Finbar has his stitches removed and meets a cousin

In the waiting room, Finbar waits anxiously to have his stitches removed. A woman arrives with a famished-looking dog whose almond eyes dart everywhere. She looks at Finbar and beams.

“A Galgo,” she says. “He’s beautiful.” She points to her own dog. “This one will be the fifth I have adopted. He arrived two days ago.”

The skinny dog watches us. Finbar, usually so reserved, trots over, and the two dogs sniff noses. Does Finbar smell Spain on this rescue; does the fear of violent death still cling? I watch them, my big Galgo and this smaller, skinnier cousin, as they sniff one another’s faces, nothing more, and I cannot help but think of refugees, how they must never lose the fear of violent death, and how they will always recognise the reflection of that fear in the eyes of their companions in misery.

 

Spring rain

scatters cherry blossom—

kestrel rides the wind.

Finbar Congo and Papou

While I’m waiting for the Finch Books site to go live, and to stop myself from going completely barmy, here’s a Finbar post. The last six months have seen such a change in his behaviour I’m still not used to it.

Finbarlying down

In the six years he’s been with us he has been bitten, chased and bullied by other dogs, culminating in a very nasty attack by a Weimeraner that almost punctured his lung and got him 20 stitches in his right flank.

He became very wary of all dogs, and had a tendency to get his retaliation in first if ever another male dog approached with remotely ambiguous intentions. Letting him off his lead became a nerve-racking experience. Would he just scare the daylights out of the other dog or trample it to death? I even bought him a muzzle so he could practice running around with other dogs without biting their backsides when he caught them. It didn’t work. He just pulled the muzzle off with his outsize claws.

Then he met Congo.

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Congo is a Weimeraner, big and bouncy, and as far as Finbar was concerned, a serial biter. At first he would freeze and refuse to go a step further when he saw Congo. Then the penny dropped. Congo liked him. And when he ran after Congo, it was Congo who was scared. That was at the beginning of the summer and since then they have been best friends. Congo is big enough not to fall over when Finbar barges him, and not fast enough to ever beat him in a race. It has given him so much confidence that he even invites other dogs to play with him and doesn’t have to be put on his lead every time another dog looks sideways at him.

Last week we met Papou. A galgo from the same awful hole near Seville that Finbar was rescued from.

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Papou is nearly twelve but he still enjoys a short 40 mph sprint. Galgos aren’t demonstrative dogs unless something winds them up. Then they lose it completely and have so much fun they end up doing themselves an injury. One reason Papou doesn’t encourage Finbar who is younger and stronger to chase him. Papou is sensible.

Finbar and Papou hanging

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and just doing what dogs do.

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It might not seem like much, for a dog to go out for a walk without being constantly on the look out for trouble, but it’s a big step forward for Finbar and makes me feel happy for him. Maybe soon we’ll be able to think about adopting that friend for him.

Poem for a Galgo

I noticed that yesterday somebody had been looking on my blog for a Galgo poem. Here is one, for those who know about these beautiful gentle dogs.

Paolo Uccello painted them.

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You see them in old paintings

With the falcons and stylised horses,

The knaves and the nobles,

Dogs, slender, ribbed like sand at low tide.

Dogs were like that then,

Narrow muzzled, rapid and strong,

Hunters, joyful runners for the hell of it.

All of that is in your blood,

But closer, in the memory of your bones

and the scars that wrinkle your skin,

Is fear of the cruelty you see in men’s eyes.

Run, dog, my dog,

Far from the pain and the revelling in pain.

Brown eyes, soft as a doe’s,

Look into mine and hold my gaze,

Without flinching or cringing,

For there will be no blow, not from my hand.

Run, dog, through the long grass,

And return tongue-lolling, panting with joy,

Called by some light only you can see,

That shines just for you in the depths of my eyes,

Some tenderness in the way I reach out my hand.

Forgive.

As only a Galgo can forgive.

Finbar

I’ve been going through my galley of The Dark Citadel since this morning, and I’m getting so sick of picking out those commas. It makes me think of what dear old Oscar said:

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.

Anyway, I’ve had a bellyfull of commas and so I am writing a blog post about something even more important to me than my writing: Finbar.

Finbar is a dog, of sorts. He is a Galgo, a Spanish greyhound, adopted three years ago from a refuge near Seville and still not properly domesticated. The Galgo is a beautiful and noble animal, kept for centuries for hunting. Unfortunately for the Galgo, although the well bred packs kept by Juan Carlos probably get enough to eat and are allowed inside a kennel in the winter, this is not the case for the scores of thousands of hounds kept by the inhabitants of rural southern Spain who also like a spot of hare hunting. There are, I am told, hunters who treat their animals correctly, but the fact is, that most of them are treated appallingly, with some 50,000 of those surplus to requirements being massacred each year in ways that Goya might well have documented had he been alive today.

The lucky ones end up in shelters, run by very courageous and devoted women who take in the poor, misbegotten creatures they find wandering in the countryside, by the side of motorways, or sheltering on building sites.

Mentalities are changing, and the shelters in the south are finding homes for their dogs in Spain, particularly in the north where the Galgo is not used for hunting, and not considered vermin. A sizeable proportion of adoptions though are via other European countries. Which is how we got Finbar.

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I had always wanted a Lurcher, but they don’t have Lurchers in France. Any kind of sighthound is rare, not being a fashion breed like French bulldogs, Chihuahuas or Huskies. When I saw a link to a French site dedicated to exposing the barbarity of the fate of Galgos, I decided we had to adopt one.

Finbar was 18 months old when he was dumped in a refuge by his Gypsy owner because he was useless for hunting. Finbar was lucky. As soon as I saw his picture I decided I wanted him.

The clincher
The clincher

I could write a book about the rocky road to cohabitation with this semi-wild creature; maybe I will one day. He has been with us for three years now, and we are still learning about one another. His relationship with me is quite simple: I am God. It’s his relationship with the rest of the human race that is more complicated. I don’t know what his previous owner(s) did to him, and I’m happier not knowing. Whatever it was, it left deep scars on a basically gentle, playful nature. Maybe, hopefully, one day he will learn that not every man who reaches out a hand to him intends to do him harm.

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It is difficult to find the words to express my thanks to the wonderful team at Lévriers Libres, and my admiration for the unsung heroes of the Spanish dog shelters, who work so hard to alleviate some of the misery caused by other people’s ‘fun’.

Photos of Finbar (ex Torquato) taken at the shelter outside Seville courtesy of Lévriers Libres.