Hounding Misery / Part 4

April 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Although some jobs could go on forever, I am closing the series of reports about the world of greyhounds with this last chapter, so that I can continue to research and share my views about other issues. We all have our place, and I believe that my humble role in this case has ended. It is now over to those who have the knowledge, the desire and the capacity to change things.

As usual, the previous chapter – which captured the installations of a greyhound trainer who could be considered an example worth following – has provoked a good number of comments in every which way.

Some greyhound trainers are thankful after seeing a more neutral and realistic vision of the issue being published. Other members of this collective show a certain satisfaction, having read an article about their practices with positive notes, but they believe they can sense a harmful intention in my writings and an inherent hate towards them. They deplore the inclusion of negative testimonies to complement the contributions and explanations of the main greyhound owners covered in the story. To my surprise, some even see spite in the way some of the photos have been taken throughout this report. In this sense, I must point out that photographs are snapped in seconds, so the decisions regarding them have to be fast and effective. Therefore, there is literally no time to be spiteful, as these shots emerge naturally and spontaneously in relation to what is presented before the camera. In any case, even when I do have time to ponder before taking a shot, I’m not in the habit of working out of spite when I brandish my camera.

Someone suggests that I should become a greyhound trainer, as the only possible means of really understanding their point of view and of feeling what they feel throughout the breeding and training of their dogs. “If you are not one of us, you will never be able to illustrate our dedication and suffering, even taking many hours away from our wives and children – he states-“. I would like to reply to him by saying, with all due respect, that my own family includes two excellent dogs, so I am aware of the time that is required to give them the necessary care and love. It is our duty and our obligation as owners, especially when we have chosen to take on a large number of animals.

On the other hand, some members from animal protection groups and other organizations regret my approach, as they consider such a thing as a good and honest greyhound trainer impossible to find, as they remind me that they are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of an activity that must end. “Animal protection agencies are staffed by people who selflessly move mountains to save these dogs – one of them assures me –, who are discarded because they are not fast enough, or get injured or lame; we do this work empathically, but we are not their garbage dump.”

I deeply value all of the comments received and, although I could be wrong, I insist in advocating for a middle-of- the-road attitude, using dialogue and common sense to solve problems. I believe that both sides are right in their own way, so a balanced compendium of all visions would be a possible way to move forward.

One Battle, a Thousand Sides

Just as I did with greyhound trainers, trying to find someone who would open their doors up to me, I do the same with the organizations that work to protect and rescue these hounds. The responses are varied and interesting, and they faithfully represent what can be a startling reality.

Some of them offer their help immediately, but then forget about their promise until the day I start writing. I also come across one who responds to my message briefly and dryly, with a one-liner obviously written from a mobile phone and showing absolutely no interest in my intentions. I am very surprised by this case in particular, as it comes from an organization that is supposedly totally dedicated to this issue, and so I feel they should be right behind a report about the battle they face every day.

Others, whose help I am especially thankful for, offer their help and, in some cases, even invite me to participate in their rescue operations or open up their doors so that I can see with my very own eyes what is so often said with words. As always, it’s easy to talk, but proving statements with hard facts is, on the contrary, more difficult.

Given such responses and reactions, one wonders if there are really two sides to this story – which is to be expected, when two groups fight or debate defending opposing interests – or, on the contrary, whether there is a united front that fights against a thousand others, that are linked to each other by a generic common aim, but that are dispersed in fact due to personal prejudices. So, while I have felt quite a strong sense of union amongst the greyhound trainer collective, I have not felt this on the other side, the one which safeguards the wellbeing of greyhounds. Once again, it is only my own personal perception and therefore may well be wrong.

It is quite logical for there to be differences and disagreements within any group that shares some common aims, but I also believe there must be a steely core that can justify the existence of so many sides. If the only aim is to end practices that harm greyhounds, I don’t quite understand the place that brands and logos occupy, as well as some of the philosophical differences, personal perceptions and self-centred opinions that I have encountered. It really shouldn’t matter if X thinks in one way, Y states another or Z decides to create a group that works in the afternoons in order to satisfy certain personal needs.

