Letter 17

Greyhounds/Galgos

Some of you may know that I have developed a great fondness and fascination for greyhounds since I got my first retired greyhound some years ago. Here’s a little bit of their history and something of their situation today.

Greyhounds are amongst the very oldest breeds of dogs, pictures of a long-legged, slender greyhound type found in Turkey are at least 6,000 years old while in the old testament Solomon mentions the greyhound by name in a flattering reference (Proverbs 30). In Egypt, greyhounds were highly esteemed, many Pharaohs including Tutankhamun and Ramses VI were either buried with their greyhounds or had their tombs depict their favourites, sometimes having their best qualities enumerated. The Egyptians even worshipped them as gods in the form of Set or Seth and Oupouaout who guided the souls of the dead to their destination. Because of their sacred standing in society, only high ranking people were allowed to own them, and the birth of a greyhound was second only to the birth of a son, being treated as a member of the family who would shave their heads and fast if a favourite greyhound died.

Greyhounds were distributed along all the major trade routes and were taken up by the Greeks to the same intensity as the Egyptians; Alexander’s favourite dog was a greyhound called Peritas, who so moved Alexander when he died that Alexander named a city for him and erected a statue in his honour in the central square. The Greek historian Xenophon who owned and wrote about greyhounds said: ‘the Celtic dogs are preferable to all others’. He was referring to the greyhounds kept by the Celts who migrated west from Asia Minor bringing their dogs to Britain and Ireland where they were highly prized.

Having had the pleasure of living with three greyhounds for some years I have come to admire their tremendous hearts, their love, intelligence and enthusiasm as well as their sensitivity. They are ever forgiving of our treatment of them. I have met a greyhound who had been shut in a dark kennel with no exercise until the age of nine, having almost no teeth and wasted muscles; he managed to wag his tail and is now giving a huge amount of love to his adopted family in his remaining days. The racing dogs in the UK and the US (as well as anywhere around the world where there is racing) have a very difficult time. They are produced each year in huge numbers. In the UK about 30,000 enter the racing world and about 7,000 in a good year are rehomed. This raises a huge question of what happens to the others. A few go home with their owners or trainers, some are sent to flapper (unregulated) tracks in Wales where they race until no longer needed and are generally killed, their tattoed ears cut off to make sure the dog and therefore the owners are untraceable. Some go to Spain.

I have known about the treatment of greyhounds, known as galgos, in Spain for some time, and have written to various authorities there asking for the laws to be implemented properly and new laws to be brought in to protect these gentle creatures. I often feel helpless to change such gross cruelties, but many laws have changed and improved lives for both people and animals, so there is always hope that the situation can be improved. These dogs are often sent by truckload from Ireland to Spain and end up being hung from a tree at the end of the hunting season in late winter. If you click on the Peta link here you can easily email the decision makers and learn more about what is happening.

This is a refuge that takes in greyhounds/galgos: www.refugiokimba.org
This is a Galgo rescue centre: www.galgorescue

Thank you for reading and thanks even more for writing.

– Caroline Lavelle

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