It can happen in an instant, that moment when an animal lover becomes an animal activist. Whether through witnessing an act of cruelty or becoming aware of a grievous animal welfare issue, that person knows they can no longer turn away and must get involved. Such was the case for Rain Jordan before she became founder and president of Hound Sanctuary. As a longtime lover of sighthounds, she knew she had to do something after learning about the terrible plight of hunting dogs in Spain.
“After volunteering for a local Greyhound rescue and while looking for a rescued Ibizan Hound to adopt, I came across the Podencos and Galgos in Spain,” explains Rain. “I learned about how mistreated, even tortured they are in their native land. The horror of their situation compelled me to act.”
The Galgo Español, or Spanish Greyhound, and the Podenco, believed to be a variation of the Ibizan Hound, are the most commonly used sighthounds for hunting rabbits and other small game on the Spanish plains. Extremely docile and eager to please, they are fast, intelligent, and agile dogs who are incredible to watch in action. But instead of being viewed as valuable companions by the hunters who own and breed them, these gentle canines are seen by many as disposable tools who can be easily discarded once they’ve outlived their usefulness. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Spanish hounds are tortured, killed, and abandoned by hunters every year at the end of hunting season, typically in late February.
“Once they’re done with these dogs, many of their hunter-owners will dispose of them in horrendous ways,” explains Rain. “These include hanging them; throwing them into wells; putting them into garbage cans, alive; burning or drowning them; dumping them on roadsides after breaking one or more of their legs so they can’t get back home, or gouging out their eyes so that they can’t find their way back home; or fixing their mouths open to keep them from being able to eat and thus, survive.”
Dogs seen as good hunters are either “rewarded” with fast deaths or surrendered to “perreras,” municipal shelters nicknamed “killing stations,” where these hounds have little to no chance of being adopted and euthanasia is practically guaranteed.
While some high-performing dogs may be allowed to live for two or three hunting seasons, life for a Spanish hound is a grim existence. Between seasons they are kept in deplorable conditions, often in cramped, dark spaces or on short chains. Carelessly overbred, they are deprived of proper nutrition, exercise, and attention. Due to the belief that a starving hound makes a better hunter, they live their entire lives on the brink of starvation, with just enough water and poor-quality food to keep them alive. Many do not survive their neglectful conditions, slowly starving or dehydrating to death or succumbing to untreated diseases, injuries, or severe tick infestations.
To add insult to injury, Spain’s existing animal welfare law excludes “working dogs” from its protections, allowing hunters to continue their “cultural tradition” of abusive and murderous behavior with impunity.
This tragic reality is what compelled Rain to start Hound Sanctuary in her California home in 2013. Dedicated to rescuing Podencos, Galgos, Salukis, Borzoi, Wolfhounds, and Deerhounds from Spain and throughout the U.S., the nonprofit has so far rescued, rehabilitated, and placed 28 needy hounds in loving forever homes throughout the west coast region of the U.S. and Canada. Although its small army of about a dozen volunteers are all U.S.-based, Hound Sanctuary works with an extensive network of rescue partners in Spain.
Of all the hounds Rain has helped rescue, one of the most memorable was Hero, a red and white Podenco from Spain who had been found with a broken leg.
“His rescuers had repeatedly insisted that he was not friendly, was afraid of everyone, and would not let anyone near him – they didn’t seem to have much hope for his adoptability,” remembers Rain. “In fact, when we sent our volunteers to pick him and the other dogs up, one of their volunteers suggested we take another dog instead! It seemed no one gave Hero any respect or any chance at all, as apparently a scared, shy dog equals a hopeless dog in many people’s eyes.”
She continues, “We brought Hero home with the other dogs as planned. Yes, he was shy and scared, but he turned out to be one of the sweetest, calmest, easiest dogs we’ve had through Hound Sanctuary. Whenever someone tells me, ‘Oh, no, this dog is very scared,’ I say, ‘That’s my favorite kind of dog, send him over!’”
While Hero and the other lucky dogs Hound Sanctuary has rescued from Spain and the U.S. have all found their happily ever after, there are thousands more who may never be that fortunate due to the fact there are only so many rescues with so much money, help, and space to spare, all facing an endless need. So in order to save more lives, Rain and her team haven taken Hound Sanctuary to the next level with a new sanctuary in Warrenton, Oregon, which will allow the organization to house more rescue dogs without having to rely so heavily on foster homes.
“The sanctuary is not a traditional shelter or kennel,” explains Rain. “The dogs have always lived inside the house with us, and that will continue to be our policy. We will maintain the nonprofit ‘home’ in California and retain volunteers/staff and fosters there, but the full-fledged facility will now be in northern Oregon.”
While Hound Sanctuary is to be applauded for its tireless efforts to save these very deserving dogs, they and the other handful of organizations like them will continue to have their work cut out for them as long as Spain’s government refuses to get to the root of its country’s very serious animal welfare problem. Because in the end, improving the situation for these dogs will ultimately require dramatic changes in archaic attitudes and stopping cruel practices that have been historically rationalized as “cultural heritage.”
While Spain’s government has allegedly given lip service to the idea of changing existing legislation to protect hunting dogs, so far it has taken no action. Ironically, many individuals in local government positions are also hunters themselves. For these political reasons and more, individuals in the Spanish rescue community believe it could be many years before anything is done to protect these animals, says Rain.
“There is definitely growing awareness and uproar over the plight of Spanish hounds,” she says. “The challenge in legal protection for them seems to be not just with more and stronger laws, but with enforcement. Tradition is harder to fight than City Hall, but I believe it can be fought – with determination and reason combined with political savvy, good communication skills, and plenty of funding.”
But until then, Hound Sanctuary and its small army of volunteers will simply focus on the task at hand — rescuing homeless sighthounds in the U.S. and saving the desperate dogs of Spain, who would have no recourse were it not for the kindhearted individuals fighting to give them a second chance at life.
“Our goal is to help many more dogs and to bring awareness about their plight in hopes that more awareness will eventually lead to abatement of the cruelties they currently endure,” says Rain. “These dogs are sweet to the core, no matter how broken. They are highly sensitive creatures who deserve respect.”
It can cost $2,700 or more to rescue and rehabilitate a dog from Spain, depending on his individual needs. As a result, Hound Sanctuary is in desperate need of financial support to save more dogs and complete its new sanctuary. To help this incredible organization continue its lifesaving work, as well as to learn more about Spanish hounds, please visit its website and check out its Facebook page.
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About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, Lisa uses her writing to spread awareness about animal welfare and cruelty issues. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work by visiting her blog and website. You can also follow her on Twitter.