If the aim is to end the suffering of greyhounds caused by, and I insist, very specific practices, then, what is the use of hurling insults or repeating vociferous arguments that will never obtain a mild nor constructive reply in return? Perhaps the ego needs to be left to one side in order to join forces, bring together ideas and establish goals and approaches. It could be that it’s about dialoguing, reasoning, educating and helping to understand, even if this is complicated and implies more effort. I am aware that it has been attempted in the past, unfortunately to no avail, or so it seems.

An afternoon at Las Nieves

I’m fortunate to have the pleasure of connecting with M. Carmen, one of the managers of Las Nieves animal rescue centre. Fans of César Millán and anecdote lovers will like to know that one of the chapters of his series was filmed here last year. Contrary to other contacts, M. Carmen’s first message held the certainty of a meeting, which took place weeks later, much to my appreciation and in benefit of all the people who are interested in this issue.

Before visiting her centre, I chat for quite a while with her over the phone about this issue and other related ones. To my delight, she turns out to be a very pleasant woman with a friendly and reasonable manner, so we talk about all sorts of things and enjoy exchanging words and opinions. I find solace in her vision, as it is similar to mine in many respects, although in her case it’s built upon extensive experience and ample knowledge of those involved.

“In order to work in this – she says to me, convinced -, one has to keep a cool head and warm heart. Otherwise, you’d drive yourself crazy.” I understand her stance and I support it, since often emotions lead us to act impulsively, destroying any chances of reaching solutions and agreements in different areas that are quite crucial.

Amongst other things that I find striking, she tells me that they tend to collect the greyhounds directly from the trainers when the latter decide to get rid of an animal. It seems to me like an intelligent and effective way to operate, since it saves those dogs a lot of suffering and is an efficient way of avoiding other actions against them, or their abandon. “This policy of ours means a lot of people within the animal rescue world are against us”– she explains.

I understand through this and other comments of hers that my intuition is not far off the mark, and that focusing on the differences may be stopping an effective joint struggle against the circumstances we are all concerned about.

A few days after our conversation, we have the pleasure of visiting their excellent rescue centre. Located in the Madrid area, impossible to find without very specific instructions, is Las Nieves. M. Carmen receives us with a beaming smile and soon I verify that my prior sensation was correct. She combines good nature with an obvious delight in communication and a flexible sense of humour, and so the entertaining visit flows well thanks to such personal virtues.

We walk freely around the place, where over 700 dogs, almost 400 of them greyhounds, live temporarily. Once they are taken in, the team at this centre carries out the task of getting them ready and everything in order – classifying them with colored ribbons – so that they may be available for adoption. The greyhounds, M. Carmen explains, are then sent on to Belgium, where another organization is dedicated to finding them a home and to helping them start out their new life.

I do understand they must have their reasons to send the dogs abroad, but I must in turn be honest and express some disagreement with this policy. I know of Spanish citizens who have tried to adopt a greyhound, with no luck, at some rescue centres in our country. This, in my modest opinion, is a practice that implies a kind of discrimination, or so it seems, that entails a series of dangers.

I don’t think that Belgium, Germany and Holland, to name a few examples, can forever be a shelter for our discarded greyhounds. And I don’t think so, mainly, because the number of dogs that inhabit their own dog rescue centres is also very high, and this one-way shipment of dogs is never-ending.

In the same way, I feel this is a delicate issue, and that the line that separates true altruism from a productive business is quite fine. Without pointing any fingers, of course, I am merely reflecting on something possible, given the usual tendency of human beings when a potential gain is presented right in front our noses. If Spanish rescued greyhounds are an appreciated commodity abroad, and adoptions happen regularly in exchange for a certain amount of money, can we ever be sure it is not being done merely for business? Is there strict enough control over this activity, on both sides of the border?

I would like to take this opportunity to pose a few questions to people in charge of rescue centres, to clarify my own doubts and those of many other people, as well as to invite them to openly show their accounts and their way of operating, for the sake of transparency and clarity, as M. Carmen has done already. I’m sure many other people will agree and will be pleased to know this basic information about their operations. It is the best way to eliminate doubt and clear up the path towards the truth. It would also be the best way to encourage citizens to support their causes with trust and confidence in them.

