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DOGS

The plight of Spain’s hunting greyhounds

With their narrow head and long legs, greyhounds are one of the fastest dog breeds on earth, making them the preferred choice of hunters in Spain to catch rabbits and hares. But instead of being rewarded, campaigners say greyhounds are often mistreated, especially once they have become too old to hunt.

The plight of Spain's hunting greyhounds
Lola Montero, a volunteer plays with a Greyhound at Alhaurin de la Torre dog shelter. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Some owners train their greyhounds to hunt by tying them to their cars with a long rope and then driving at 60 kilometres (40 miles) an hour, said Eduardo Aranyo of Spanish animal protection party PACMA.

“There are animals that end up destroyed, literally dragged by the car,” he told AFP.

Spain is one of only a handful of European countries that allow hunting with the aid of greyhounds, which trap, kill and pick up the prey. France, for example, banned hunting with greyhounds in 1844.

“The domestic dog, that we have at home, is an object of affection, that you love and care for. But for hunters, dogs are often just another tool for the hunt,” said a spokesman for the Civil Guard's nature protection service Seprona.

Spanish law is also soft in this area. Tying a greyhound to a car is an administrative not a criminal offence and is only a crime if it causes serious injury or death, he added.

Hunters own many greyhounds, or “galgos” as they are called in Spanish, and this sometimes leads them to place little value on their lives, said Teresa Regojo of the Galgos en Familia rescue group which runs a greyhound shelter in Malaga in southwestern Spain.

“Hunters have at least ten. They make them reproduce without any control to have a champion greyhound,” she said as she was surrounded by about two dozen greyhounds at the shelter.

When the hunting season — which runs from November to February — ends, many hunters simply abandon their greyhounds.

Campaigners such as SOS Galgos and Galgos del Sur estimate that 150,000 animals are abandoned in Spain each year, one-third of them greyhounds.

Some greyhounds are drowned by their owners or hung.

“There are less hangings but now they drown them by throwing them in wells because this is not seen, or they break their legs so they can't return home,” said the founder of Galgos en Familia, Vera Thorennar.

The retired Dutchwoman arranges to have the abandoned greyhounds which her refuge picks up adopted by families in other European nations or in the United States.

Hundreds of abandoned greyhounds end up in municipal kennels, where many are euthanized.

There are also unregulated kennels, where greyhounds are kept until the hunting season reopens.

“People don't want to pay for a normal kennel during several months. It's a custom in some regions,” said the spokesman for the Civil Guard's nature protection service Seprona.

The service in September 2014 dismantled a large unregulated kennel near the town of Velez-Rubio in southern Spain that had starving dogs and “remains of animals that had been devoured by others”, he added.

At Guardiaro, some 125 kilometres (75 miles) from Malaga, a row of about 50 shacks made of wood and cement and topped with corrugated metal sheets house about 100 hunting dogs of all breeds with no food and water.

Aranyo of animal protection party PACMA has filed several complaints against the unregulated kennel and its owners have been slapped with fines of between 2,000-30,000 euros ($2,200-33,000) for violating sanitary regulations.

Federations representing breeders of greyhounds say the 150,000 estimate for abandoned animals is part of a campaign to smear them.

Groups representing hunters refused to respond to AFP questions.

Antonio Romero Ruiz, a farmer and former lawmaker in the Spanish parliament, has defended greyhound breeders, arguing in a book on the subject published in 2010 that the practice of hunting with greyhounds is a “millenia-old treasure”.

But Michele Striffler, a former lawmaker in the European parliament who drafted a proposed European law to protect greyhounds, said “it is not possible to tolerate this abuse and torture by appealing to tradition”.

In a sign of shifting attitudes, in recent years courts have issued jail sentences for abuse of greyhounds.

A greyhound breeder and president of an association of hunters was sentenced in October 2013 in Toledo in central Spain to seven months in jail for hanging two dogs.

“There are more young people who work to save (greyhounds) and that is a good sign,” said Thorenaar.

SPRING

Danger: toxic caterpillar plague creeps across Spain despite cold winter

Dog walkers need to be particularly vigilant for a tiny but deadly creature that could kill your pet.

Danger: toxic caterpillar plague creeps across Spain despite cold winter
Photo: Ayuntamiento Utrera

The first signs of spring are welcome to most but the winter thaw brings with it, the threat of a tiny, but highly toxic pest: the Pine Processionary Caterpillar  (Thaumetopoea Pityocampa).

“They pose a major risk to children and adults causing dermatitis, eye damage and severe allergic reaction and in pets even death,”  Milagros Fernandez de Lezeta, director of Spain's Pest Control Association (ANECPLA), told The Local.

And this year, despite extreme winter conditions brought by Storm Filomena last month, they have already been spotted in areas across Spain from A Coruña in the northwest to Sevilla in the south.

Pest control group Rentokil warned that the cold temperatures had done little to kill off the pests. “They can survive in temperatures of minus 12ºC”.

 

 


 

The eggs are laid in candyfloss-like nests in pine trees where they remain during the cold winter months.

As the temperature starts to rise with the approach of spring, the caterpillars hatch and drop to the ground to search for food.

They can easily be spotted moving head to tail in a procession to form the conspicuous snake-like lines for which they are named.

The caterpillars, measuring between three and four centimeters in length, are particularly dangerous to young children who may be curious enough to touch them, and to dogs, who may attempt to eat them.

Each caterpillar is covered with tiny barbed hairs containing a protein called thaumetopoein.


Photo: Ana /Flickr

Dogs are the main victims as when they come into contact with the caterpillars can pick up the hairs on their paws, which are then licked because of the irritation and the poison spreads to the mouth.

They could suffer breathing difficulties, vomiting or start foaming at the mouth and should be taken urgently to the nearest veterinary clinic for an immediate cortisone and antibiotic injection.

Sometimes amputation of the tongue or nose is the only course of action and of they reach the throat can cause suffocation and result in death.

The risk is particularly high in pine forests but is not confined exclusively to them and can occur anywhere where pine trees grow, including city parks, private gardens and roadsides.

Many councils carry out spraying in muncipal parks to lessen the danger but they can't always be relied upon to eliminate the pest entirely.

So be vigilant!

IN PICS: Ten photos that will make you excited about spring in Spain

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