I’m not alone here, in the darkness. There are many of us, all brothers and sisters in a way.
The human keeps us in a drafty place with hard floors. Too many of us in such a small space. My nose is numb with the scent of our own urine and waste. There is not a lot of room to lie down. We don’t mind, though. The closeness of the others is the only thing that comforts us. In the cold time of the year, it’s all that keeps us warm.
The human comes once a day. He brings food and water but it is never enough. Hunger is a constant companion, a living, gnawing thing eating me from the inside out.
Today we hear him coming but we don’t smell food or water. Only his own scent–human sweat and filth. Some of the others shake with terror and their bladders release, blending the smell of panic with that of fresh urine. He grabs one of us and ties a rope around her neck. She can’t hold back a scream. Kicks to the ribs silence her and he drags her out. He keeps coming back with his ropes and his kicks. Every time he ties up another to be dragged outside.
Will this ever end? Will he keep coming back until none of us are left? The door opens, admitting his stench and his curses. He comes for me and I cower, becoming as small as I can. If I don’t look at him, maybe he won’t see me, won’t find me. He comes straight at me. I have no place to run. No place to hide. A dirty hand grips my skin and the coarse rope scratches me as it comes around my neck. I can’t stop shaking and warm urine runs down my leg, drowning out his sweat-and-smoke scent.
He drags me outside into blinding, grating sunlight. I can’t stand it after days and days of darkness. By the time my eyes adjust, I’m tied to an ugly thing, along with the others. It is uglier than the human. Its scent is uglier–metal and smoke and poison.
The thing comes to life and we pull back but the ropes hold. It rumbles and grunts as it begins to move forward, pulling us along. I’m not strong enough to resist and I reluctantly follow the ugly thing. I have no choice. The poison in the air becomes stronger, making it harder to breathe.
It begins slowly and we walk along. The rumbling hurts my ears. Its vibration fills my head and settles in my bones. The thing speeds up. We are all forced to run faster and faster. It keeps pulling and all I can do is keep running. Next to me, another stumbles and falls. He fights to get back on his feet but he can’t. His screams overpower the rumble of the thing as it drags him along and the scent of blood fills my nostrils. I keep going. No choice. I’m weak with hunger but my body is made for this. All I think of is the next stride. Others fall. More screams fill the air and die away. On and on, the thing moves, pulling us forward. The bodies of the fallen ones threaten to trip us as we struggle to keep up, panting in the poison-filled air.
Will it ever stop? Will we run until we all fall? Until we die? The thing finally slows down. When the ugly thing stops, the human unties those left standing and drags us back into darkness. He takes the rope off and we drop where we stand. He brings food and water. Not enough, as usual.
True darkness comes and goes. He comes back with his ropes. He takes others and takes them outside. I cower, waiting for him to come for me next, but I am left behind. For now. Outside, we hear the rumbles of the ugly thing. The one next to me whimpers at the sound. The rumbling and the metal-and-poison scent fade in the distance. When it returns, the human brings in less of us than he took out. He throws in some food and we get some water. With fewer mouths to feed, chances at getting some food improve but it’s still not enough.
This happens again and again. He comes in, ties us up, and drags us outside to the ugly thing. We run, struggling to breathe in the foul air. When one of us falls, the screams spur us on.
Today when he comes in with his ropes, we are fewer than we were, so we have room to run. Better not to run. Running only makes it worse. I cower, trying to be small, invisible. A strong hand grabs my neck. He will tie me to the ugly thing. I know it’s better to obey but my body fights as hard as it can, pushing back when he drags me along. The scent of my terror drowns out the smells of the human and the ugly thing. The ground scrapes the skin off my feet as he drags me across uneven, rocky terrain.
The ugly thing has a maw and it is wide open, ready to eat me. The human pushes me inside, harsh hands holding me down as he locks me behind bars. The scent of another still clings to them. His fear and hunger fill my nostrils. More are locked up inside the ugly thing before the mouth closes around us. I’m in darkness again but this darkness vibrates as the rumble of the ugly thing surrounds me. The rumbling becomes louder and my stomach turns as the thing begins to move.
The maw opens and the human is there. The look in his eyes makes me tremble. Even the hunger-beast inside of me quiets under his gaze. The weight of it is almost tangible. He opens the gate, collars me and drags me away. The scent of food becomes stronger and stronger and the hunger in me wakes up once more.
They put me next to another who looks at me with large eyes. We lean against each other. It is a small comfort as we are surrounded by shouting humans, but at least it’s something.
The humans back away as we’re led forward, and a new scent is here. I don’t know it, but my body recognises it. It is tantalising. It is musk and terror and it will run. I know it will run. I will hunt. I am made for this. I begin to pull forward and the dog next to me does the same. A human holds us back, though.
Before us is an open place. Earth and Sky. The fear-and-musk smell becomes stronger. A man in front of us walks up to a small crate and releases something.
It’s a small thing and it runs. I recognise it. It’s prey. Food. My nose knows. The hunger inside of me knows. I lean forward, straining against my collar until something snaps loose and I’m free. Running running running. I was born for this. Everything disappears but my prey. The other follows on my heels as we both fly after the prey. Again and again it turns to escape us. The other and I overtake each other, again and again, as we follow.
