Hounding Misery / Part 2
February 2, 2012 § 9 Comments
After witnessing first-hand the suffering of my new friend Gitano, caused by lax common sense and the lack of rationality of his previous owners, the issue becomes personal – I decide to invest part of my time in developing a complete report about the world of greyhounds in our country, Spain. Meanwhile, I feel reinforced in my intentions as I become aware that the first article in this series is being read and commented on by a good number of people, showing that there generally is an interest in changing the existing situation.
Since logic dictates that not everyone is the same, I embark on the project with the intention of showing all possible sides of the story, to allow readers to reach their own conclusions about this issue. Obviously, one of the main aims of this article is to appeal to those in power – or, to be more exact, those who have been placed in a position with the obligation to carry out a duty – so that they establish a series of laws that may end the mistreatment and the continuous and violent deaths of Spanish greyhounds. They have done none of the sort so far, as the figures reveal.
As I investigate online to understand the apparent lack of laws that could control and avoid at least somewhat these sad facts, I come across various news articles that talk about turnovers of millions of euros through the large array of activities that the greyhound business generates. Through one of life’s causalities, that I so often experience and mention, my search for information on this issue reveals that just a few days later, in the town of Madrigal de las Altas Torres (Avila, Spain), the final of the Spanish Greyhound Field Championship will take place. As I understand it, the Spanish Greyhound Federation organizes the event, which will bring in to the local area estimated benefits of 2,5 million Euros. A juicy figure… and I would love to know its final destination as well as how it is actually distributed.
And so I open up my email and write, as one usually does for such events, to the person in charge of the press department of the Federation. I ask for a press pass to allow me to carry out my work, explaining my intention to cover the event and providing the relevant data as a reference. Since I had read some complaints about the lack of media coverage of the event in the past, I assume that my message will be well received and I will get a positive and prompt reply.
The days go by and, to my disappointment, my assumptions were wrong. My email receives no reply from the press department, and a couple of phone calls to their offices obtain no result either. No-one responds. In spite of this, and with the idea of being totally objective, on Saturday 28th January we rise very early and, laden with our equipment, we aim for Madrigal, to try to reflect this part of the story.
A Championship, the King of Security and Freedom of Press
As we arrive, an intense cold welcomes us to a beautiful setting. We leave the car and walk over to the installations of the Corredero, or racing ground, which are teeming with people and include a massive marquee full of tents and food stands, and a large piece of land where the competition will take place. I whip out my camera, and the first feeling I get, which will be repeated over and over throughout our visit, is that people are slightly surprised by the presence of an unknown photographer.
Presently, a voice announces that the finalists – two young men, each holding one female greyhound – are to present themselves in the marquee, at the area designated for the veterinary tests. Off they go, and so do we, to try to capture the moment.
In trying to approach the competitors and the people in charge, I meet for the first time someone who will become my main physical obstacle as I try to work freely – a supposed head of security. In spite of his constant shoving and his verbal attacks towards me, and through sheer determination, I manage to claim a small space next to the rest of the audience who shoot away with their amateur cameras. My attempts to explain the situation to him, and make him understand that my not having a pass is unfair and out of my control, are useless. I receive nothing but brusqueness and intimidating looks – in spite of which I achieve my aim, although with difficulty and well away from the rest of my supposed colleagues.
La Mano and the Phantom Exclusive
Surprised by the presence of large numbers of Spanish police (Guardia Civil) and other civil servants, we approach the area where the competition will begin. For those of you who don’t know what it’s all about, let me explain that the competition is based on the battle between two greyhounds to hunt down a hare. In a large field, the pack – called La Mano – advances looking for their prey, which could jump out at any moment. That is when the person in charge of leading the greyhounds – known as traillero – frees the dogs from the automated leash, allowing the duel to begin. The greyhounds run after the hare, and their speed in hunting it down determines the winner.
So, as I was saying, everything is about to kick off, and I approach the exit line together with a handful of other photographers and camera people. As I expected, the guy who is looking out for everyone’s safety – except my own – violently stops me and drags me away from the entrance. I try to explain to him once more that I am working and that I don’t usually travel all the way from Madrid to Avila, with equipment worth thousands of euros, for the fun of it. I do the same with other organizers who are present, but their responses are sharp and dialog is impossible. Although I look around, I see no trace of the person in charge of press. If he was there, which I would not be surprised at, he did not say a word as all this happened. After a few tense minutes and some very menacing looks from my friend, the king of selective security, I leave in order to continue trying to achieve my objective.
