One of the best kept secrets in Spain is the atrocious treatment of galgos, a popular breed of hunting dogs. But, The Benjamin Menhert Foundation, a large dog shelter in the province of Seville, has been helping to mitigate this difficult situation for over 10 years, saving the dogs from the terrible fate that awaits them after two or three years of usefulness.
25 kilometers southwest of the center of Seville, past the city of Dos Hermanas, more than 600 galgos can be heard at all hours of the day. Sometimes all of them join together in a siren-like howl perceptible miles away. Eventually, they stop and you can hear the distinct sounds of each dog, some crying, some screaming, some barking, some grunting, and some snoring.
Looking at their smiling faces and wagging tails, it is hard to tell that these dogs have been mistreated, beaten, abandoned or left hungry and thirsty. There are some that have even been burned or hung. However, most of them still run towards the fence when someone walks along it. Some, on the other hand, shrink back in fear into the corner and bark, others slowly approach to greet you, but run away at any sudden movement.
Volunteers go from one cage to another, making sure that food and water are abundant and letting the dogs out of their cages in turns to run in a larger area for their daily exercise. Other volunteers spend their time in the hospital, taking care of sick and injured dogs, and others sit with shy dogs, trying to ease their fear of humans.
Each dog has a different story, different reasons why they ended up at the Benjamin Menhert Foundation, but they all have one thing in common: they were rescued. For 10 years, FBM has been rescuing galgos from horrible sites throughout Andalusia.
Galgos, like many other animals in Spain, are seen as property and, therefore, are treated as such. From birth, each puppy is already competing with its siblings to see which will be the best hunting or breeding dog for the galgueros, or breeders. Once the galguero decides which puppy will be the best hunter, the rest are thrown into the streets or the countryside, left to fend for themselves. From there, natural selection claims the lives of the majority of these young galgos. For those chosen as the prime hunting candidates, training begins; however, their lives too, are short.
Once these dogs reach the age of two or three, they are considered too old to continue hunting and, therefore, are brutally killed or beaten and then, left to die. Guns are rarely used to kill galgos because the galgueros prefer to save their bullets.
“They treat them so badly, beating them, cutting off their ears or tail, breaking their legs, dropping them in a well, setting them on fire or hanging them from the trees,” says Natasha Duijvelaar, a casera of the Foundation. When a galgo comes in abused, the foundation does everything it can to save the dog. Putting a dog to sleep is always the last option.
Lauren, now adopted, arrived at FBM and for a year, underwent extreme daily care. When he arrived at FBM, his legs were fused together and he was completely paralyzed; the veterinarians believed he was dragged behind a car. Every day, Lauren was sedated to clean his wounds and slowly loosen his fused joints. And every day, spirit remained in his eyes. After intensive physical therapy, Lauren can now walk and run like any other dog, and enjoy life in Italy.
“He is a happy boy, with the strongest will I have ever seen in my life. He loves all dogs and everyone. His transformation has been great,” says Travis Patenaude de Lauren, founder of Love, Hope, Believe Galgos, a United States-based organization that collaborates with the FBM, bringing galgos there to be adopted.
But, not all dogs have a happy ending. Natasha recalls the case of a galgo that came to the Foundation with his entire body burned. For two weeks, veterinarians and FBM staff tried to save him, but the spark in his eyes was gone. “He was starting to heal a little, but he was in a lot of pain, and because he couldn’t handle the pain, he gave up. The veterinarians decided to put him to sleep. The spirit disappeared from his face.”
In addition to veterinary care, for both rescue dogs and pets, the Foundation offers many other services. Hotel Canino is a boarding house for dogs, open to the public. They also offer 420 hours of veterinary courses for students and awareness workshops in schools to educate about animal abuse. On the premises, there is also a house where volunteers stay during their time with the Foundation, as many of them come from outside Spain. FBM also supports cats and dogs of other equally needy breeds. “This is the largest rescue center in Spain, and I guarantee it is the best race,” says Bud O’Connor, a volunteer from Chicago.
FBM was founded in 2009 by German Gisela Menhert, an animal rights activist who moved to Spain more than 20 years ago. The foundation began after Gisela rescued Bianca, a very shy abandoned galgo who had spent years living by an abandoned shopping center in Madrid. Bianca inspired Gisela to learn more about the history of galgos, and the Benjamin Menhert Foundation was born shortly thereafter.
Since its opening in 2009, FBM has rescued more than 10,000 galgos and facilitated the adoption of more than 9,000. FBM takes in between 5 and 15 dogs a day and adopts out 20 to 100 dogs monthly. But, even so, more than 160 galgos are abandoned daily throughout Spain.
“It is difficult when people ask why they are treated this way because they cannot be given a rational explanation. There is no rational and compassionate response. Many times you can ask a galguero what this dog means for them and why they feel they can get rid of it, and it’s as if they were speaking a different language,” says Travis. Spanish laws also perpetuate these feelings. Galgos, in the eyes of the law, are seen as property and, therefore, are not afforded the same rights as other animals.
All of this paints Spain in a bad light, especially to animal rights groups and activists, but what many people fail to remember is that most of the time, it is also the Spaniards who are adopting these dogs, and who are on the ground doing the hard work. Sometimes, those who adopt these dogs face disapproval in their towns, rejected for thinking that galgos could be a family pet. But, as the fight for the rights of galgos has become more wide-spread and better known, the image of galgos in the minds of many Spaniards is also changing for the better.
“They are fun dogs. Despite all the abuses they have suffered, they are very forgiving and affectionate. For the horrible life they’ve had, they are just sweet-tempered,” says Bud.
In addition to facilitating the adoption of dogs in the United States, FBM also works with organizations in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and France. Natasha and Corne Duijvelaar are dedicated full-time to the Foundation and live onsite. Both work closely with an organization in Holland, as they were born, raised, and married there. After discovering the history of galgos, both quit their full-time jobs to move to Spain and join the fight. Now, Natasha works as a landlady and Corné Duijvelaar are dedicated full-time to the Foundation and live onsite. Both work closely with an organization in Holland, as they were born, raised, and married there. After discovering the history of galgos, both quit their full-time jobs to move to Spain and join the fight. Now, Natasha works as a landlady and Corné volunteers making videos, taking photos, and working to get galgos adopted in Holland.
Natasha and Corné adopted two galgos before moving to Spain and recently adopted 5-month-old Tapón, who has an eating disorder that requires him to sit in a highchair to eat. Tapón, who Natasha and Corné have been raising, is considered to be the Foundation’s mascot; everyone knows and loves the skinny puppy. When they are not taking care of their own three dogs, both Natasha and Corné are on the grounds of the Foundation, carrying out their daily tasks.
Each day at the Benjamin Menhert Foundation is different; new galgos are brought in, some injured, some sick, and some perfectly fine. Others find their forever homes. And, galgos continue barking, crying and snoring. •