Glass speaks with Tina Solera, the founder of Galgos del Sol, a Spanish charity devoted to rescuing from the streets a breed of dog regarded as disposable hunting equipment
WHEN Tina Solera began rescuing stray dogs out of her two-bedroom apartment in Spain more than a decade ago, she never imagined that she would be managing a multi-million-euro rehabilitation centre one day. It was simply a knee-jerk reaction to witnessing the everyday abuse of dogs, more specifically galgos, in Murcia in the south-east of Spain.
The British former sports teacher had no plans to go into humanitarian work when she moved from the UK to Spain in 2007. But her dismay at what was happening to the dogs was swiftly replaced by a pervasive sense of compassion that beckoned her into action. During our Zoom interview, she recalls asking herself, “What do you do?” Shaking her head, she continues, “I was just, like, ‘I cannot live with myself if I just walk past this.”
In Spain, you could absolutely rescue dogs for the rest of your life, she declares, adding, “And the more you rescue, the more there seems to be.” The streets of Murcia are populated with stray galgos – a breed once exclusively owned by Spanish nobles but are now regarded as disposable hunting equipment. Galgos are bred in high quantities by hunters – known as galgueros – in the hope of finding a champion.
Often, galgueros will continue to breed until they find a dog they deem satisfactory and either kill or abandon the ones considered unfit. It is estimated that in Spain, 50,000 to 100,000 galgos are put down each year – a problem relevant to the popular hunting region, Murcia. This cycle is perpetuated by the widely held belief that the more painfully a dog dies, the better luck the hunter will have the following year.
Rescuing strays became part of Solera and her family’s daily routine. She would take her children to school with an injured dog in the back of the car after spotting it en route and habitually stalk the same street corners with food in hopes of befriending strays. “My husband would be, like, ‘you can’t bring any more dogs back’, and then he’d go for a run and come back with one,” Solera laughs.
Not everyone met her efforts with enthusiasm. Cynics questioned her sincerity while others wrote off her endeavours as crazy. She explains, “Whenever someone starts something that is a little bit out of the box, there is a lot of ridicule and a lot of negativity which you have got to get past and ignore. If you want to help, you just have to keep trying and keep your eyes on wherever you want to go.” So, onwards Solera went.
Quickly, the Solera household was overrun with rescued dogs, and thus Galgos del Sol (GDS) was born. Armed with self-taught Spanish and no prior experience in charity work, she submitted the paperwork in 2009 to officially establish GDS as a licensed charity. A small apartment can only house so many dogs. Thankfully, Gaynor and Les Davies generously offered their property as the first official GDS site – a moment Soleras views as pivotal in GDS’s history.
Now, 12 years later, under the supervision of Solera and with the support of countless international volunteers, staff members and donors, Galgos del Sol has become one of the most prolific galgos rescue organisations in Spain. Solera reveals, “My passion for these dogs is what drives me; it drives my whole life.”
On average, GDS will rescue 450 dogs a year. At any time, 250-300 dogs will be housed and undergoing treatment at the centre – which will finally be completed in December after seven years of planning and construction. Patience is a virtue that is learned and one that Solera has been required to master.
The process of rescuing galgos, or any stray dog for that matter, is tedious work. Neglected dogs will often be skittish and wary of humans due to the abuse they have previously endured. It can take weeks or even months to earn their trust. Nevertheless, Solera finds the time. “If something is in my heart, working a 17-hour day, with no days off, does not bother me one bit. I just love them.”
Due to Solera’s commitment, GDS has created a reputation for itself within Murcia, prompting people to call in about stray galgos sightings. It’s significant because “12 years ago no one was calling in because there was no one to call. Now when people call GDS to say they have seen a galgo, they know we are actually going to go and try and find it”.
The rehabilitation process, just like the rescue missions, is specific to each stray. Galgos del Sol works with dogs from various backgrounds – each having experienced a unique type of neglect. It is impossible to predict how long a dog’s rehabilitation journey will be. It can take anywhere from weeks to years. Solera reveals that the galgos that have been on the streets for a long time and “left with no socialisation at all are harder to rehabilitate than the ones that have been abused”.
GDS assists the strays every step of the way with a process it coins as “from the street life to the sweet life”, including veterinary aid, behavioural training and eventually rehoming. Creating opportunities for a dog’s life to begin again is at the heart of what GDS does.
“The most rewarding thing is to watch traumatised galgos that have taken months to get outside for a walk because they’re scared, playing around and doing well in their new homes,” Solera beams. “Those are the kinds of stories we need.” And GDS’s more than 247,000 TikTok followers would agree. One of Soleras’ day-to-day tasks is updating the charity’s social media following on what’s going on. Followers and donors alike get to witness a dog’s progress from beginning to end. Update requests and sincere well-wishes for the beloved canine friends crowd the comment section.
The abuse of galgos in Spain is the consequence of a cultural tradition that is passed on from generation to generation. Solera acutely recognises that while rescue and rehabilitation are essential, it’s a temporary solution. “The ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of work,” Solera asserts. “There must no longer be any dogs to rescue.”
Education is crucial to bringing this about, which is why GDS prioritises it. Children are invited to the centre to learn about animal welfare and interact with the dogs. This helps to create the opportunity for an alternative narrative to take form, which places value on dogs.
Temporary fixes are quick while systematic change is enduring work, Solera acknowledges. Thankfully, she seems to have an immeasurable amount of patience and dedication to the cause. “I was just about to go for a jog, and then a team member rings me – there’s a galgo puppy that’s been run over. So trainers come off, work boots on and off we go. It’s just the way it is. It’s a lifestyle. There are no days off,” she says, contentment audible in every word.
by Jamison Kent
For more information: galgosdelsol.org