Sometimes, it takes a stranger to see the ghosts that have long haunted a place.
In 2007, that stranger was Tina Solera. She had just moved to Murcia, a city in southeastern Spain. And during a walk, she came across a spectral figure: a tattered dog, walking wounded among piles of trash.
The sight filled her not with horror, but with a sense of purpose. The connection was instant.
“You know when you just have a feeling, like falling in love, when you can’t really describe it and it is just a feeling?” she tells MNN.
“I saw this noble, skinny creature walking down the street, so elegant but so skinny and abused but still wonderful. I just fell in love and thought, ‘Wow, that is a beautiful creature.'”
A disregarded sight
But for so many others, the dog belonging to an ancient breed called galgo, was still a ghost — a kind of silent scar that’s seen, and yet not seen in cities throughout the country.
Spanish galgos do have their day. But it’s short, brutish and stingy on the sunlight. The animals are prized in hunting tournaments, renowned for their ability to track small prey like rabbits. And, like the proverbial rabbit, galgos are bred feverishly by their hunting owners, known as galgueros.
For a couple of years, they’re swapped around the community — spending most of their time in tiny windowless shacks or covered pits until released, in a closed track at least, to chase after a hare for their masters.
“And the ones that aren’t good in competition will be thrown out,” Solera explains. “They’ll keep the good ones, breed them and train them for the next season.”
But the moment they lose a step — typically after three years — they’re deemed disposable.
No one has been keeping exact figures for these ghosts, but Solera estimates anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000 hunting dogs are dumped every year.
Many are left in the countryside, thrown into deep wells, or killed in a gruesome spectacle. Before it was illegal, galgueros typically hanged the dogs, a twisted reward for faithful service.
“I thought that was crazy,” Solera recalls. “These dogs are amazing and are so noble and gentle and even after all of the abuse, they just look at you and want to love you and be loved.”
Changing minds, one dog at a time
Solera began a crusade to bring these “ghosts” back to the land of the living.
“I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with my little family and that’s when I started bringing these dogs home,” Solera says.
She says she didn’t have a penny when she founded a nonprofit rescue called Galgos del Sol in 2011.
The aim was not only to rehabilitate galgos — as well as another hunting dog mainstay called a podenco — but also to change the culture that treated them with such disregard.
Traditionally seen as hunting dogs, galgos aren’t afforded the tender privileges that pet breeds like German shepherds and retrievers get. Solera saw as much when she visited animal shelters where the overwhelming majority of dogs that couldn’t find homes were the former hunting dogs.
“There is so much ignorance around it,” Solera adds. “We are trying to get the locals to see what amazing companions they make and start adopting them.”
And gradually, that tide has been turning.
A light that’s growing brighter
Solera, along with a small group of volunteers, visits schools and communities, hoping to instill a sense that these dogs are not tools to be disposed of when no longer in use.
Donations and support also began to flow from around the world. Little by little, she has started seeing fewer ghosts.
“I hardly see any galgos on the street because we got the message out to the galgueros that they just can’t dump their dogs,” she says. “But if they are responsible, we can help them.”
Today, Galgos del Sol cares for some 150 dogs, both galgos and podencos. The group has found happy homes for countless more.
“I have seen a huge improvement in the immediate area,” Solera adds. “Before, I couldn’t leave the house without seeing a dead galgo every day on the motorway. I don’t see that so much now.”
The problem persists across the country, but thanks to the efforts of people like Solera, more people are choosing to see these dogs not as hungry ghosts, but as friends in need — and offer them a much-needed hand. Or even a warm bed.