It has been said that the dog is man's best friend. If this is true, then the galgos of Spain have been viciously betrayed.
There is a very cruel custom amongst some Spanish hunters, or "galgueros," that destroys more than 50,000 galgos every year.
The galgos are greyhounds used for hunting, but most are used for only one season and then discarded. If they hunt poorly, they are tortured as retribution for the shame they reflected upon their owners.
The reasoning of the galgueros is that by torturing and killing the dogs they wash away the dishonor the dogs displayed that brought shame to their masters. In reality, the practice is simply an exercise in sadism that involves burning the dogs with acid, dragging them behind cars, sacrificing them to fighting dogs, skinning them alive or burying them alive. The most famous torture is called the "piano dance;" this involves hanging the dog by the neck with the feet just touching the ground as it struggles to breathe and slowly is strangled to death by its movements.
Before the dogs are used to hunt, they are starved to make them hungry for the prey.
Good hunting dogs are "rewarded" by not being violently slain, and they are still often kept chained in stinking "zulos," underground bunkers soiled with feces.
When the dogs reach two or three years of age and are weakened by malnutrition and lack of care, it is simply cheaper for the galgueros to kill the dog to avoid feeding the dog until the next season, when they simply pick up a new dog for ten euros from one of many breeding facilities that supply the hunters. This is much less than the cost of food to maintain an adult dog between hunting seasons.
Because the galgos are regarded under Spanish law as working dogs, they are excluded from the laws relating to pets. They are considered to be goods, no different than agricultural machines that can be disposed of or used in whatever manner their owner decides.
Good dogs, the ones who have not shamed their owner by being poor hunting dogs, are "rewarded" by being sent to perreras. These are municipal facilities where the dogs can be euthanized.
The Spanish government is aware of the galgos issue. Laws concerning abuses and neglect were introduced into the penal code in October 2004. The problem is that abuses are simply not prosecuted. The Spanish authorities say it is difficult to identify the abuses because most of the abuse takes place on private property and hunting grounds – and since 2007, access to these areas was denied by forest rangers.
Indeed the government is reluctant to address the issue at all.There is a National Federation of Galgos that pervades all areas of society and has political influence. On a recent visit, a European Member of Parliament on a "parliamentary mission" met with the Mayor of Albacete in Andalusia to discuss the complaints. The meeting ended with the usual response: "From us, all galgueros are nice with their Galgos." Most complaints received from animal welfare groups are ignored and unanswered.
None of the breeding farms have been prosecuted and Spanish associations that stand up against this cruelty have no political voice. The response is that little can be done about a hunting tradition rooted in hundreds of years of Spanish customs.
Some people in Spain have taken offense to our accusations that this is a part of Spanish culture. But if the galgueros justify their abuse in the name of culture and tradition, that makes it a part of Spanish culture.
Hunting with greyhounds also takes place in Portugal, Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom, but the cruelest abuses are in Spain.
As an ambassador for the association Galgos Ethique Europe, I am working to stop the abuses of the galgueros and to persuade authorities to enforce existing laws and to implement new laws to protect these unfortunate dogs.
Our association, Galgos Ethique Europe is committed to a fight for better and stronger European protection for all greyhounds, particularly the Galgos and Podencos in Spain, and for the evolution of the European law for every animal.