In November 2016, amid tense showdowns between animal rights activists and galgueros (dog racers), the Argentine Congress voted unilaterally to outlaw dog races. While it had been illegal in many provinces previously, the lack of a total ban meant that there was minimal regulation of the practice.
A landmark decision, the ruling demonstrated the first time that the rights of dogs had been debated in congress and seemed to mark a new attitude toward animal rights in Argentina. However, a lack of enforcement since that point has led to an upsurge in the practice in neighboring countries that undermines the entire validity of the law and begs the question, has anything really changed for Argentina’s most mistreated dog breed?
Mistreatment, Abuse, and Abandonment
Greyhounds once had it so good. One of the world’s oldest pure dog breeds, in Medieval times, killing a greyhound was a crime punishable by death, a stark reminder of how far their rank has fallen in the modern era. Originally bred as a sight hound, a greyhound can reach speeds of up to 45mph, which has led to its use in blood sports and racing.
Before the law was passed, greyhound racing was technically illegal in the province of Buenos Aires but the practice flourished in the absence of an outright ban from Congress. Winning greyhounds could fetch their up to ARS $150,000 (nearly US $7,500) per race, making this a highly profitable industry that required relatively little in terms of inputs from the galgueros.
The lack of regulation in dog racing when compared to horse racing has meant that abuses are rife at every stage of a greyhound’s life. Dogs are generally kept in squalid conditions, either outside or in small cages, and deprived of food to keep them at ideal racing weight. Training often means being forced to run alongside cars and on treadmills, and dogs are sometimes taunted with live bait to trigger their hunting instinct. Prior to the ban, it is estimated that in Argentina, 50,000 greyhounds died per year due to the ‘sport.’
One of the most shocking examples of the utter lack of regulation in the industry were the widespread reports of galgueros giving their dogs cocktails of performance-enhancing drugs, including Viagra, steroids, cocaine and amphetamines. The extent of the doping meant that vets would often find abandoned greyhounds suffering withdrawal symptoms from these highly addictive substances, in addition to the physical abuse and torture already sustained.
Greyhounds’ racing careers end by the time they reach five years old, sometimes due to age, but often because excessive training has led to injuries judged ‘not worth’ fixing. Dogs that outlive their ‘usefulness’ are either forced to breed, abandoned, hanged, or found dead at roadsides. At the end of the day, for galgueros, dog racing is a business and greyhounds are simply machines, a means to achieve an end. When the machine breaks, it is just thrown away.
Controversy and Ban
In November 2016, with 132 votes in favor and just 17 against, Congress passed a law banning greyhound racing in Argentina. Those caught participating in, organizing, or promoting dog races are now punishable up to four years of jail time and fines of up to ARS $80,000 (nearly US $4,000). During the debate, there were violent clashes outside Congress between galgueros and animal rights campaigners, requiring police intervention to ensure the activists’ safety.
The fight to definitively ban dog racing was a long one. Protagonized by the NGO Proyecto Galgo Argentina, who began a petition on Change.org in 2013 that went on to become the most signed Argentine proposal in the site’s history with 408,000 signatures, the project was galvanized by a powerful media presence, with personalities from the world of entertainment calling on Argentines to put pressure on the government to ban the sport for good.
In the face of this rising social movement, the galgueros cried discrimination and likened banning dog racing to banning the hugely popular horse racing, even though dog racing has only really existed for about 60 years. They also refuted claims of mistreatment and abuse. At the last legal dog race in Córdoba, one racer claimed, “we never abandon their dogs. Never. [We] accompany them until their last day.” All this despite NGOs and individuals frequently finding abandoned dogs who had been left to die in the streets around clandestine racetracks.
What became particularly apparent during the debates around the ruling were the deep class divisions that determine the treatment of animals in Argentina. The country owning the highest number of dogs in the world, there is a stark contrast between those kept for company and those for work, whether as guard dogs or money generators. The Kirchnerite deputy Diana Conti even went so far as to describe the law as ‘fascist,’ as she argued that rather than the prohibition of greyhound racing, they were voting in “the prohibition of people who find decent work in this activity.” Sure.
However, the timing of the ruling was no accident. The struggle to ban dog racing was part of a larger ideological shift taking place in Argentine politics. Following the closure of several of Argentina’s infamous zoos, animals were finally considered sentient beings and their rights were being debated for the first time. Legislators called on the government to “change the paradigm” of the treatment of other animals, and the racing dogs of any breed was criminalized.
