How res­cue grey­hounds be­came chic in Barcelona

The Guardian Weekly - - Spotlight - By Emma Rev­erter EMMA REV­ERTER IS A JOUR­NAL­IST BASED IN NEW YORK

For the faith­ful grey­hounds of south­ern Spain, life is fast, fu­ri­ous and of­ten short. At the end of hunt­ing sea­son each year, thou­sands are re­warded for their ef­forts with a swift ex­e­cu­tion.

Now, how­ever, the move­ment to con­front such bar­bar­ity is gath­er­ing pace as res­cued grey­hounds – gal­gos in Span­ish – be­come more and more pop­u­lar among hip­ster com­mu­ni­ties and city dwellers in north­ern Spain.

As many as 2,000 an­i­mals are saved each year. Find­ing new homes for them used to be dif­fi­cult, but not any more. Ac­cord­ing to Anna Clements, the co-founder and di­rec­tor of SOS Gal­gos, it is be­com­ing more com­mon to see young cou­ples walk­ing the dogs in Barcelona. “It is uplift­ing to see a happy galgo be­ing walked in the city in­stead of how it used to be, when they mis­er­ably roamed the streets in search of food and wa­ter.”

Res­cu­ing gal­gos in dis­tress is not al­ways easy or pos­si­ble. “We all know that some­one who is cruel to an an­i­mal can be­come vi­o­lent to­wards peo­ple and un­for­tu­nately hunt­ing is wide­spread and pop­u­lar in ru­ral ar­eas of Spain, so deal­ing with hunters is very un­pleas­ant,” says Clements, while

‘It is uplift­ing to see a happy galgo be­ing walked in the city’

tak­ing part in a res­cue op­er­a­tion in south­ern Spain.

Some­times, dogs are res­cued fol­low­ing a call from a mem­ber of the pub­lic. But some­times dog own­ers get in touch them­selves, Clements says. “They use emo­tional black­mail on the phone, say­ing ‘if you don’t take my use­less dogs I’ll have to get rid of them’.”

“There is a huge loop[hole] in the le­gal sys­tem that en­ables hunters to do as they please with their dogs and there is no con­cern from the au­thor­i­ties what­so­ever.”

Klea Levin, a Swedish for­mer model and galgo ac­tivist, has also no­ticed a rise in in­ter­est in res­cued grey­hounds. “For a long time our aware­ness cam­paigns high­lighted the hor­ri­ble ways in which grey­hounds are treated, show­ing im­ages of mis­treated dogs. This mo­bilised peo­ple from an­i­mal pro­tec­tion as­so­ci­a­tions,” she says. “We re­alised, how­ever, that we would reach a wider au­di­ence if we talked about this ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion but showed grey­hounds as they re­ally are – el­e­gant and beau­ti­ful.”

Levin has used her villa in the foothills of the Tibid­abo moun­tain, in Barcelona’s ex­clu­sive Sant Ger­vasi neigh­bour­hood, as a tem­po­rary home for res­cue dogs: cur­rently two grey­hounds, Jun­gle and Nico, are await­ing adop­tion.

Levin be­lieves that the at­ti­tude to­wards grey­hounds in big cities has changed since she ar­rived in Barcelona two decades ago. She says: “We see more and more grey­hounds in the street. Not only has it be­come nor­mal, but it has be­come some­thing fash­ion­able: my neigh­bour­hood is full of el­e­gant grey­hounds.”

Marc Ve­lasco and Marta Huguet are the founders of Brott Barcelona. They de­sign col­lars for “mod­ern dogs” and have two adopted gal­gos – Brot and Penny.

“The own­ers care about the qual­ity and style of the ac­ces­sories be­cause they mir­ror their life­style,” says Huguet.

Clements says there is still a long way to go. Tens of thou­sands of crea­tures are thought to be de­stroyed in south­ern Spain alone ev­ery year.

“We strive to main­tain a bal­ance, to not only do res­cue, but also to work equally at lob­by­ing for the sit­u­a­tion to change,” she says.

PAOLA DEGRENET

Hounds of love Klea Levin with some of her res­cued dogs

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