Stretching along the blue flag beaches, restaurants and bars of the Murcia region’s Costa Blanca, past the Costa del Sol resorts to the Costa de la Luz and Malaga, capital of the Costa de Golf, there’s something to cater for everyone, whether it’s a family holiday, golf or sightseeing inland in Granada, Cordoba or Seville, capital of Andalucia.
But there’s a dark side to Andalucia and Murcia, which you won’t find mentioned in the tourist guides or websites. If you’ve been to these places before, you’ll have noticed the starving dogs lurking fearfully around restaurants, hoping to be thrown a bread crust; you’ll have dodged the dog dirt on pavements or driven past dogs lying injured and ignored by the side of the road.
It’s especially bad at this time of year, now the Spanish hunting season has finished for the winter, and the galgueros – Spanish hunters – abandon their galgos – hunting greyhounds – in their tens of thousands. The hunters discard their dogs like a cigarette butt. They will buy new ones in September to hunt next season. It’s a problem Spanish refuges and rescue associations have been coping with for decades, and one the national and regional governments refuse to address.
Tina Solera is a young Englishwoman who is trying to do something about it. She and her Spanish husband, Jaime, have lived in Murcia with their two children for four years. In that time, Tina has moved from being a volunteer in a Spanish-run animal shelter to opening her own refuge – Galgos del Sol – specifically for galgos, in collaboration with, and on land belonging to another English couple, Gaynor and Les who moved to Spain from Warwickshire.
“The abandoned dog problem in Spain is heartbreaking, hard to describe without getting upset,” she says. “We take them from motorways, snare traps and dog pounds – known here as killing stations – most have injuries and are terrified. Every day I see stray dogs. A good day is when I only see one.”
Tina lives near one of the many beautiful blue flag beaches south of Alicante, where there are many abandoned and starving dogs. “Even outside the school gates, we’ve got a serious problem of dog dirt. People don’t seem to realise what a health risk it is.”
Over the past 10 to 15 years, many Costa del Sol resorts have seen considerable regeneration with shopping centres, restaurants, hotels, family beaches. Malaga also suffers from an abandoned dogs problem.
Charl del Rio moved there 10 years ago with her Spanish husband and children and started rescuing abandoned hunting dogs after she was told about a galgo which a hunter had hung from a tree to kill.
“The dogs wander around the restaurants, sometimes the staff throw them bread, or they will call the dog pound. Everywhere you walk there’s dog dirt. What impression does that give to tourists?”
Both women maintain that educating the younger generation is the best way forward, to wean them from the idea that animal cruelty in any form, whether it is bull fighting, horse wrestling, stoning donkeys – all in the name of “tradition” – is acceptable.
They’ve put together a package to present to schools, and Tina has been invited to visit her daughter’s school, along with her galgo Guapo, for a “hands on” session, which includes rolling brown Plasticine on the floor and then picking it up in polythene bags – you can guess what that’s about.
Like the majority of the rescue volunteers throughout Spain, it is an emotional roller-coaster ride. As with any country, it is the minority who give it a bad name.
So, while you are swimming and sunbathing on the Spanish Costas, be aware of the dark side of life, lurking behind the restaurants and bars. It’s not all sunshine and sangria in Spain.