Heartbreaking photos of greyhounds caught in an age-old Spanish hunting tradition

A greyhound used to hunt wild hare. (David Arribas González)

Hunters gather before the competition begins. (David Arribas González)

The Washington Post partnered with Visura in an open call for submissions of photo essays. The Post selected five winners and three honorable mentions out of almost 300 submissions. We are presenting one of the five winners today here on In Sight — photographer David Arribas, and his work “Scars.”

Arribas’s passion for documenting the Spanish greyhounds of the wild hare dog hunting tradition in Spain began when he saw a greyhound almost get hit by a car. He stopped to try to catch it, but it jumped a fence and darted away. His curiosity about why the dog feared him led him to discover the terrible treatment of the dogs.

Spain is one of the only countries in the European Union that still permits wild hare hunting using greyhounds. “What was formerly a form of sustenance for families in rural areas, has now been reinvented and turned into sport, preserving its practice within the cultural tradition of the country,” Arribas said.

The quest for the ultimate hunting dog has resulted in over-breeding, inhumane training, poor living conditions and, at the end of the hunting season, death for the dogs. At the end of every February when the hunting season is over, if a dog has performed well but is old and no longer of use, it is rewarded with a swift death by hanging. If its performance was poor, its death is more torturous. Some greyhounds are hanged close to the ground, thrown in pits alive, drowned, shot or abandoned.

It is believed that tens of thousands of dogs are killed each year, but an exact figure is not known because of the conflicting data coming from the Civil Guard, Spain’s Nature Protection Service, and local rescuers. Hunters go to great lengths to hide the dog’s deaths, disposing of the corpses in abandoned buildings, wells, remote fields and mass graves.

In the quest for a champion dog, breeding is rampant. There are no laws against over-breeding in Spain, so shelters struggle with overpopulation. When the shelters are full, many rescuers take the animals into their own homes. “Ciudad Animal, a shelter for dogs and cats in Ciudad Real, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain, in 2019, reported that of the 150 dogs in their facilities, 90 percent of them are greyhounds. The rescue depends heavily on volunteers and rescue organizations in Germany that help get the dogs adopted,” Arribas said. Many shelters in Spain work with the public and the hunters to encourage the humane treatment of the dogs. They advocate for spay and neutering, and rescue abandoned dogs.

Arribas has accompanied the animal welfare organization, SOS Rescue, on its recovery missions and has witnessed the terrible condition of the dogs they find. He knows firsthand the physical and psychological trauma the dogs endure, as he sees it in his own adopted greyhound. “I have found greyhounds that have a fear of men with hats, fear brooms and fear of having their legs touched. My dog fears large dogs and came to me covered in bite marks,” Arribas said.

“Microchip identification, legislative control over animal husbandry, sterilization as a method of population control, and adoption are important strategies for preventing abandonment. But there is a need for collaboration between the public administration and private entities as well as support for citizen education about responsible care to avoid abandonment in the long term, “ Arribas said.

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