July 15, 2015

Bringing the Spanish Galgo and Podenco Out of Darkness

Love Hope Believe Galgo Rescue
This beautiful galgo photo is available for purchase in LHBGA's online fundraising auction

Warning: This post contains disturbing information about the treatment of galgos and podencos, the hunting dogs of Spain. I understand the inclination to look away, but I am relaying the facts as described by two rescue organizations who have seen the horrors with their own eyes and braved the heartache in order to show kindness, love and compassion to these deserving dogs that have only known cruelty and abandonment. Please read on and be part of the light that reaches these forgotten dogs of the dark perreras. 

For twenty years, I have been enamored with Spain, its people, horses, music and culture. For as long, I dreamed of traveling there and felt some almost preternatural connection, like the ghost of a memory, that told me I belonged there. I could see it in the Baroque curves of the Andalusian horse, feel it in the passionate verse and forceful rhythm of flamenco music. I was lucky enough to turn this dream to reality in the summer of 2013, spending two weeks in Andalucia and experiencing the glorious Feria in Seville, the exquisite Alhambra in Granada, the breathtaking cliff-top town of Ronda. I still think I've never recovered from having to come back from there - it was everything I'd imagined in my most elaborate fantasy and more. I answer unhesitatingly whenever someone asks me where I want to vacation or even live, but I am sad to say that learning about the galgos and podencos has cast a shadow over my love for Spain.

dachshund in Seville
Far luckier than a podenco, a pet dachshund outside Seville's Alcazar, taken on my 2013 trip to Spain.

Since adopting Ruby and Boca, I've taken a special interest in street dogs and international rescue. I'm also admittedly drawn to ginger and white dogs with big, upright, triangular ears, and I've always thought that Ibizan Hounds were particularly stunning. I started following some rescue groups on Facebook that focused on rescuing galgos (Spanish greyhounds) and podencos (agile rabbit hunters). I think you can see why I've fallen for them, but what started as an aesthetic attraction turned into learning about the unspeakable treatment and disposal in shocking numbers by the very hunters they are loyally working for. Their plight has captured me with the piercing stare of those intelligent eyes, and I feel bound to return their gaze. I set up a small monthly donations to both rescue groups featured here, follow their monthly fundraising auctions, and one day hope to do more. I would love to travel to Spain and accompany dogs back on flights and ultimately adopt a podenco of my own. In the meantime, I reached out to rescue groups with some interview questions in order to spread the word about helping these extraordinary dogs. Following are the answers from Rain Jordan with Hound Sanctuary in California (RJ) and Amanda Patenaude (AP) from Love, Hope Believe Galgo Adoption in Illinois, both founded in 2013.

What are the breed characteristics of galgos and podencos?

RJ: A Galgo, aka the Galgo Espanol, which means Spanish Greyhound, looks a lot like a greyhound though it is not in fact a greyhound...there are differences. For example, whereas the greyhound, due largely to its being bred over time for racing, is a sprinter, the galgo is more of an endurance athlete. That is not to say that a galgo won't be a couch potato--who doesn't like a good couch, after all. While there are always exceptions based on the dog's previous life experiences, generally speaking, the galgo is a calm, gentle, relaxed creature. A Podenco Ibicenco, is essentially the Spanish version of an American bred Ibizan hound. Again there are some differences. For example, the Ibicenco is often somewhat smaller than the American Ibizan hound. It gets more complicated when you add the fact that there are many more subtypes of the Podenco Ibicenco, named after the region from which they originate. The podenco is a highly intelligent, sensitive, loving, and loyal creature. While s/he enjoys couch and cuddle time, many podencos can also be quite bouncy, energetic, and athletic.  

AP: We like to tell our adopters that Greyhounds are "book smart" and Galgos are "street smart"!  While a greyhound has lived a very structured life, a Galgo has had to fend for itself. They learn how to "survive" the best they can. Galgos are very clever and learn very quickly how to get what they want.  Their physical appearance differs in more subtle ways. Galgos are smaller in height and their frame is more narrow. they have longer muzzles. Their ears appear larger and set further back. their feet are a bit larger and flatter for better mobility.  Galgos come in different coat types: smooth, rough or wire, and a very few long, wire coat.  Galgos have a bit thicker skin than greyhounds.  
podenco rescue
Skyler, a podenco rescued by Hound Sanctuary, before & after 
Can you explain the specific plight of the galgos and podencos?

