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    The Galgo Greyhound: Spain's Beloved Hunting Companion
The Galgo Greyhound: Spain's Beloved Hunting Companion
Galgo. Source: https://starofmysore.com/

The Galgo Greyhound: Spain's Beloved Hunting Companion

The Galgo greyhound, a breed celebrated for its speed and agility, holds a special place in Spanish culture. Comparable to the Greyhound in Great Britain, the Galgo is slightly smaller and more streamlined, enabling it to reach speeds of up to 70 km per hour when chasing hares. Its unique ability to weave and follow the trail of a hare without losing momentum makes it an exceptional hunting companion.

Hunting with Galgos, known as Galguera, has been a cherished activity in Spain for centuries. This tradition, which involves using Galgos to hunt hares, dates back to ancient times and continues to be a popular pastime among Spaniards today.

In the early 20th century, Spain saw the formation of several hunters' associations, which were often closely linked to farmers' and ranchers' organisations. The first of these societies appeared in Jerez de la Frontera in 1910, followed by Madrid in 1913. By 1915, the Galguero Society and the Society of Farmers and Ranchers in Old Castile were also established, marking a significant development in the organisation and promotion of hunting with Galgos.

Coursing, chasing a live hare. Source: https://www.fedegalgos.com/
Coursing, chasing a live hare. Source: https://www.fedegalgos.com/

Evolution of Galgo Racing in Spain

The Spanish Greyhound Federation (FEG) was established in 1939 to regulate Galguero. At that time, dog racing, including hippodrome races and coursing, was prevalent in Spain, with coursing gradually replacing oval track racing. Today, races are no longer held at racetracks.

FEG comprises six branches: Andalusian, Castille-Leonese, Castile-la-Mancha, Extremadura, Madrid, and the Region of Murcia. All branches adhere to Federation regulations governing greyhound registration, competition standards, and anti-doping policies. However, issues regarding greyhound welfare and retirement are not within the Federation's jurisdiction and are the responsibility of individual dog owners.

The primary format of the FEG competition involves chasing live hares in the field. The highlight of the racing calendar is the "SM El Rey Cup," sponsored by King Felipe VI of Spain, a dedicated enthusiast of galgo hunting.

Since 1986, FEG has introduced a modern modification of coursing, using a mechanical hare instead of live animals. This change aims to provide a more humane alternative to traditional hunting practices, sparing animals from suffering and fear of death. 

Jasi Naves, 2024 champion. Source: https://www.fedegalgos.com/galeria-semifinales/
Jasi Naves, 2024 champion. Source: https://www.fedegalgos.com/galeria-semifinales/

The Unregulated Area of Greyhound Racing

The Greyhound Federation in Spain organises and regulates competitions, but it does not oversee the future lives of the galgos, leading to a disturbing phenomenon: the mass killing of greyhounds after their racing careers or at the end of the racing season. The fate of these dogs rests solely with their owners, who can be categorised based on their treatment of the animals.

Some galgueros responsibly care for their dogs, maintaining 10-15 of them after they finish racing. These individuals are highlighted in commercials that depict retired dogs living happily in family environments. Unfortunately, such responsible owners are few.

Another group of owners keeps their dogs for the first two years when the galgos are in peak athletic form. After this period, when the dogs' performance declines, they are often sold to gipsies, farmers, or hunters. The future for these dogs is often bleak.

A more troubling group of owners simply dispose of their dogs after the racing season ends, either by killing them or abandoning them on the streets. This practice is a death sentence for the animals. It is cheaper for these owners to dispose of older dogs and acquire new puppies for the next season than to keep the older dogs until the next racing season begins.

The root of the problem lies in the overproduction of galgos. The racing season in Spain lasts from September to February, culminating in prestigious events like the Su Majestad el Rey Cup (King's Cup) held in January. Breeders often produce large numbers of puppies at the beginning of each year in hopes of raising a champion that can win such coveted titles. Consequently, the practice of eliminating weak or underperforming dogs is widespread.

This cynical practice persists in Europe in the 21st century, reflecting a significant animal welfare issue.

Abandoned galgo. Source: https://handf.mirtesen.ru/blog/
Abandoned galgo. Source: https://handf.mirtesen.ru/blog/

Hare Hunters

While the area of dog racing in Spain is somewhat regulated by the Greyhound Federation, hunters, gipsies, and farmers who use galgos to hunt hares during the hunting season are left largely unregulated. After the hunting season concludes, many of these hunters dispose of their dogs, perpetuating a cycle where new dogs are supplied each year by the racing industry. This has resulted in a widespread and alarming phenomenon where tens of thousands of galgos are killed annually or abandoned to die on the streets.

Spanish hunters often believe that a dog that performs poorly during a hunt has brought shame to its owner and must be killed in a particularly cruel manner. Various brutal methods are employed, including hanging dogs from trees by their necks in a practice known as "playing the piano." In this cruel act, the dogs struggle to prevent suffocation by pushing against the ground with their hind legs, prolonging their agony.

The scale of these killings and acts of cruelty has garnered significant attention, prompting Member of the European Parliament Laura Huhtasaari to initiate a request to the Commission of the European Parliament in 2020. The request aimed to adopt a directive providing a minimum level of protection for domestic animals across the European Union.

Despite amendments to the Spanish Civil Code in 2022, which recognise animals as living beings in need of care rather than mere property, the problem persists. Many perpetrators of these acts do not heed legal protections.

Several dog shelters in Spain work tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate these dogs. Charitable organisations are dedicated to saving the lives of galgos left to die in painful circumstances, often relying on resources allocated by EU countries.

Animal activist Travis Petnode with galgo. Source: https://handf.mirtesen.ru/
Animal activist Travis Petnode with galgo. Source: https://handf.mirtesen.ru/

Betting, Competition and Fraud in Dog Racing

In Spain, while bookmakers primarily focus on football betting, they also offer bets on various other sports, including greyhound racing. The intense competition and betting activities surrounding greyhound racing have occasionally led to astonishing cases of fraud and dog theft.

An organised gang notably stole greyhounds for use as breeders, highlighting a dark aspect of the industry. During the Civil Guard's Operation Duplicate, eight Federation officials were arrested, and 29 charges were filed for greyhound theft. One particularly egregious episode involved a stolen champion greyhound named Chapapote, whose DNA was used to register offspring under a different name, such as Litri El Pastor. This fraudulent scheme was aimed at manipulating race outcomes and profiting from bets.

In contrast to the UK, where the industry is more regulated and includes initiatives like the British Greyhound Pension Scheme, post-retirement care for greyhounds in Spain remains largely unresolved. The scale of issues surrounding the treatment and welfare of greyhounds in Spain is shocking, with much of the effort to save their lives undertaken by animal protection societies.

The hope is for the issue of rescuing and providing a decent life for the Galgo, Spain's national treasure, to be addressed at the state level.


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