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Wednesday, Nov 30, 2005
Abuser names unreleased
Somehow Rey had managed to struggle free from the rope strung around his neck, after being left to die a slow death by strangulation as punishment for being a bad Spanish greyhound.
Rey, who had a life-saving operation on his neck and throat wounds in December 2005, was lucky. Campaigners estimate that 50,000 greyhounds are killed by their owners in Spain each year after they grow too old, or turn out to be too slow to hunt with.
Hanging is just one of the methods used. Dogs have been found thrown into wells, burnt alive and even injected with bleach. But Rey's intended fate was, even within the levels of cruelty routinely shown to Spanish hunting dogs, especially nasty. The noose around his neck had been set at a height so that his front paws could not touch the ground, meaning that he was intended to stand on his back legs until he was too tired to support himself. When his legs finally buckled, the noose should have done its work.
'They call it the typewriting death, because the dog's back legs scrabble against the ground and make the clicking sound of a typewriter,' said Albert Sorde, of the SOS Galgos greyhound rescue group. 'It is a punishment they save for greyhounds that are deemed to have humiliated or embarrassed their owners.
'Rey's throat was severely damaged but we managed to find a vet to operate and, though it was expensive, he survived,' he said. Greyhounds in Spain are used for hunting hares and in a local version of coursing, in which two dogs are expected to chase a hare, with the one that gets closest to it winning. 'The dogs are meant to imitate the swerves of the hares,' said Sorde. 'Those who don't, and make their owners look bad, are termed "dirty greyhounds" and are most likely to be killed by the typewriter method.'
Sorde's group alone finds homes for more than 100 abandoned hunting greyhounds a year. Rey found a new home this week after appearing on a Spanish television programme. 'Some are so scared of human beings that they can't really be expected to walk down a city street, or be adopted by people who don't have a garden or other dogs for them to be with,' he said. 'We often send those dogs to people in the United States.' A global network has evolved of groups prepared to help save and adopt Spanish greyhounds. Some Spanish rescue groups now routinely send their dogs to homes around Europe, especially in Germany, Denmark or Britain.
Irish racing greyhounds also appear abandoned in Spain. They are imported to race on a track in Barcelona. When they can no longer race they are often used for breeding by those rearing animals for hunting. Spain's reputation for cruelty to animals led the government to introduce a law banning mistreatment of pets last year. Fighting bulls and farm animals were excluded from the law but it is still unclear whether hunting greyhounds count. 'They are dogs so they should be considered as pets,' said Sorde.
The first two cases of cruelty to greyhounds are currently going through the Spanish courts, but verdicts have still to be reached. There are signs, however, that Spaniards are no longer willing to tolerate the cruel deaths suffered by greyhounds. Last week protesters delivered a petition signed by 50,000 people to the environment ministry in Madrid demanding that the practice be outlawed. Measures being demanded include the registering of ownership of each dog, and the implantation of identity chips so that any animal found abandoned or killed can be identified and the owner contacted. Ministry officials showed their support but, under Spain's system of devolved powers, it is regional governments and town halls that must enforce the law.
'Unfortunately, on a local level, the politicians are sometimes the same people who hunt with the dogs,' said Sorde. Popular outrage, however, continues to grow. 'Ordinary people are beginning to react,' says Sorde. 'We have heard cases of hunters out with greyhounds who are being confronted by people shouting "murderers".'
That does not mean, however, that the killings have stopped. Every hunting season the hunters - some of whom breed dozens of dogs a year - choose which greyhounds they want to get rid of. That is the moment campaigners fear most. 'The worst thing is when we find several dogs hung together in clumps of pine trees,' said Sorde.
- The Observer - January 1, 2006
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