Vera Thorenaar, founder of “Galgos en Familia”
Vera Thorenaar, a lady from the Netherlands living and working in Spain, runs the rescue organization “Galgos en Familia” that specializes in re-homing Galgo’s Espagnol (Spanish Greyhounds). This breed suffers mistreatment on a big scale in Spain, and so rescue centers are necessary to limit the damage and save some of these unlucky creatures. Thanks to the efforts of Vera and Galgos en Familia, many abandoned and abused Galgos now live “happily ever after” in their new homes.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Vera Thorenaar and I live in Alhaurin de la Torre, Málaga, since 1984.
I am originally Dutch but started living abroad in different countries when I was 20 years old. Ended up in Malaga, a place I like very much but the mentality of the rural people towards animals is terrible. In the cities and specially along the coast it is a bit better, due to the influence of foreigners during many years, but not very good either.
How did you get started with animal rescue?
When I came to Malaga I started helping in the local animal rescue center. Their premises and the dogs and cats were in really bad conditions but at least there was something.
I have always had rescue dogs and cats myself all my life wherever I have lived. They always traveled with me.
Then I started working and with a family and 2 small children I didn’t have too much time to continue helping the rescue center although I have always continued to help them economically.
How and why did you start “Galgos en Familia”?
The airline for which I was a manager in Spain was closing down and I was severance paid at an appropriate age to stop looking for another job. Just before I stopped working in May 2008, I read an article in a Dutch magazine about Greyhounds Rescue Holland, talking about adoptions of Spanish mistreated Galgos in Holland. I offered my help for assisting at the airport when the people are Flight volunteers (that means that they travel from Spain to Holland and they do not mind to take adopted dogs with them on their flight under their care).
So I started doing that but soon afterwards I started to foster for the shelters GRH workes with (normally in the Seville area). Then I heard that in a killing pound nearby there were many Galgos and I ended up taking them out, putting them in a dog residency which I afterwards could rent on a monthly basis. That’s how it all started.
I wasn’t aware of the terrible things they do to those and other hunting dogs, like podenco’s, once they do not comply with the requirements their owner expects of them. This is either when they are still pups (they select from their many litters) or once they are around 4 years old. They breed a lot so they always have younger ones which are stronger than the “older” ones. You also find dogs at the age of around 8 years who they have used (abused) for breeding, because at their time they were very good hunting dogs. They normally live in terrible conditions.
On the other hand there are the gypsies who try and get easy money out of them. It is impossible to describe in what kind of conditions those dogs live in. They normally don’t see the light of the day because they are kept in how they call it “zulus”, caves.
Galgos are stolen by the gipsies from the rescue centers. Those have normally been spayed so when the gipsy notice that, they are thrown away in wells, canals, hung or just dropped. The dropped ones are sometimes better off because we can find them although they are so terrified that it is very difficult to catch them. And if we cannot catch them it is a big frustration for the rescuers.
I have some contacts with “galgueros” who by now know me and they call me to see if I can pick up their Galgos and they say: “If you don’t I will take them to the killing pound”, which means that they die from diseases or get euthanised. So what do you do?? You say yes, even if you do not have space.
Why Spain and why Galgos?
Spain because I live here. Galgos because from my first contact with GRH, I got in touch with other Galgo rescues in Europe and the USA. Nevertheless, I love all animals and I have also rescued other kind of dogs and some cats but that normally takes me more time to get adoptions for because my contacts are specialized in Galgos. I can never say NO when I find another type of dog on the street. They finally find a home as well, earlier or later.
What is special about a Galgo?
Well, till you don’t experience to have a Galgo it is difficult to explain. But once you have one you will not want another kind of dog. I always say that having a Galgo is a vice. They are like a mix of cat and dog in their character, very lazy although they like to play and run but they specially like to relax on the sofa. Their face asks for love and they give you much love back. It is incredible that those very sensible, intelligent dogs, after having been mistreated or ignored, have confidence again in the human being. Some of them (the least) have been so much abused that they will never totally trust in human beings they don’t know, but if you have one of those (like me) he will be very happy with that person and that is so much worthwhile. Seeing those frightened frustrated creatures trusting you is the best present ever.
What are they like as pets?
Even though they are big dogs normally they can live in a flat, as long as they are taken out for walks 2 or 3 times a day because, as I said before, they love to relax a lot also. You should not leave them off leash because they are escapists and not used to the noise of traffic. Ideal is letting them out in a fenced dog park once a day. They need to adapt for some days or a bit more because they are very sensitive dogs and even if it means a change for better, it is a change. They are not used to living in homes so they will have to learn, for example, not to steal food. They have been starving and till they don’t know that they will have food every day for ever it might take some time to teach them, but they learn very quickly and they want to please.
Do you have adopted dogs yourself and can you tell us a bit about their history?
I first started fostering. I had 5 dogs myself of other breeds. But at the end I had to stop that because I finished keeping them…
My 8th foster dog happened to be with us when one of our dogs died. We decided to keep her. She is called Blanca.
After that we did have a few more foster dogs which already had an adoption family but were waiting for a flight. We knew that they had to go. Then I took in a Galga which started her season and that is always a very stressful situation in the shelter. She had just come in and I hadn’t had the time to spay her. She was a Galga who had been adopted from the killing pound 9 months before by a veterinarian but he returned her to the pound because she had hunted his neighbors cat… She cried the whole time and also whilst she was in the shelter. I took her to my home and she has never cried anymore since the moment she came here so I couldn’t just return her to the shelter.
The third one is Syrius, a beautiful male but so terribly frightened of people that he even bites them if he can (very, very rare for a Galgo). For me it was love at first sight when I rescued him. His eyes of total fear made me feel so sorry for what must have had happened to this poor creature.
It took me 3 months before he started trusting me. Just me, no one else could approach him well. He was very difficult to give in adoption because people don’t want a dog who may bite other people. My husband said that the 5 dogs we had then were enough, but after 2 years and some months he finally accepted to bring Syrius home and now he is the happiest dog ever. He has a great, noble, sweet character, although he still doesn’t like strange people. He has been with us for now for 1 ½ year.
How would you convince someone to adopt and not to buy a dog?
An adopted dog will never forget that you gave him a second chance. Here in Spain around 200,000 dogs of all kinds are abandoned every year. There is no control over breeding, people don’t like spaying their dogs so there are litters everywhere, especially in the countryside.
How can people help Galgos en Familia?
Spreading the word about this lovely, elegant and sweet breed, and about their mistreatment. They are perfect pets.
Support us with donations. I only depend on donations and this costs a big amount of money because we test all dogs, vaccinate, chip them, passport and spay them, apart from most of them coming in with need of treatments and special food to recover.
Our website is www.galgosenfamilia.org and our Facebook page is galgos en familia.