I’ve lived with dogs all my life — the first one was a year old when I was born into the family. A loving, affectionate Collie-type mongrel, he guarded my pram and then, as I grew older, he got in the pram instead while I pushed him around. The only time I was without a dog was when I shared a flat in London and we had a very independent cat who used to take turns visiting the other flats in the block, sharing their food and beds!
Life moved on; I married another dog lover and we bought our own home. We continued to adopt dogs, forever dogs, living their lives out with us. One such dog was a stray Greyhound. This was in the early 1990s when Anne Finch’s Greyhounds In Need group was in its infancy, and in the days when people didn’t adopt Greyhounds because they didn’t think they were companion dogs. The local shelters didn’t want any more Greyhounds, so this bony, skinny hound, who I named Molly, took up residence on our hearthrug, mothering our cats.
The Greyhound Stud Book was located down the road from us in Newmarket, Suffolk, so I contacted them, because Molly had a tattoo in her ear. Because she was a black hound, I imagined her racing name might be Midnight Runner or similar! However, not all the numbers were legible, so we were unable to trace her history.
Known as 40 m.p.h. couch potatoes, Greyhounds are affectionate and regal, needing little exercise. Molly converted me to the breed and became a popular Pets As Therapy dog with the residents of a local retirement home, who we visited every fortnight. Sadly, she succumbed to ill health at age 14. We had no idea what type of dog should join the family next.
Shortly after, we moved to France, and a friend introduced me to a rescue website for Spanish Greyhounds, a breed known as Galgo Espanol. I learned of their maltreatment at the hands of the Spanish hunters, and the tens of thousands of dogs killed and abandoned every year at the end of the hunting season.
In 2007, I applied to adopt one and was thrilled to be accepted. It changed my life forever.
I asked to travel to the shelter in Spain with the rescue team. They told me it had to be soon, because Spanish gypsies were camped near the shelter, and they often steal the galgos to sell back to hunters.
It took us two days to reach the shelter at Ciudad Real, 200 km south of Madrid. There were 150 dogs in the shelter and 15 volunteers to care for them. Dozens of dogs wandered around the compound, greeting us all. Next thing I knew, a long nose was nuzzling my hand. I looked down and there was Karmel, a bony brindle with soft brown eyes. “Choose me,” she appealed!
I wrote about my trip for the Daily Telegraph in “Fast Work by the Galgo Rescuers.” We visited three refuges and brought back to France a total of 20 galgos, to foster and forever homes. And I learned that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
A newspaper friend suggested I find a way to highlight the plight of the galgos in Spain, and Galgo News was born in November 2007. With Karmel curled up on her bed beside me, I wrote about her, the galgos in Spain, and their harsh treatment, treated like vermin and subjected to unbelievable suffering. So much news comes in every day that writing about the galgos has totally taken over my life!
Since the inception of Galgo News, I have noticed a huge increase in public awareness of the shameful and appalling attitude of the Spanish hunters to their hounds. Thousands of people around the world are now involved in the rescue, rehabilitation, and rehoming of these wonderful dogs.
I then learned that the Podenco, another Spanish hunting dog, suffers similarly cruel treatment, so I launched Podenco Post in 2010. They are used for hunting on the Spanish Islands — Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Ibiza — as well as mainland Spain, especially in Valencia province.
Many people have asked me why galgos are treated so badly, which led to me writing the book From Heaven to Hell: The Story of the Galgo Espanol. It’s a definitive guide to the plight of the Galgo, which has now been translated into French and Spanish.
Sadly, Karmel is no longer with me, succumbing to the rare genetic disease pemphigus foliaceus, but her lookalike, brindle Sahara, has taken her place. She was saved from death row in the Cordoba perrera (dog pound). She was only 18 months old when her hunter took her to be killed. It wasn’t because she was a bad hunting dog; the Spanish hunters only keep their dogs during the four months of the hunting season.
Since then, Carmela has joined her here, another one saved from death in Cordoba perrera (which is known as a “killing station” because hundreds of dogs of all types are euthanized every week), plus galgo Bracken and little Podenco Andaluz Bebe.
Thanks to Molly and especially Karmel, I now have friends across the world who care about the galgos and support me in my work, especially my letter-writing campaigns to the Spanish national and regional governments and the Hunting Federation, to create a law to protect the Galgo Espanol and stop once and for all the annual holocaust, which takes more than 50,000 galgos.
Since this piece was written, Sahara became unwell. Vet visits and blood tests revealed a cancerous tumor, so we made the decision for her to be put to sleep. She is buried in the garden alongside Karmel and my little Sophie cat. Now there is a vacant bed and food bowl … so watch this space. Galgos should carry a warning — “Use caution! Galgos are addictive!”
Beryl Brennan is an English journalist who lives in western France with her husband and Polly the cat, horses Victor and Roscoe, and dogs Floyd (a French Lurcher), Carmela, Bracken, and Andaluz Bebe. Beryl also fosters podencos and galgos prior to their being adopted.
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