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From 30 January 2005 Issue

Five Galgos Rescued From a Well in Spain
By Danielle Ring - daniellering@mindspring.com
www.daniellering.net

A howling wind sweeps across the fields of Castilla y Leon. One can see for miles here on a clear day; the sky is as big and open as the American midwest.

Picture a man driving a lonely road one night - January 5, to be exact. A piece from his bumper falls from the car. He pulls over, retrieves it, decides it is not worth keeping and walks across the field to drop it into an abandoned well. The object falls 10 meters, 20 meters, and finally reaches its destination at 30 meters into the ground. Instead of a thud echoing from the depths, he hears ghastly screams. As the screams mix with howls, the man determines that the beings at the bottom of the well are dogs.

He telephones Fermin Pèrez, the president of the Scooby Refuge. Early the following morning, Fermin and members of the local fire department meet at the well. As the well's stench fully registers, they conclude that many galgos have died here before. However, the unpleasantness does not deter them. And even though the situation is potentially dangerous, a fireman named Jimmy lowers himself into the well and, one by one, brings five galgos to the light of day.

Galgos and the Scooby Refuge

Fermin opened the Scooby Refuge in Medina del Campo (Valladolid, Spain) in 1997 in response to the large-scale abandonment and killing of tens of thousands of galgos each year. Galgos are an ancient breed of sighthound, similar to greyhounds in appearance and easy temperament. They are bred by backyard breeders to hunt hare. When hare season ends each February, hunters typically thank their loyal companions by hanging them slowly, throwing them into wells to starve, dragging them by cars or simply leaving them to die in the cold. If the hunters have any fleck of emotion, they will take their dogs to Scooby for a chance at life.

In the winter, Scooby's kennels swell with 400-500 dogs. Most are prepared for adoption to other countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany and the United States. A network of rescue groups arranges for the transportation and for finding homes. Spanish citizens do keep dogs as pets, but view the galgo as the lowliest of animals, unworthy of humane treatment. Sadly, few see the intrinsic value of a galgo.

The Rescued Five

At the kennel, the five rescued galgos remain in round-the-clock veterinary care. All have rope burns around their necks and are malnourished, dehydrated, wounded and bruised. Fermin and his staff tend to the dogs, giving them plenty of love and food. With time, four begin to show signs of recovery. The fifth, a brindle female, still wavers between life and death. She cannot stand on her own legs, but will accept the water and canned food which Fermin offers. As he cares for her, she moves her head toward his hands, wanting to be caressed.

Galgo Owners Want their Dogs Back

While the dogs are busy recovering from their ordeal, Fermin and the Scooby staff begin their own. Two men surface and claim to be the owners of the rescued galgos. One reported his dogs as stolen and the other said they had escaped. Since tattoos in the dogs' ears serve as an identification system, it is clear that the owners feared possible prosecution. According to the Scooby website, "Galgos are protected under article 337 of the Penal code. This is a federal law and overrules any regional/ autonomous laws. There are penalties for disposing of unwanted dogs in this manner, which can lead to imprisonment." However, the laws are only as good as the enforcement. Too often, local police do not respond to reports of animal cruelty.

When the owners arrived at Scooby to see their dogs, the dogs showed no sign of recognition or affection. The owners, however, decided to press charges to regain possession of their property. But just days later in an unusual twist, the owners were charged with animal cruelty. Fermin writes, "Obviously we need to wait until the judge will decide, but this thing alone is already a big victory." The Scooby Refuge will be a private prosecutor in the case and has hired a "very good lawyer."

What You Can Do

Fermin expects the case to be decided quickly, but your help is always needed. Visit the Scooby website at http://www.scoobymedina.com/home_en.htm for a sample letter and faxing instructions for Spain's federal and local officials.

If you would like to write to the fire brigade in Medina del Campo to thank them (especially Jimmy, who rescued the dogs), the fax number is 003-498-381-2338.

For general information on the galgo situation in Spain, visit the Scooby Refuge website at www.scoobymedina.com and the American-European Greyhound Alliance site at www.ameurogreyhoundalliance.org 

Postscript

As this story was unfolding, Fermin received another call of three galgos abandoned in a storm drain in the province of Toledo. They had been there for four days. All were alive, though badly undernourished and dehydrated. Sadly, this is the ongoing reality for dedicated people like Fermin. Just as the possibility of one victory appears on the horizon, another sickening case of human cruelty rears its ugly head.

I will keep you updated.

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