There are some dogs so unique that you spot them a thousand yards away — and still puzzle over what you're actually seeing.
Like the dog that approached George Knott and his partner, Scott Gulledge, one sunny day in front of an Atlanta yogurt shop.
"Where did you get your greyhound from?" Knott asked the owner, hazarding a guess.
"Oh no," the owner replied "This is a galgo."
Indeed, although this lean, animated dog may share similarities with the American greyhound, he hails from a world away.
A very dark world.
"We were intrigued," Knott says. "So I went home and I googled galgo. From there, all of these stories came up and my heart just ... we were just flabbergasted."
A forgotten breed
Having almost no human contact, galgos are often difficult to catch. (Photo: Galgos del Sol)
An ancient breed, once a favorite to royalty, galgos hail from Spain. But the years have not been good to this forgotten breed. Instead of lords and ladies, they accompany small game hunters, called galgueros. While their much-vaunted speed and tracking ability win them favor in hunting circles, the sun doesn't shine long on their lives.
When they lose a step — when their strength and youth fades, even a little — they're abandoned to the countryside, or even killed outright.
A chance encounter outside a yogurt shop led Knott and Gulledge to research the sad stories behind these persecuted dogs. (Photo: Petra Postma)
If you see a dog as only a tool, why keep an old one around? Instead, galgos are bred over and over again. And, as a result, many parts of the country are haunted by these starving, spectral castoffs.
The more Knott and Gulledge learned about the plight of the galgos, as well as their similarly brutalized cousins — podencos — the more they wanted to help.
And so an unlikely crusade was kindled outside that Atlanta yogurt parlor back in 2012, one that would reach across an ocean to give these dogs a desperately needed voice here.
The couple got in touch with Tina Solera — a woman who had undergone a similar epiphany when she was in Spain and spotted a starving galgo on the road.
This is a galgo, a traditional hunting dog in Spain. This one recently retired — and then got dumped on the road. (Photo: Galgos del Sol)
Solera went on to found Galgos del Sol, an organization that has improved things immensely for galgos — while gradually chipping away at a cultural mindset that sees the dogs as tools, rather than companions.
Just months after meeting that galgo in Atlanta, Knott and Gulledge were in Spain, where they met Solera. They returned to the United States with four dogs. Three of them found new homes, while the couple kept the fourth, Raoul, for themselves.
While learning about galgos and podencos, Knott and Gulledge networked with several grassroots groups striving to save them from brutish lives, as well as bigger organizations that look for families in the U.S. to take them in.
But many of the groups were scattered and operating in a confusing landscape. Coordination was difficult.
"We have four major U.S. organizations that get along but are with a particular rescue center in Spain," Knott says. "One in Chicago deals with one in Spain. Then there's another one in Pennsylvania that deals with a different center. And then there are two in Washington that deal with different center."
Knott and Gulledge, who now live in Palm Springs, Florida, proposed the idea for a larger coordinating body — an organization that could not only coordinate between rescue groups but spread the word about dogs that few Americans have ever seen before.
Galgos, for example, are often referred to as the Spanish greyhound, although they're genetically very different. Like greyhounds though, they're sight hounds. And they're supremely agile.
"The best candidates for galgos are greyhound owners," Knott says. "The temperament is so similar. They are both couch potatoes."
Galgos, like American greyhounds are 'sighthounds'. And they can run like the wind. (Photo: Petra Postma)
Podencos, who often suffer even more brutalities in Spain, are bred for speed. But people who get to know them will soon see them as cuddly, quick-witted and even a little clownish.
"A lot of galgo owners will cross over and adopt a podenco. They're more curious, more active and are absolutely fantastic."
Often seen as a nuisance in Spain, podencos, as many Americans are learning, make smart, cuddly companions. (Photo: Kim Christensen/Shutterstock)
To bring home the idea to Americans that these dogs are as needy for family and a corner of the couch, Knott and Gulledge founded Galgopod this year. And suddenly, dogs whose stories have long been silent have their very first stateside lobby group.
"Galgopod's [goal] is to not support one particular Canadian or U.S. rescue center but to incorporate all of them," Knott explains.
"I don't want to raise money or open an adoption center," Knott adds. "I just want to spread awareness."
Kind of like the awareness that took root outside of a yogurt shop in Atlanta — and blossomed into a new beginning for dogs too-long forgotten.
The future burns a little brighter for now for both galgos and podencos, thanks to the work of Knott and Gulledge, who is pictured here. (Photo: Petra Postma)
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