RJ: The galgos and podencos of Spain are bred and raised as tools for hunters. They generally live outdoors or in dark, tiny bunkers, in barricaded-in junk heaps, or worse, on a short chain that is anchored to a piece of cement or some other fixed object. Usually there are many of them living together in very close quarters, and sometimes they are also chained to one another as well as to a fixed object. They are provided very little space of their own, little if any food, and little to no human contact. The females are often kept like handmaids, for year after year as breeding machines, then dumped in the perrera ("killing stations"), on the side of the road or worse. It is not uncommon in Spain to find living dogs--adults as well as puppies--tied up and thrown in trash bins. Training methods for these dogs vary, but often include methods such as tying them to the backs of automobiles and forcing them to run behind as the vehicles drive down the roads. If the dogs cannot keep up, they simply fall and may be dragged while their training mates keep running. If a dog is no good at hunting, or so good that s/he takes the fun out of it for the hunters, or eats what s/he catches, that dog will be deemed a defective weapon. Disposal methods may include abandonment on a strange roadside somewhere far away enough from the dog's bunker that the dog cannot find its way back home (these dogs are very smart and very loyal, so will try to find their homes, however unkind their owners might have been). Sometimes in order to make sure that the dog does not find its way home, the abandoner will break the dog's legs, blind it, or enact other horrible physical measures upon the dog to make it impossible for the dog to maneuver.  

AP: Galgos are only a tool to be used and abused by the galgueros(hunters). They are not considered worthy of "family pet" status. If the galgo gets injured or doesn't perform the way they are expected, they are discarded. Many are hung in trees. If they are hung high in the tree, they were considered good hunters and this is a sign of respect. But many are hung by a method called "piano playing". These are the ones that disgraced their galgueros and are hung so their back feet can just touch the ground. Many galgos are set on fire, thrown in abandoned wells, or severely injured to prevent them from hunting on their own. Even more are hit by cars. They are persecuted simply because they are galgos. Thousands of years ago, galgos were only owned by royalty and it was punishable by death for killing a galgo. Now, 40,000 to 50,000 galgos are killed each year.

podencos for adoption
Lottie & Lettie, podencos available for adoption through Hound Sanctuary

Describe a day in the life of rescue: 

RJ: There really is no one sort of typical day here. Sometimes we have fosters in and during those times it's all about working with the dogs, teaching them what living indoors is all about, getting the dogs to feel comfortable if they are nervous or scared, letting the dogs learn what it is to be truly cared for, photographing the dogs, and showing the world why those particular dogs are so deserving of a new life full of safety and love. Other times we are planning for the next dogs to come in, and that is a lot of internet time and communication with our overseas contacts. Sometimes--a lot of the time, actually--we have to focus on raising funds to pay for our rescue missions, which also requires a lot of internet time. 

AP: The galgos of LHBGA are mainly fostered in our home (as we have very few foster homes in our area) where they are taught "House Rules". We work on basic obedience and house breaking. Many of the galgos we adopt out have been on the streets or in a shelter for a year or more. Many are fearful of humans and we work hard to socialize them an help them over come some of their fears. Galgos are very smart and it becomes a learning experience for them and us! They love to play and run around the yard. Galgos are very vocal and physical players. It is not unusual for them to sound like they are fighting, even if there is only one galgo out playing! They growl at and throw their toys, and run, and run, and run some more!! But they are absolutely BIG cuddle bugs!

