“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi
I first visited Scooby in 2000 and justified my trip because it was to help the shelter with its rescued dogs and cats. I had always vowed that I would never travel to Spain because of the attitude towards animals there. Bullfighting is abhorrent, the donkeys are poorly treated, the pony carousels were cruel and companion animals were routinely not considered part of the family. Even though I now realise that the Brits don’t have too much to be proud of when it comes to animal welfare, puppy and factory farming.
On that first trip a Gordon Setter ran out onto the motorway in front me as I was driving the hired car out of Madrid airport. On the approach to Medina del Campo I came across a dead female dog and her pup in the middle of the road. They were the victims of a road traffic accident, somehow curled up together at peace now but nobody had cared for them.
The shelter at the time was housing hundreds of galgos, some German Shepherds, Labradors, Mastins, Huskies (the fashionable breed at the time) and many mixed breeds in two ruined buildings courtesy of the council. Neither buildings had running water or electricity. The water had to be drawn from a well using a traffic cone on the days it was not delivered by the water company. Amelia, in her late fifties, walked with two friends every day from the town centre (about 2 miles away) to feed the dogs. One of the buildings was so dilapidated that as more masonry fell in, the council offered the 3 volunteers, hard hats to protect them. The council gave no thought to the protection of the stray animals being kept off of their streets.
As we researched the plight of the galgo in more detail, we found the evidence of the depth of the cruelty. The galgos were being hanged in their hundreds in the surrounding pine groves, once they were no longer useful to the galgueros. We know this because we’ve seen it with our own eyes. If not hanged, they were left to run in the streets or were thrown down the very deep dry wells which punctuate the Spanish countryside. Many Greyhound Compassion volunteers visiting the shelter have spent an evening or early morning trying to catch nervous galgos roaming the streets. The problem was that they were always so agile and fast that it was virtually impossible to get close. One particular morning we were having a coffee in the hotel before setting off for the shelter and through the window saw a loose galgo running along the road outside. All 6 of us slammed down our coffees and ran outside to try to catch him. The locals in the hotel thought we were bonkers and those outside doing their shopping or smoking a cigarette in the town square did nothing to help. I couldn’t believe how they ignored our pleas for help in broken Spanish. At home it would have been different. Everyone nearby would have helped us and the local newspaper might have turned up. It was clear they thought we were the crazy foreigners pursuing an idealistic waste of time!
We talked about holding a “Meet & Greet” in the town square to show the world what a wonderful dogs galgos are and how they make the perfect pets. We even started to put a photo board together to illustrate our point. At that stage we only knew of a couple of galgos living in family homes (one in the UK and one in the US) but that didn’t matter because we used pictures of pet greyhounds to convey the same message! It turns out we were 10 years too early! Fermin told us that there was no way we could do this. Galgos were the lowest of the low and considered vermin by the Spanish. Now everything fell into place. This explained why when a fellow Dutch volunteer walked into a local restaurant in Medina del Campo with his two galgos (apparently possible on the Continent but not yet allowed in the UK!) the room went quiet and the atmosphere became hostile.
So we spent the intervening years visiting the Scooby shelter with many volunteers who helped Scooby move to new premises and convert it to today’s purpose built refuge with running water, electricity and an on-site clinic. We continued to pick up the stray galgos and stash them in our hired car before taking them to safety. We found one poor galgo wandering in a vast field after the harvest, obviously forgotten by her galguero and left in the middle of the countryside, and took her on the backseat of our car back to the shelter. We had to hide her under my coat because it’s illegal in Spain to carry a dog on the backseat of the car. Dogs have to be transported in the boot. Many a galgo has turned up at the shelter in the boot of a saloon car.
The development of the Scooby shelter has been achieved on a shoestring budget and relied heavily on donations. The hangings have virtually come to an end but Scooby is still rescuing neglected galgos from near death and still with next to no money. It is an organisation which punches way above its weight and needs financial support to keep going. Unfortunately the perception of Scooby is that it is a large-scale rescue centre with the resources to match. This is not the case. Sometimes it doesn’t make ends meet and some months it only just breaks even. This is a shelter in dire need of financial support if its future is to replicate the past.
About five years ago, we started to see one or two more locals volunteering at the shelter and offering practical help. Until this point, there had been a team of about 3 reliable people keeping the refuge going. At this point Fermin told me that he would start doing some street stalls. The time had come. I was astounded at one event to hear a group of pre-teen girls stroll past commenting excitedly at the pictures of the galgos in the same way young kids here react to cute animal pictures.
The biggest stride forward, in my opinion, was this year’s Renaissance Fair. When Scooby’s stand, complete with several galgos, was such a roaring success. It had pride of place in the very town square in which we wanted to hold our “Meet & Greet”. The stall was surrounded by people and children cuddling the galgos. These must be the children and grand-children of those very people who couldn’t bring themselves to help us chase after the odd stray all those years ago. So education does work after all! It is this generation who can help Scooby spread the word and bring about even more change. Scooby continues to be a voice for the animals. Hopefully, the kids in the photo also represent the next generation of local volunteers and fund-raisers because Scooby can’t do it without them.