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Horror and Hope: The plight of Spain’s Galgos

i Apr 15th No Comments by

Fermin Perez is President of Scooby in Spain. He has led its development from a refuge for stray dogs and cats in a disused ruin, to a purpose-built shelter with running water, electricity and an onsite clinic. Fermin talks to Greyhound Compassion about Scooby’s journey – and the thousands of abused galgos that are saved by Scooby every year.

Greyhound Compassion (GC): Fermin, how did you start with these galgos?

Fermin: Well, I am a science teacher in a secondary school and many years ago, one pupil came to me, not knowing what to do, because his uncle (a galguero) was going to hang his galgo. I was shocked. It was then I went to the pine groves on the outskirts of Medina del Campo and saw with my own eyes the hanging galgo corpses in the trees. I used my camera and blasted the evidence far and wide. This shamed the local galgueros into stopping the hangings. Now, they surrender them to Scooby at the end of the coursing season or they leave them to stray in the streets. We pick them up, often the victims of a car accident by that time.

GC: Have the hangings stopped?

Fermin: They have more or less stopped in Medina del Campo. Occasionally, we come across a galgo corpse in the woods which is always very tragic but rare nowadays. At the end of the last coursing season in 2018 we rescued a pregnant female galgo with deep wounds in her neck (pictured below). She had almost certainly got herself down from a noose, made her way into the village centre before collapsing.

We couldn’t save the puppies. The vet said it was the worst wound he’d ever seen but I had a good feeling she could be saved. I know these dogs and I know their spirit can take over with the right medical care. On a visit to the UK, I remember talking to a long-standing greyhound rescuer and she told me these greyhounds can recover from the lowest moment of their lives and be so forgiving to humankind. They can also decide when it’s over. In my experience that woman was right.

Saved from hanging

Coursing happens all over our expansive country, the galgueros can hide a lot. We suspect hanging is happening in remote parts of Spain. We had that terrible discovery in February of a galgo grave in Castilla La Mancha, a popular area for hunting. Thankfully a TV news programme did cover that find. Sometimes the galgueros throw their unwanted galgos down disused wells (of which there are lot in Spain and they should be covered by law).

GC: How many galgos has Scooby rescued this year?

Fermin: I don’t know yet.  We have been so busy collecting galgos, we haven’t compiled our statistics into a report. Then we get into the weekend transports nearly twice per month when we drive to France, Holland, Germany and Belgium with a van load of galgos to the homing co-ordinators there. On the weekends when we are not driving north, we sometimes receive the Italian support groups who take galgos to good homes in Italy. It’s been pretty full on.

I know that we rescued 40 on one Saturday in January. They were desperate, the villager who called us from that area was worried the galgueros were going to throw the galgos into the salt mines nearby.  About 30 to 35 were streaming in every week in January and February.  It was wall to wall galgos.

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GC: Can’t the Spanish government do something about this?

Fermin: We have the animal cruelty legislation. Article 337 of the Spanish Penal Code makes ill-treatment of animals a criminal offence and galgos are included in this. We know this first-hand from our previous collaboration with World Animal Protection (WAP). WAP had this confirmed from the Government in Madrid. We have had one successful prosecution in 20 years. The problem is the cruelty is dispersed and can be easily hidden in a vast country like Spain.  Scooby has a good relationship with the Police and we report cruelty when we have the evidence. Scooby and all of the Spanish Protectoras have to do this, we have to keep submitting our ‘denuncias’.

The other problem, as you know, is that the champion galgo wins the King’s Cup (El Campeonato de Espana de Galgos en Campo Copa Su Majestad El Rey). You had the Greyhound Compassion petition to urge King Felipe VI to withdraw his name and had 3,740 signatures from all over the world.

GC: Yes, we received signatures from Japan to the West Coast of the USA. We submitted the petition to King Felipe VI but no acknowledgement from him or his office. He did start to follow us on Twitter though! Seriously, isn’t there any progress?

Fermin:  Yes, the ‘Day of the Galgo’ on 1 February was launched a few years ago and now it is followed by protests ‘anti-hunting with galgo and other breeds’ (‘No a la Caza con galgos y otras razas’). They took place in 31 cities in Spain this year as well as Cologne and several cities in Italy. I went to the one in Valladolid (nearest city to Scooby) this year. I drove there thinking it would be me and about 20 or 30 of our circle of supporters and rescuers. No, to my amazement, there were more than 200 people on the streets and some with their galgos. We had press coverage. This was quite something. I could see a few galgueros spying on us from the sidelines. When I started this work, I couldn’t walk in the street with my galgo without abuse or even a threat to my life if I walked past a galguero (not unusual where I come from). Now, a generation later, we have people shouting on the streets to ban hunting and modernise Spain. This has to give us hope.

anti hunting demo valladolid

GC: You’ve mentioned the ‘have and the have not’ galgos from this year’s championship. Tell us more.

Fermin: What a story. This year’s coursing champion, Malu, was a female galgo (a galga). She will now be worth something like €35k. Poor Malu, she will go on to hunt and hunt and be a breeding machine, that is until she is past her ‘use by’ date and hopefully Scooby gets her before she becomes a victim. Yet a few weeks before the coursing championship, the owner of the champion discarded her useless brother, Moro, because he had a broken leg and Scooby rescued him. A destitute chap, Moro was thrown out with nothing. We have repaired his leg and will home him to a life of luxury, soon he will have everything. This is the story of the ‘have and have not’ galgos. I just hope we get to Malu sooner rather than later.

Malu the champion galgo

King’s Cup Champion Malu

GC: Didn’t you make some noise about the Moro/Malu travesty?

Fermin: Yes, we put the story on our Facebook page and I got an anonymous call threatening my safety and the safety of the Scooby animals at the shelter. I didn’t take much notice until a galguero who is reliable called me to say that I should take the threat seriously. We reported this to the police. Plus, not to be cowed by these animal abusers, I asked our international support groups to let their supporters know what had happened. I could not risk the well-being of the animals within Spain but our international supporters had to know what we face.

Malu's brother, Moro, saved by Scooby

Malu’s brother, Moro, saved by Scooby

GC: What does Scooby need?

Fermin: Honestly, we cannot manage without donations and we are very grateful for the support we receive from Greyhound Compassion’s members. This has helped us to achieve a lot: the animal ambulance, the van a few years ago, contributions to the heating and dog food bills. All of this makes the world go around for Scooby. We do need help with the shelter and fencing appeal you are profiling. What we have now is not fit for purpose and must be renewed if we are to continue as a reception centre for the galgos.

GC: What does the future look like for the galgos?

Fermin: Whilst hunting with galgos has been banned in Argentina, and I believe change will come in Spain eventually, we know that Spanish galgueros are exporting galgos to Algeria for hunting. Through our campaigning we will have to close off avenues for exporters of animal cruelty and exploitation. We all need to pull together to publicise the plight of this gentle breed and make sure we are one step ahead of the animal abusers.

We need to be effective in our parliaments. I see this happening with the campaign against the export of greyhounds to China. Shaming the practice did cause the Irish government to come out against it. We have to do the same and that’s where the internet is so good at enabling international contacts and ‘real time’ e-activism.

GC: So the message is – keep speaking up for galgos and make it loud! 

If you would like to support the vital work of Scooby does and support the many galgos Fermin and his team save, please head over to this page and make a difference!

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