My colleague and assistant, Alicia, who is observing everything from a safe distance, cannot believe her eyes. She suggests going over to the Federation tent, in the marquee, to talk to the organizers and once again ask for a press pass that allows us to enter the area where the action takes place. She does so, and they tell her to find the person in charge, someone called Juan Carlos. They point us to where he is and, although we look for him, they guy is nowhere to be found. We ask again, this time a youngster from the organization, who says he will call him and ask him to come meet us. Almost an hour later, and realizing that he has no intention of showing up, we decide to drop it and continue working, even under such unusual circumstances.
An event for a select few
The day continues and I still find it hard to understand what is going on. Although the races last only a few minutes, and the results could be given in quite a short space of time, the event is dragged out over and over again, finally lasting over eight hours. As I am told later, this is quite normal, while it’s not what people who attend would generally prefer.
Although more than 8,000 people have travelled to attend the final of the championship, the action takes place, for most of the time, at such a distance from the audience that very little can actually be seen. Only a select group of chosen people witness the action from a short distance. Obviously various areas need to be covered in order to find the hares, but it is also logical to think that all those people who have travelled hundreds of kilometres wish to see something, at least – but this little detail does not seem to motivate any of the tactical decisions. According to some opinions I receive later, and against my impression and that of others, they do everything they can to get the greyhounds to race towards the audience.
We constantly hear many disgruntled comments from the experts in the audience regarding various aspects of the organization. With remarkably good manner, some spectators comment that celebrating the final on this date is a terrible mistake and an atrocity, since it is the moment when the hares are pregnant, which means their rights are being violated while it also impedes the good flow of the races. Others declare, based on a lifetime’s experience, that the field where the competition is taking place is very over-exploited – in spite of there being better fields close by – which explains the lack of hares and the slowness of operations. Many complain also that a number of hares have been allowed to get away, for no apparent reason, and that the hours of waiting between races are just too long.
Upon my return, I obtain the opinion of yet another aficionado, who does not agree with these observations and considers them incorrect. According to his knowledge, hares breed in the summer, as do most wild animals in the area, when there is abundant forage and good weather. He understands that the presence of hares is an unpredictable factor, and he assures that the space chosen to carry out the championships will always have enough animals. I am including both points of view, since one of them must be correct, while they also clearly show a divergence of opinions. For the science buffs out there, here is a link to a study about this issue that seems to support the former view.
Queens for a day
More than eight hours after the event has begun, the final reaches its conclusion. The real time of the actual competition, that is, the racing of the dogs, cannot have added up to any more than ten minutes. However, as I pointed out earlier, attendees spend pretty much their whole day there.
The owners slowly walk back to the marquee with their precious greyhounds. Their manner towards the animals, from what I can see, is at all times careful and paused. The winner, called Yuma, is carried in like a champion, complimented and photographed over and over. The loser, called Señorita, also receives much attention and consolation – she is obviously exhausted. At this moment, as I take the scene in, a series of thoughts come to my mind which I will try to express in words with the aid also of images. I think of my loyal friend Gitano, and his fate, and I think of the fate of thousands of greyhounds who die along the way, or are abandoned, on the road to obtaining a champion like Yuma. I am surprised at the euphoria generated by such an apparently trivial event, and I am also saddened by this exaggerated exaltation of speed, such a fleeting quality, while in turn other qualities as important as kindness, dignity or noblesse seem forgotten.
I look into the eyes of the two greyhounds and I feel I understand what they express. They could be saying, with their body language, that they feel out of place amongst all these competitions, federations and fervent spectators. They may be thinking that they live surrounded by humans who play a game they themselves cannot comprehend. They like to hunt, that much is true, but they know nothing of prizes, press managers who disappear, supposed exclusive press deals… nor about the thousands of euros that their lives are valued at… as long as their performance remains desirable.
Doubts and suggestions
Once back home from the competition, out of curiosity I search for information about previous cases of vetos to photographers or journalists. It relieves my mind but also spurs on my anger to come across various forums and websites where similar cases to mine are explained. I read the complaint of an experienced photographer and also of a well-known radio presenter to whom access to the Mano area has been forbidden, for reasons unknown to him, after many years attending. It seems, as I am soon to hear, that the policy of the Federation is to demand payment of an obligatory fee in order to be allowed to cover that part of the event.
Since publishing the Spanish version of this article, I have received many messages and derogatory comments from greyhound owners and people in those circles.
There are also those who explain their point of view respectfully, and who invite me to delve deeper into the subject. Equally, I receive many complaints and negative accounts regarding the Federation and its ways.
To conclude this chapter: after hearing about the millions of euros that this sport generates, and while those in charge come to understand the need to create effective laws to control the business and protect these animals, I suggest also the investment of a generous part of said benefits into the care of the thousands upon thousands of dogs that suffer due to this activity. It would not be a compensation to balk at, I believe, given the suffering of these innocent victims due to what many understand is the blatant and coarse business of an interested few.
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