She catches it as I am about to overtake her yet again, and we both bite down. The scent of blood and terror and prey explodes in my nostrils as I’m dragged away. Still hungry.
They hand me over to the human and he drags me back, kicking me along the way. Back to the ugly thing with its stench and its rumble and its bars.
He shoves me inside and I whimper as his hands grab me. “Desgraciado!” One by one, we are grabbed and led away. Some are treated less roughly when they return.
When everyone has had their chance at the hunt, some are taken out again. And again. The darkness comes and the ugly thing begins its rumbling-shaking journey back.
We never know when he will come. Sometimes the light comes and goes but we see no-one.
Sometimes he comes and locks us up in the gaping maw of the ugly thing. We go and we hunt. Sometimes I catch the prey. Sometimes another does.
There are times when he comes and makes us chase the ugly thing.
It gets colder and darkness grows but the hunt goes on. The hunger is always there. Inside of me.
The human comes, and his scent is different. More metal, and something sharper. More dangerous. He grabs others and carries them out. To the ugly thing. When he comes for me, I don’t run. Better not to run. Running only makes it worse.
When the mouth opens once more, I know. We are not here for the hunt. There is open sky and flat earth but no prey. There is another human. He, too, smells like metal and sharpness.
They release one of the others but there is nothing to chase. He looks at the human. The new one has a stick that doesn’t smell like a stick. It smells like metal and danger. Suddenly there is a bang so loud it drowns out the rest of the world, ringing in our ears long after the bang itself fades. The sharp scent becomes stronger. It’s all around us as it mixes with the scent of terror and blood. The other screams as he tries to stand. There is nothing but blood where a leg used to be and he falls. His screams haunt us as the humans come back to us. They grab the next one. The scent of urine adds to the stench filling my nostrils.
One by one, others are released. The humans point the stick at them. More bangs fill the empty sky. More sharpness and blood upon the air.
He comes for me and I cower. Becoming smaller doesn’t help but I still try. When they release me I run like I was made to, faster than the prey. I’ve become the prey. The bang rings in my ears and pain explodes, burning my leg. The pain is nothing compared to the terror and I run run run until I drop to the ground, exhausted.
Another has escaped them. He bleeds but he moves. He lives. I wait and catch my breath before limping after his trail. His scent is the only familiar thing in this wide open scary place. My leg burns. The hunger in me burns.
I find the other at a rocky path, a wound like a gaping hole in his body. His breath a small, fluttering thing that is barely there. He no longer smells of terror. He smells only of blood and suffering now. I’m exhausted again, and I lie down next to him, sharing his warmth as the darkness comes.
When the light comes, the other is cold and the breathing-fluttering movement in his body is gone. I’m all alone now. I have never been alone before.
An ugly thing approaches with rumbling and metal-and-poison scents in the air. I whimper. Please, no more humans. Better not to run. Running only makes it worse.
A human steps out. “One of these two is still alive but he needs help right now. Help me pick him up.” I whimper when hands reach out to me but these hands are soft, careful. These humans don’t smell like anger and sweat. They smell sweet. Their voices are gentle.
I wake up to a strange scent. It’s clean and it tingles in my nostrils. The scent is sharp, but the danger of the other sharpness isn’t there. The burning in my leg is a persistent nagging in the background, no longer eating at me. When I look back at my hind leg, it’s gone. In its place is something white. Something sticky. The hunger, the always-gnawing beast inside of me, is gone as well.
“Well hello, there. Nice to see you awake.” A human walks in and I tremble. Better not to run. Running only makes it worse. But then I remember. Her kindness, her gentle hands and soft voice when she found me. She touches my head and I no longer want to run as she looks into my eyes.
I lost my leg but I found my freedom. The humans who found me taught me that they are not like the the other one. They feed me, they smile at me, and they gave me a name. I’m no longer Desgraciado or Galgo.
They call me Bruce. I was born to run. That is what I do, what I love to do. The loss of a leg doesn’t change that.
I am locked up again, in the rumbling-vibrating-moving darkness of an ugly thing. There are others with me. But I don’t smell fear this time.
I smell hope.
Photo credit: Marc Reinhold via Pixabay
I sent a version of this story to Greyhounds Rescue Belgium for proofreading and accuracy. Their contact person was kind enough to help me. Any inaccuracy that still exists is entirely my own doing.
This story is very different from my previous rainbow stories, as it describes much more abusive situations. However, for a lot of Spanish Galgos and Podencos, this is still very real, as they are entered in hare coursing and lure racing and basically treated like a commodity by many of their owners. Some galgueros seem to stick to the belief that a hungry dog runs faster, so they starve them. Dogs are often discarded as useless at the end of the racing season. This is a cultural issue, sadly.
Thank heavens, there is hope, too. A lot of rescue organisations, both foreign and Spanish, do what they can to save these and other dogs. Attitudes in the cities are slowly changing as well. People are beginning to see Galgos as pets but in rural regions of Spain, this is still what people do, because their parents and grandparents did it. We can only continue to provide education as well as alternatives, and hope for a better future in which rescue organisations will no longer be necessary.
As always, dear reader, thank you so much for sharing this with me.