What do you say to people who wonder why dogs should be brought here from another country when there are homeless dogs in the U.S.? 
RJ: I always appreciate that question because it is an important one to keep answering and letting more people understand.  But let me start by saying that we do also rescue dogs in here in the USA (in fact, we just rescued a little Chihuahua from an Orange County kill shelter), both locally and from other areas of the country.  We also work to help other USA rescues, and to do outreach to reduce the problem of homeless, abandoned, neglected, and abused dogs in the USA, and we will continue to do so as long as there is a need. The Spanish podenco and galgo plight was the catalyst for Hound Sanctuary's founding and will always be one of our projects.  It is, so to speak, my 'heart' project. It spoke to my heart and I had to help. It's that simple. But to answer the question more directly:  Rescuing needy podencos (Ibizan hounds) from Spain and bringing them here for adoption is actually helpful to the USA rescue community.  Hound Sanctuary makes it possible for those people who only want a specific breed [Ibizan Hound] to adopt a needy dog, and we make it possible for people who would love to have this breed, but who only want a rescue dog, to have the dog their heart longs for while still being a good animal-helping citizen by rescuing.  

AP:  I love when people ask this question because it opens the door for a discussion about their plight.  Yes, the US has a very large number of dogs in shelters and I am all for finding the right breed to fit your family and lifestyle. For some people, it is a Galgo. The US has laws against animal abuse that are truly enforced. In Spain, the majority of the ones that are there to enforce the laws are the very people hunting with galgos and podencos. Many times, the authorities turn a blind eye to what they see other hunters do in fear that they will make known the negative side of hunting with galgos. A Galgos life expectancy in Spain is 2-3 years old. If they have a female that is a relatively good hunter they may keep her for breeding. Galgueros will typically keep one male and 4 females through of off season in the hopes of one really good coursing dog. There are at least a hundred thousand registered hunters in Spain. Each hunter with at least 5 galgos. Now each of those galgos is pregnant and may have, let’s say 5 puppies. Can you see the numbers adding up? More than half of these galgos won’t live more than a year or two. There are no true numbers of how many galgos are actually killed each year. It is estimated to be 40 to 50 thousand. However, there are many galgos that just disappear and no one ever knew they existed. Their bones may be found in an abandoned well or wrapped in a bag in a garbage dump. In more rural areas they may be found hanging from trees. So, yes I do agree that there are a lot of dogs in need here in the US, but this particular breed are abused or killed on a daily basis. The Galgos that LHBGA brings to the US hardly makes a dent in the numbers in Spain. Our goal is to raise awareness and help make space for the next galgo to be rescued. Saving one Galgo may not change the world, but for that one Galgo, the world has changed forever!

adoptable galgo
Khaleesi, available for adoption through Love, Hope, Believe Galgo Rescue

What is the process for adopting a galgo or podenco from Spain for someone in the U.S.?

RJ: We recommend that potential adopters first complete the online application on our website. Once their application is approved, we can explore what sort of dog (personality, gender, breed, etc) the adopter is seeking.  Because there are so many podencos and galgos in need of homes, we can usually find what the adopter needs, within reason. The process is application, home check, personal interview/s, and reference checks, then execution of a strict contract that contains safety and care rules, and repossession and liquidated damages clauses for breaches of contract. The minimum adoption donation currently is $500 plus travel kennel cost. This amount comes nowhere close to covering what it costs us to bring one of these sweethearts to its forever home. 

APWhen someone is interested in adopting a galgo, we first have them fill out an application. After reviewing the application we contact references and their veterinarian. We then contact the applicant and discuss the galgos (personalities, requirements of a six foot fence or leash walking, type of galgo they are looking for,etc…). Then we will have an LHBGA representative do a home check. We encourage them to come and meet the galgos if they haven’t already. If they have a specific galgo in mind, we set up a meeting with the whole family, including pets. If we don’t have a galgo that fits with the family’s expectations, we will work with them and the groups in Spain to find the right fit. Our adoption fees are about half the cost of the transport, so $550.00. 

What can one ordinary person do to help the dogs of Spain? 

RJ: Well, it depends on that person's resources! If you are retired, you can contact us about volunteering to be a flight escort to bring dogs home to us from Spain, or you can volunteer to make, or collect items for our fundraising auctions. If you are a good networker, you could help a ton by spreading the word about us and asking all of your contacts to donate to Hound Sanctuary. If you travel a lot, you could donate your saved up air miles to us that we would then use to help pay for a needy dog's trip out of Spain and into safety here with us. If you have a particular skill or product, you can donate that--for example, we always need legal services, tax services, art/design, grant writers, fundraising professionals, marketing/PR professionals, media experts, force free trainers, T shirt printers/providers or other merchandise. Each one of you reading this has at least one special thing about you.  Ask yourself what that one thing is that could help, and how you can make that happen.  You are doing it not for me, nor for the sanctuary, but for each and every dog that comes through.  