A False New Dawn
If only it were that simple. A lack of follow through from the government’s part has meant that races still take place illegally, or dogs are transported over the border to Chile or Uruguay where the practice is still permitted. Rather than the crackdown that was needed, suppressing the ‘sport’ in one area has caused it to pop up in others, as galgueros refuse to abandon this highly profitable, though inhumane, industry.
Worries arose in October when Uruguayan network Rio Uruguay Television broadcast a report that nearly one thousand Argentines had crossed the border to participate in races. This is made possible due to the relative ease of bringing greyhounds into the country; if all the paperwork is in order, they are treated like any other pet. In March, it was revealed that Argentines equal or even outnumber the amount of Uruguayans taking part in these races.
The continued existence of this phenomenon demonstrates an utter lack of follow through from the government. While legislators in Uruguay debated banning the practice, having noted a marked increase in activity ever since the Argentine ban, in Argentina precious little is done to stop galgueros’ trafficking their dogs over the border. Notably, Argentine border control does next to nothing to stop the dogs crossing in to Uruguay, despite the highly-publicized racing ban and the close association between these animals and the sport.
What is particularly worrying is the lack of information on what’s happening. If the racing is continuing, so then are the multitude of abuses to which greyhounds are so often subject. Only this time it’s taking place where Argentine authorities can no longer act.
A Brighter Future
Has the law changed anything, then? Despite the continuing races, NGO Adoptá Un Galgo En Argentina says that in some ways the situation is improving. “What did change with the law is that more people were alerted to the plight of greyhounds, so more people report abused dogs and more people sign up to help, but there is still so much work to be done.”
There are many other NGOs who have come to the rescue of Argentina’s greyhounds, such as Fundación Zorba and Proyecto Galgo Argentina, but by far the most significant currently in operation is Adoptá un Galgo, founded in 2010 by Alejandra Peralta. It all started when she adopted her first greyhound Paloma when living in Italy, through a foundation which rescued dogs from Spanish dog shelters.
When Peralta returned to Argentina, her investigations revealed that greyhounds here were suffering the same abuse as those in Spain and so she started Adoptá un Galgo en Argentina to rescue and raise awareness. At the time, the realities of the mistreatment of greyhounds were not widely known and very little was done to protect them, but since then, the organization has rescued and re-homed more than a thousand dogs.
Adoptá Un Galgo are entirely non-profit and rely on donations and volunteers. With no fixed shelter, they operate through a system of foster homes to help the dogs recuperate while they wait for a forever home. “The fostering is a fundamental part of the dog’s recovery because they’ve normally suffered intense trauma and mistreatment,” they said. “It allows them to recuperate both physically and emotionally so that they can learn to trust again.”
They are keen for people to know that greyhounds are excellent, low-maintenance companions. They are somewhat surprisingly known as the ‘couch potatoes’ of the dog world and need relatively little exercise. “Adult greyhounds are neither active nor energetic. They enjoy sleeping in comfortable spaces and above all, the company of their family.”
“Whoever has looked into the eyes of a greyhound has seen the purest kindness. They’ve suffered all their lives, but they don’t hesitate to forgive us and give us another opportunity to show them kindness and love.”
Greyhound fostering is ideal if you’re working from home and looking for a companion but not sure how long you’re staying in Argentina. If you’re interested, read Gure’s story. One of their best success stories, she was fostered by a writer who published beautiful, heart-wrenching updates on her progress and is a perfect glimpse into what it means to foster a greyhound. Her progress from abandonment to finding a family is written in prose that will bring a tear to your eye.
As a way to connect with potential donors and volunteers, they have a prominent social media presence. The photos that they share on their Facebook and Instagram can be heartbreaking, but it’s also gratifying to watch the transformation of neglected dogs in to happy and healthy animals ready for a good home. Once every couple of months, they have a Happy Greyhound Meeting, where you can meet all the greyhounds awaiting adoption and donate to the foundation. The next meeting is on Sunday, May 13 in Plaza República Oriental del Uruguay, and more details can be found on the event’s Facebook page.
Están todos invitados ?
Vengan a conocer a los galgos rescatados!
28° Encuentro de Galgos Felices
Domingo 13 de mayo desde las 15hs en la
Plaza República Oriental del Uruguay, Av Libertador y Tagle, CABA.
Picnic en familia, galguitos en adopción ? y el mejor Shop solidario ? pic.twitter.com/4vmziXRTya
— Adopta Un Galgo (@AdoptaUnGalgo) April 11, 2018
While we can hope that greyhound owners will respect the law and leave behind the clandestine racing community, until that happens, organizations such as this work tirelessly to protect these dogs and ensure they have a bright future free from pain and suffering.