On a national level, the Spanish Animal Welfare Act 32/2007 provides framework legislation concerning animal welfare and the offences and penalties for non-compliance. However, the scope of the act refers to animals kept for economic purposes and explicitly excludes animals used for hunting, regulated competition sports and pets.
Therefore, on a national level two laws seem to be relevant in dealing with the issue of galgos. First, Art. 337 of the Spanish Penal Code. The article was amended in December 2010 and now reads as follows:
"Who by any means or process causes unreasonable abuse to a pet or a tamed animal, causing death or injury which severely damages its health, shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of one month to three years and disqualification for one to three years from the exercises from any profession, trade or business that is related to animals.".
With this Art. 337 seems to give ample protection against the maltreatment and abuse. However, the reality shows a different picture. Members of the public as well as the many rescue organizations are still confronted with many cases of abuse and outright cruelty. Galgos are found severely beaten, burned alive, doused in acid, dumped in wells, tied down in grottos and left to die, hanged, tortured... A very small amount of cruelty cases end up in court, sometimes even if the Seprona, the environmental arm of the Guardia Civil, has made a case.
Looking into this, sheer political reluctance in the broadest sense seems to be at the root of this judicial neglect. Instead of promoting animal welfare through enforcement of legislation, the authorities themselves seem to hamper the important promotion of animal welfare awareness by not seriously addressing the cruelty inflicted upon galgos. The definition of an animal as a sentient being has clearly not transpired to the Spanish authorities and in many cases the galgo still remains a commodity, not worthy of serious care and consideration.
Further national legislation that is applicable to the welfare of the galgos, is the Nucleo Zoologico. This Code regulates housing conditions, minimal general and veterinary care and other regulations concerning what could be referred to as responsible ownership. All those who own five dogs or more are subject to this law. It therefore not only refers to shelters and killing stations, but also to private owner who keep dogs out.
However, also in this regard there is a great discrepancy between the letter of the law and the daily situation. Many owners keep a large number of dogs under deplorable circumstances. Hounds are packed together in a cramped surrounding amidst their own faeces, undernourished or chained up without room to move. Some never see daylight in their lives or have no shelter whatsoever against the elements. Proper veterinary care is withheld. It must be said that some galgueros do see the benefit of proper care and housing, thus improving the general condition of their galgos. But in general, again, the lack of interest from the authorities in many cases is overwhelming. Hardly any enforcement of these regulations is seen, leaving an enormous amount of galgos suffering the whole of their short lives.
On a regional level, all 17 autonomous regions of Spain have legislation concerning animal welfare which are mainly geared towards pets. Under these laws, the galgos are considered "animales de renta" (animals of use to people), and thus excluded as a companion animal. The consequence of this is similar to the situations described above. Failing to be recognized as a companion animal, though adoption of galgos as pets is promoted heavily by the galgo rescue organizations, the galgos seem to be outside the law in most instances. The situation is particularly distressing in Castile y Leon, Extremadura, Andalusia and Castile la Mancha. A strong social, "cultural" and "traditional" tendency exists that prevents those in authority to promote the actual change of this situation. Nor does the national government spur its regions into action concerning this matter. Thus, the hounds become just collateral damage in the cultural arena of coursing and racing.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that Spain also signed the guidelines by the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Standards Commission/September 2009. The objective is the control of the stray dog population, suggesting this might be done by reducing the number of stray dogs to an acceptable level as well as promote responsible ownership. It also gives clear guidelines to what might be considered humane euthanasia, should this extreme measure be a chosen tool in stray dog management. By signing these guidelines, Spain has projected a firm commitment to these.
Massive overbreeding is one of the main causes of the horrible situation. By allowing the unbridled and indiscriminate breeding of galgos and consequent dumping of thousand of hounds to continue, the Spanish government fails on all accounts. Firstly, all efforts to control the stray dog population are counteracted, because at the end of the hunting season thousands of galgos get dumped and abandoned. Secondly, by allowing this the government actually promotes inrresponsible ownership. And thirdly, it doesn't use perrera's ( the killing stations often run by commercial businesses under dubious circumstances) as an ultimate tool and reinforces the cycle of destruction of young, healthy and beautiful dogs.
Though Spain wants to be recognized within the EU as a country that takes animal welfare issues seriously, the above shows that this is done very arbitrarily. Where the galgos are concerned, the exploitation and the lack of political will diminishes the country's credibility.
We are aware that the Member states, at present, are free to introduce legislation relating to issues such as greyhound racing and hunting with dogs. We are also aware that within the EU there is no legal basis to draw up legislation with regards to the welfare of companion animals.
Still, as mentioned before, Art. 13 of the Treaty shows a clear recognition of animals as sentient beings by all Member states and from this is derived the responsibility to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals. Though the article limits itself to four areas, the heart of the article and the carrying principle, is that it concerns itself with all animals.
Often existing provisions and customs concerning religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage are considered exceptions to this rule. However, the article doesn't state that one has to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals unless provisions and customs concerning these rites, traditions and heritage are in place. It urges the two aspects to go hand in hand so one aspect does not exclude the other.
Now, with the second Strategy on Animal Welfare being drafted, we ask you to consider the wider dimension of animal welfare, laying down a strategy that would include basic welfare standards for all domesticated animals, i.e. those animals that are adopted, trained or live in a human environment and/or are of use to humans.
We also ask you to respectfully call on Spain to be accountable for the horrid situation in which many galgos continue to live and die.
To urge Spain to live up to the principle of the Art. 13 of the Treaty and the unity of purpose within the EU on this matter, by sincerely and actively addressing this issue.
And most importantly, to do anything within your means to stop the senseless suffering of galgos and hounds, and thus do justice to all the work, money and effort of the numerous organizations, in Spain and abroad, who fight relentlessly to overcome this situation.