AP: Many people ask how they can get involved and help the Galgos. Our first answer is to help spread awareness for the plight of the Galgos in Spain. The more people know, the more people protesting and shining the light on the issue, the pressure on Spain to correct the issue will increase. Many people that adopt a Galgo, suddenly become a member of a community of Galgo/Greyhound lovers!  If you can’t adopt, there are always ways you can help! We are looking for foster homes. We have foster applications on our website. Like our Facebook page and share posts of adoptable galgos. We collect donated items for the galgos of LHBGA and for the galgos in Spain (coats, martingale collars, leashes, first aid supplies, flea and tick preventative, heartworm preventative, as well as monetary donations). We always need sponsors to help cover transport costs and medical care for the galgos of LHBGA. If you have special skills such as sewing, graphic design, writing, marketing, accounting, these are great ways to help out.

Do you have a favorite rescue story?

RJ: Honestly, each rescue is its own beautiful story.  How can I pick a favorite?  There was Ibis, the giant Podenco Canario puppy (31 inches to the shoulder, barely a year old) who learned to use our refrigerator icemaker on day one. His forever mom calls him her PermaPuppy. There was Hero, the Podenco Ibicenco who was found in Spain with a broken leg; the kennel people warned us repeatedly that he was not going to be easy to deal with because he was so nervous and would not allow anyone to touch him--many times I was told I should take a different dog that was more friendly. He came in our very first group and I found him to be so sweet and deserving, definitely not the lost cause people had painted him to be.  And he let me touch him just fine.  There's Chai, a local Saluki surrendered to me by his owner because of seizures, he might even have been put to sleep had there not already been a signed surrender agreement in hand; a year later, he is so happy with his new family, and loved madly. Cloudy, the Podenco Pup of Many Surgeries and Flying Nun Ears, was found with broken legs and endured several surgeries in Spain, came to us with a plate in his leg; our vet advised he would need more surgery, yet his fosters loved him and adopted him anyway; he just had the plate removed and will be all better soon. 

AP:  I can’t really say I have a favorite rescue story, because they all hold a special place in my heart.  I can tell you that starting Love Hope Believe Galgo Adoption has changed my life! These dogs are my life and I love each and every one of them! We get stories from our adopters about the silly antics of their galgos. Whitaker, aka Damaris, came from Foundation Benjamin Mehnert in Sevilla, Spain. She was found tied to a tree with another galgo, left there to starve. She came to us and was adopted by a woman that is a lead investigator for animal cruelty.  Now, Whitaker is a certified therapy dog and goes to schools and acts as an ambassador for animal cruelty. Her silliness and confidence at home has helped her galga sister overcome her fears. She likes to gather all the dog bowls and put them on her mom’s bed. She also drags her own bed up onto her mom’s bed so she can be sure to sleep in ultimate comfort! She has learned to open the screen door to let herself and all the other dogs back into the house. Pipo, aka “The International Galgo of Mystery”, is a very active boy and too smart for his own good! Pipo learned a puzzle to in less than 5 minutes and continues to find new ways to challenge his parents. They also adopted a galgo named Janis and their dad “is just happy to no longer be the chew toy!” Then there is Rosendo aka “the wooly mammoth”. He is the rock star of LHBGA with his hair extensions and highlights, as we call them! Gemma is our most recent addition to the Patenaude gaggle of hounds. We adopted her from Baas Galgo. We met her during our last trip to Spain. She had only been there for 3 days and all she wanted was to be pet, she wagged her tail the whole time!  I could go on and on about these dogs, but until you experience them for yourself, you won’t get the full understanding of their love.

