Campaigners call on Spain to outlaw hanging of dogs

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The Independent Online

Animal rights campaigners are calling for Spain to outlaw the practice of thousands of greyhounds being hanged at the end of the annual hare-coursing season.

Investigators from the World Society for the Protection of Animals visited central Spain in March and found dead greyhounds – known as galgos – with nooses round their necks and dumped in shallow graves, lying under trees where they had been hanged, or abandoned on rubbish tips, a report published today reveals.

"This cruel and callous abuse is a graphic example of why a national animal welfare law is so desperately needed in Spain," Alistair Finlay, who led the mission, said yesterday. Spain has no national animal protection law, just limited regional laws that are not enforced, campaigners say.

The campaign was prompted by the crusade of Fermin Perez, a science teacher from the Castilian town of Medina del Campo who set up a galgo sanctuary near his home.

"We've saved 500 this year, and we're looking after 350," Mr Perez said yesterday.

"The killing of galgos every spring is widespread in Spain and very cruel. Owners hang their animals because it saves the price of a bullet. One rang me the other day and said 'come and collect my dog or I'll hang it'."

Some practices border on being sadistic. "Dogs hang with their hind legs trailing on the ground, causing the animal to scrabble with its front paws in what owners call 'playing the piano' or 'typewriting'," Mr Perez said.

Asked to explain such inhumane techniques, Mr Perez said the practice dates back generations. "Galgo owners are mostly poor people stigmatised for needing dogs to hunt food. In addition, politicians are indifferent to the problem. For them hunting is everything: animal protection doesn't sell, politically."

Thousands are killed every year, he reckons. "In the autumn everyone's out walking their galgo and by the spring they've vanished, and no one knows where they've gone."

Mr Perez depends on donations for funds, and has placed many animals with owners in Europe. "It's worthwhile when you see the galgos recovering," he said. "They're gentle and devoted, perhaps that's why they are so easily abused."