Briton fights to end Spanish dog hangings

A London nurse is saving old greyhounds from a 'traditional' cruel death, reports Chris Blackhurst
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The Independent Online
IN AN orchard outside Granada in southern Spain, by the side of the Sierra Nevada road, once-sleek greyhounds hang, rotting in the breeze. This is how Spaniards in rural areas often dispose of their dogs when they are no longer fit to race and hunt.

After the furore over Spain's treatment of donkeys and the constant criticism of bullfighting, British animal-lovers now have another cause: the country's neglect of retired greyhounds.

A British woman, Anne Finch, is fighting a lonely battle to rescue the dogs before it is too late and find them safe homes elsewhere in Spain and Europe.

So far, Mrs Finch, a nurse at Royal Holloway College, part of London University, has saved 60 greyhounds, known as galgos in Spanish.

Married to a retired university professor, Mrs Finch, 53, from Egham, Surrey, has spent more than pounds 40,000 of her and her husband's life savings on the campaign.

About 1,000 greyhounds a year are sent to Spain, mainly from Ireland but also from the UK. They race on three tracks, two in Barcelona and one in Majorca, or, more commonly, they are used for coursing, hunting rabbits or for betting races in country villages.

Mrs Finch, who keeps a pet greyhound and labrador at home, started her campaign in 1991, soon after learning about the Spaniards' treatment of racing dogs.

"It moved me so much, I felt I just had to go there and do something," she said. "I had never been to Spain before and I don't speak Spanish but I felt I had to do something."

Instead of working through an animal cruelty organisation, she went in secret, on her own, and saved four dogs - "I had planned on bringing out three but I came back with four,"she said. After that, regular trips followed.

It was while talking to racing-dog owners that she heard that in rural areas of Spain, greyhounds were killed by hanging them from trees. Unable to comprehend such treatment, she set out to see for herself, and discovered that in Andalucia and other country districts this was an old tradition that was still being practised.

She recalls: "I went to the Granada orchard where there were eight or nine dogs just hanging - it was horrible, their mouths were wide open, one was even pregnant."

They were hanged, not, she says, by people being deliberately cruel but out of ignorance. This was the time-honoured method of getting rid of a hunting dog and was still being followed by people who would not dream of taking a dog to a vet - either because it would cost them too much or because, simply, they had not heard of a more humane alternative.

The local council told her it could not do anything because it could not find the dogs' former owners.

When she mentioned the hangings to greyhound owners and trainers in the north, she was appalled by their blase attitude. "They made me think it must happen all over Spain," she says. "One trainer told me hanging dogs was justifiable because there is a nerve in the neck which if snapped instantly paralyses the dog and it does not know what is happening."

Mrs Finch belives the hangings and other instances of maltreatment she has come across are born out of ignorance. On the basis of that belief she has paid pounds 8,000 of her own money to produce a video with a Spanish soundtrack which is aimed at dog owners, instructing them in kennel care, feeding, race preparation and how to treat injuries. She is also writing a book about her experiences.

Rafael Cavestany, the agriculture attache at the Spanish embassy in London and the diplomat charged with having to explain his countrymen's attitude to animals to the British press, said he had not heard of the greyhounds being killed in this way.

"Maybe they are used as bait for some other animal," Mr Cavestany suggested, although he was at a loss to say what sort of animal in southern Spain would want to devour a dead greyhound.