castilla-La Mancha, where the hares are hardier and the chases are much longer, three or four minutes, the Spanish Galgo is the more prized, given its stamina in the chase.

Economical influences on the Galgo’s plight

When the breeding was extended indiscriminately at the beginning of the 20th century among the more humble classes, this animal became an invaluable help to its owner, since in those days people hunted in order to eat. For that reason owning a Galgo meant, socially, that they did not suffer hunger in that house, because they kept a Galgo as an alternative source of providing food.

This meant that the owner of the Galgo, when the animal no longer served for the chase, had no other alternative but to sacrifice it, since economically he didn’t have the money to maintain it longer than was strictly necessary. The possible methods of sacrifice were few. They did not have shotguns because those were for rich folks. Hanging became the most-used method. It is a method which is undeniably cheap. In such a way the hanging of Galgos in Spain comes to us from time immemorial, put into practice by economic necessity, but continued by pure sadism.

The Franco regime produced a great migration from country to city to take advantage of work opportunities. Those immigrants who were fans of the world of the Galgo who had no place to indulge their fondness, began to get together in places where, with a couple of Galgos they could run races. This would develop into dog tracks importing that mania from England. At the end of the 70's there would be sixteen dog tracks in Spain, of which the last one, the Meridiana in Barcelona, closed in 2006. (During 1999 we assisted in the closing of two of them, one in Palma de Mallorca and the other in Barcelona, and in 2006 we rescued 100 Irish Greyhounds from the closed Meridiana track, also in Barcelona.) One-hundred percent of the Greyhounds which served in these dog tracks were originally from Ireland.

At the beginning of the 80's, at which time the economic situation of Spain was better, many people from the city began to have second homes in their old home towns. Also, country people had increased their acquisitive power. These two groups began to keep Galgos for the love of the hunt. But they kept up the old traditions of hanging the Galgo when the hunting season is over, or more modern versions of the same old story, such as abandoning them to chance in the countryside or in centers which take in animals.

The 21st century

This brings us to the present situation. In the 21st century in Spain the problems surrounding Galgos are very complex. On the one hand there exists the abusive and discriminating breeding of Galgos without any type of control on the part of the authorities. These animals are bred for the most part on large farms (“puppy factories”) where they receive no human warmth, under quite deplorable sanitary conditions. They are not vaccinated nor are they de-wormed regularly, and they have no value other than as mere instruments of the hunt. Breeding Galgos is very simple -- all one needs is a male dog, a female dog and a little bit of cover. Keep in mind that their food consists of stale bread and little more. This makes people believe that breeding Galgos is absolutely free, and means that the owners don’t bother themselves about preserving their animals from one year to the next because probably they will have fresh blood for the next hunting season.

The median age of Galgos who are abandoned in Spain is between two and three years of age. In a systematic way, when the hunting season is over (at the end of January), there arrive on our doorstep quite a few males and some females. From April or May on what we take in is primarily females. The reason for that is quite simple, the females who were not abandoned before had been bred for the coming season. Nevertheless, the males, once they have mounted the females, are not kept. If an animal has been a good hunter it usually will remain a longer time with the owners and be dedicated to breeding. But after eight years of age it is rare to find a Galgo who is still with its owners.

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