How much does a foreign person pay to adopt a Spanish greyhound? What is this money used for afterwards? How many greyhounds are exported every month to these different countries? What assurance do they have that these animals, once over the border, enjoy a healthy and satisfactory life? How do they know that these dogs are not, upon arrival, used for other purposes

Nobody is that Good nor that Bad

Maybe it’s just the way I think, but I must insist upon the fact that no-one is as good nor as bad as our imagination tends to project. I’ve been around for a little while and I am yet to meet a totally saintly person. To date, as examples of high degrees of goodness, I have been fortunate to deal with very good people, creators of wonderful deeds steeped with noble intentions, but always peppered with mistakes and imperfections that justify their irredeemable humanity.

If we apply this to the case in hand, I feel it is also necessary to remind ourselves that generalizations are harmful and damaging. If the data tells us that there are 180,000 greyhound trainers in Spain who have half a million animals under their care, to think that they are all cruel abusers would be a huge and fatal assumption. It would be better, or so I think, to convince 178,000 of them – and their Federation – of the pressing need to identify and denounce those, say, 2,000 harmful individuals, and apply strict laws to their despicable criminal acts. And in the process, they could be shown the need to modify some of their habits and to control some others, in such a way that their activity may have the least harmful impact on the wellbeing of the animals they say they love.

I don’t see any harm in a greyhound running after a hare, be it real or mechanical, since that is what its instinct leads it to do. I do see harm, however, in such skills being exploited by humans to, as usual, obtain benefits, satisfy their ego and fill up their bank accounts, given the collateral damages incurred. As they themselves will have experienced, through various controversies and discrepancies, everything that generates interest tends to turn into something shady and obscure. Proof of this are the deplorable thefts of animals, the origin of which is found, as always, in the economic value that human beings have decided to award an animal that becomes a commodity.

Witness to an Undeniable Truth

During the first week of research for this series, and almost effortlessly, I witness a number of attempts to rescue greyhounds. This proves, once again, that there is a very real problem that needs to be solved which is not merely a capricious complaint from a group of animalists, as some people dare to suggest. In the same way that I repudiate generalizations and consider that certain figures are excessive, I also advocate for an open and clear recognition by greyhound trainers that something must be done for once and for all, firmly and determinedly. To this end, the work of the Federation and the ‘good’ greyhound owners – whom, I continue stressing, do exist – is absolutely essential.

One of the rescue cases involved an elegant dark-coloured female who is in the images by this paragraph. In the top image you can appreciate her starving silhouette, a few metres away from the train tracks. We tried to rescue her a couple of times but it proved impossible. In the lower image, the same animal, rescued finally by the staff from Hydra, observes my movements from the other side of the railing. Nothing is known about her previous life, but it seems she survived being abandoned by a greyhound trainer or hunter, or– according to the official version that the greyhound collective would defend – that she could have been thrown out on the streets by thieves following one of the many dog thefts that take place. It will have to remain a doubt, since I have no data that can verify one version and deny the opposing one.

Although I am strongly against showing harsh images unnecessarily, I must include a photograph that captures one of the most irreparable facts of this report, in order to represent all sides that make up this unpleasant reality. It was taken at the side of a road, any road, where, after searching for half an hour, we came across the dead body of a white greyhound. This is one of the possible fates that these and other dogs may meet when their owner, whoever s/he may be, decides to abandon them, alone and unprotected.

The Misfortune of being a Spanish Greyhound Dog

Since my intention is to show the middle ground and stick to evidences, truth obliges me to be honest and conclude this report in this way. I have changed its title as you can see, to openly denounce that this problem is not limited to greyhounds. They are a truly beautiful, noble and kind breed, that deserves no harm and whose history is plagued with injustice and underserved suffering. But suffering, as so many other truths, does not know of breeds.

To honour the truth, therefore, I must remind us all that such fate is suffered by thousands of dogs every year, of all ages, breeds and possible mixes. An afternoon spent visiting any given animal rescue centre or animal protection agency will reveal dozens of abandoned animals who await their lucky day and suffer, in the meantime, the consequences of an irresponsible human attitude.

If we consider mistreatment the fact that a greyhound trainer keeps his dogs in a confined and small space, which it is, then it also must be mistreatment when a business manager leaves her dog at home all day, suffering from undue separation and feeding its loneliness within the emptiness of four designer walls.

If we consider mistreatment the fact that a greyhound owner trains his dogs by tying them to the back of a motor vehicle to make them run, then it is also mistreatment when a citizen walks his dog for five minutes around the block, dragging it along in a hurry and without pausing, to return home as soon as possible to resume his activities. In the same way, it is mistreatment to prevent an animal from having any contact with other dogs, from running, playing and interacting naturally. This happens very frequently, I have witnessed it and I denounce it here with the same vigour that I demand punishment for harmful greyhound trainers.