Sklyer, Hound Sanctuary alumni, in her forever home

I am so grateful for the tireless efforts of those involved in the rescue community in general, the compassionate souls who stand at the mouth of darkness and extend a gentle hand. They have witnessed what is painfully difficult to read. Without them, I would not have my perfect family of my brilliant Ruby and my breezy Boca. I am similarly grateful
to those who champion the cause of the hunting dogs of Spain, through networking, transport, rehabilitation and homing. Without them, many more galgos and podencos would perish without knowing love. Without them, forgotten dogs would be bereft of hope. While they are considered trash in Spain, many who have seen the fear fade and trust illuminate their eyes through rescue, fostering and adoption know that they are treasures.

What can you do to help galgos and podencos?

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  1. Thank you for posting about this! I shared.

  2. Astonishing article. Thank you for posting. I host a blog in Illinois that I would love to include Love, Hope, Believe in. Stunning creatures. Heartbreaking to read of this barbaric treatment they endure.

  3. Khaleesi!

    Thank you for this post, Lara. I was completely unaware of this situation. Hard to believe that people can stand by while these things happen.

  4. I am so glad you're such a supporter of rescue, including international ones. For some reason there's a lot of people that get defensive when it comes to who others choose to rescue. At the end of the day an animal is in need, and someone's stepped up to help, how can there be anything wrong with that? I know it's not a fair comparison but I'm always reminded of those who speak badly about international (human) adoption; where a person or animal was born shouldn't give them any more right to a life full of love and compassion.

  5. Thank you for posting this and helping to spread the word for international rescue, which is just as important as local rescue. Some people are just not aware of the horrific treatment of animals abroad. I will share your post :)

    Purrs xx
    Athena and Marie

  6. Lara, thank you for a beautiful and educational post. These are two breeds I new very little about beforehand but now want to know more. It saddens me how awful the human race can be though. I suppose rather than being sad, it is better to support those doing good work for these beautiful dogs.

  7. Thank you for giving the Forgotten Angels of Spain another voice, Lara. We at Hound Sanctuary are very grateful. I also want to give credit to Jacky & Rosemary of P.E.P.A., the Spanish rescue group who found Skylar in that 'before' condition and nursed her to the more healthy state of the 'after' photo before sending her to us. She had some more recovery to do when she got here and was very lucky to be adopted by a wonderful couple in Washington state who take great care of her. She's all healed now.

  8. I'm in love with Skyler. I'd love one just like her!

    1. Email us, Linda. :) welcometothesea@comcast.net

  9. I will DEFINITELY share this information!

  10. What an excellent interview. I have been to Spain but admit I had no idea about these beautiful dogs being mistreated and rescued.

  11. I can't believe how horrible some humans are. Why is being a psychopath okay in any country? I'm very happy that this group has come along to help undo the damage that is being done. It sounds like they are doing a wonderful job! Hopefully, their compassion will help to change things for this breed!
    -Purrs from your friends at www.PlayfulKitty.net

  12. I can't believe how horrible some humans are. Why is being a psychopath okay in any country? I'm very happy that this group has come along to help undo the damage that is being done. It sounds like they are doing a wonderful job! Hopefully, their compassion will help to change things for this breed!
    -Purrs from your friends at www.PlayfulKitty.net

  13. This was a tough post to read. I just don't understand why people mistreat animals so much.

  14. What incredible interviews - and such a disturbing situation! I do believe you've enlightened many of us (myself included) who never knew about the plight of these dogs in Spain. Kudos to you for shedding light on dogs that are very much in need of some human compassion and assistance. Wishing the very best for the featured organizations.

    Thank you for blogging the change for animals!
    Be the Change for Animals
    CindyLu's Muse

    p.s. - My jaw dropped - the organization in Illinois is IN THE SAME TOWN as I live in! Lara, I'd never heard of them!

  15. That is horrible how they're treated. I'd read about them before but not to this extent.

  16. I knew there was a problem with dogs in Spain, but had never looked into it -- there are so so many problems with dogs in so many countries it gets overwhelming. Thanks for catching me up on this. I was surprised to hear they are also located in IL, as I had not heard of them.

  17. WOW I learned a lot in this post and will be sharing. Thanks for calling attention to this.

  18. WOW...such a tragedy. :-( I had no idea but I am aware of how poorly dog are treated in some other countries.
    These are such beautiful dogs, I wish we could educate Spain and change the people.


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