I-TEAM: California woman pushes campaign to stop galgos abuse

TRACY, Calif. (KGO) -- A Northern California woman who runs a successful greyhound adoption agency has a new mission to stop the abuse of greyhounds in Spain. She's promoting a social media campaign, called the "Million Paw March for Justice." The I-Team's Dan Noyes first investigated the American greyhound racing industry 23 years ago, and he has now followed the treatment of greyhounds overseas.

Right now is the most dangerous time for these greyhounds in Spain. The hunting season has just finished and some owners will abandon or kill the dogs they don't want to feed for the next eight months, until the hunting season begins again.

For nearly 30 years, Susan Aceves has rescued greyhounds from American racetracks; they're legal in seven states and are most popular in Florida. Aceves keeps retired racers in her Tracy home until she can adopt them out.

"They're quiet giants," said Aceves. "They're 45 mph couch potatoes."

Aceves now has turned her focus to Spanish greyhounds, called galgos. Hunters in Spain use the dogs to chase rabbits in a season that lasts from October to February. These competitions find out which hunter has the best dog, much like the greyhound coursing Noyes found in the Bay Area nine years ago. But there is one important difference with what happens to the Spanish greyhounds after the hunting season is done.

"I've seen some abhorrent things, but nothing like this," Aceves told the I-Team.

An emaciated galgo, or Spanish greyhound, is kept in a cage. (Feb. 6, 2015/Susan Aceves and Friends)

Aceves traveled to Spain last year after a shelter invited her, and she provided the I-Team with pictures that she and a colleague took from her travels. Galgos can only compete at the highest level for a few short years and after the hunting season is over, the owners or galgueros, often abandon dogs they don't think are worth feeding until the next season. Starving galgos wandering the Spanish countryside are a common sight, and sometimes the hunters abuse the dogs, toss them down a well, or worse.

"To actually hang a dog and torch that dog, or put a dog in a dumpster with a bullet in its head while it's still alive, [these are] everyday occurrences, everyday occurrences," Aceves said.

"I've seen hundreds of pictures of galgos hanging from trees," said Capt. Salvador Ortega, an intelligence officer in the largest police force that investigates environmental crimes, including abuse of the galgos.

Ortega commented that the number of dogs hung from trees has dropped dramatically to just a few in the past year, and that all forms of abuse have decreased because of awareness campaigns.

"It was a big problem, really a big problem in the past," said Ortega. "We tried to mend it, I think we managed to mend it in most of the cases, but I cannot say it is completely in the past."

Ortega says officers across the country still make dozens of arrests each year for galgos deaths, injuries, hangings, and malnutrition. But Spanish non-governmental organizations (NGOs) estimate 60,000 galgos are killed each year.

One owner told a Spanish documentary filmmaker that he uses 20 dogs per season and typically sends the seven worst racers to the local pound each year to be put down. Another dog owner showed on film the common training technique of pulling galgos behind a car for up to 15 miles in one day.

Galgos, or Spanish greyhounds, are being forced to run behind the back of a moving truck. (Feb. 6, 2015/ Waggingtale.org)

"While they are training them, one can hurt himself and it doesn't matter to the hunter. It's just one less and he will get another one," says Sandra Baas, founder of BaasGalgo USA. Baas has been working in Spain to save the galgos for more than a decade, where she started her own a rescue program. She pushed the government to pass new laws against the abuse of the Spanish greyhounds, but it didn't work.

"We did a lot of press in Spain in newspapers, radios, TV stations. Everybody knows what is going on and they could not care less," Baas said.

That's why activists have launched the "Million Paw March for Justice" online, to pressure the Spanish government to do more for the galgos and to urge people to adopt these great dogs.

"What we are trying to do with the 'Million Paw March for Justice' is to make it so global that Spain can't ignore it," said Aceves.

If you are interested in supporting the campaign or adopting a galgo, check out these links:
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