Although I applaud their aims and their dedication, I also cannot comprehend the existence of protection centres that only rescue and protect greyhounds, or any other breed, exclusively, ignoring all the other abandoned dogs that roam our country. From the outside, and possibly due to my own ignorance, I feel that they can be falling into a strange and contradictory elitism, similar to a shelter  created with the sole purpose of caring for blonde little blue-eyed boys. I don’t think there should be differentiation, for fickle reasons, when it comes to suffering and I consider that an absence of barriers, labels and limitations is the ideal situation.

As I finish my report, I add to it some portraits of different dogs, noble, beautiful animals who are worthy of attention, who have been abandoned by individuals, couples, families and common people who have nothing to do with the world of greyhounds. They are housed at Getafe protection centre and Las Nieves, amongst so many others, if anyone reading this wants to give them a new life.

Figures from Seprona and Remerciements

According to the figures provided by the Seprona department (Nature Protection Service of the Guardia Civil), the data clearly indicates a generalized problem that seriously affects all sorts of dogs. Although they are obviously based on formal complaints and proven facts – which benefits the image of some parties – the number of dogs of other breeds that were abandoned in 2011 is six times higher than that of greyhounds. A huge number of hunting dogs, in fact double the amount of greyhounds, also suffer this fate.

Although there are more complaints regarding thefts and inadequate transport related to greyhound owners, the rest of hunting dogs and other types of dogs – that is, the ones we usually see trotting down the street – are far ahead in figures when it comes to offenses regarding malnutrition, lack of hygiene, blows, beatings and other damages. The official figure for such injustices reaches an incomplete and still stunning 12,302 dogs.

With such alarming figures in hand, I suggest a revision of our educational system and encourage a subject in schools that is dedicated to developing a love and care for the value of nature and its beings, and the responsibility that we humans have towards them.

I would like to finish off by thanking everyone for the interest shown in this report, and with an invitation to go deeper into it through writings such as those by Beryl Brennan, who has written an exhaustive book about it, or by our friend M. Carmen, who is planning another to recount her personal story. It can be interesting also to read the Vicky Report about the massive illegal trade of animals from our country and its possible irregularities.

Many thanks to my supporters for their words of encouragement, and to my detractors, for the motivation I find in struggling on when the tide is against me. Thank you to my Janchel for her help. To Irina, M. Carmen and Ana Julia, from . To Eugenio, Cesáreo and Sergio. To M. Carmen and the rest of the staff at Las Nieves. To Pepy, from . To my terrific translator, Ana. To the authors of all the comments to the previous chapters and the posts at the greyhound trainers’ forum, both the positive and the negative. To Nika, Ángela, Beryl, Ana Zurdo, Gregor, Polona, Larisa and all the other Spanish and foreign readers, for their time and assistance in spreading this work.

To all those who dedícate part of their time to improving the quality of life of dogs and animals in general, a huge thanks – especially to those who carry out their labour of love with pure intention and complete unselfishness.

Read Part 5 / Epilogue

Text & Photography Nano Calvo
Translated by Ana Digon

Any reproduction or other use of all or part of this article is expressly prohibited, unless prior permission granted by the author.
Please feel free to post the link in your websites and social pages. Spreading the word is the best way to change injustice.

Should you be interested in publishing this article, please contact me via email. Thanks!

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§ 2 Responses to Hounding Misery / Part 4

  • Beryl says:

    As always, a fascinating read. With you, I fail to understand by associations cannot work together. To work in the world of animal rescue, people need to be strong, and this is possibly the reason why associations do not generally help each other. And like you, I ask how many more galgos and podencos can be adopted outside of Spain – when many of those countries also have a serious problem with abandoned dogs – the figures from Dogs Trust UK today (04/2012) say 20 dogs/day are put to sleep in the UK. One final comment, you mention ‘trainers’ – presumably you include the galgueros and gitanos in this term?

    • Nano Calvo says:

      Thanks very much, Beryl. Im very glad you enjoyed reading it. Those UK figures are also quite worrying. Im afraid the problem is extended in many places and countries, with some variations. Yes, with greyhoung trainers, I mean mainly galgueros.

      All the best

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