Dog Leaves Spanish Shelter for Illinois, Ends Up in New Mexico Prison

Dog Leaves Spanish Shelter for Illinois, Ends Up in New Mexico Prison
Photo courtesy of Travis Patenaude

They were found tied to a tree and left to starve. This is how it ends for many Galgos, a sighthound breed used for hunting hares in Spain. Conditioned for hunting through barbaric means, and valued only as hunters and breeders, their life expectancy is a mere 2-4 years, after which they are dispatched in horrendous ways including hanging, hobbling and restraints meant to force starvation.

Death by forced starvation is one method by which Spanish hunters dispatch of unwanted Galgos.

Death by starvation is one method by which Spanish hunters dispatch of unwanted Galgos.

But luck was on the dogs' side when they were discovered by volunteers of Fundacion Benjamin Mehnert (FBM) in Seville, Spain and brought into their care.

Volunteers rescued the galgas (female galgos) before they succumbed to starvation.

Volunteers rescued the galgas (female galgos) before they succumbed to starvation.

Crystal Lake-based rescue, Love Hope Believe Galgo Adoption (LBH) , learned about the pair and made plans to bring the wire-haired brindle, known then as Damaris, to the U.S. to foster and ultimately place in an adoptive home. When they met her at FBM, they were astonished at her resiliency, finding her to be a happy, affectionate and outgoing creature, quick to win their hearts.

Travis Patenaude, who established LHB with his wife Amanda after adopting a Galga themselves, brought Damaris to their home to help her learn "House Rules."  In Spain, Galgos are typically housed in groups of 15-25 in dark sheds with no windows, and without regard to sanitation. Damaris needed to adjust to home life before she could be adopted to a family.

How did she react to that first taste of home living? Says Travis:

It's funny, most Galgos have never been allowed in a house before, but when they come in for the first time, the couch is the first place they go.  They love to lay on the couch, and are happy to do so in a big pile.  We have had six Galgos all curled up on a single couch. 

Damaris proved to be a very intelligent girl, picking up on the house rules, eager to please and very well-behaved.

Her easy adaptability allowed her to become ready for adoption after only a couple weeks of fostering and soon the couple received an adoption application from a woman in New Mexico. Normally LBH does not adopt that far from Illinois (usually focusing on a 6 hour travel radius), but after talking with the applicant, they felt they needed to make an exception.

Sherry Mangold is the Director of Humane Education for Animal Protection of New Mexico and was serving as Senior Cruelty Case Manager for the New Mexico Attorney General's Animal Cruelty Task Force.  A Galga owner herself, she was well aware of their plight and was hoping to adopt another if she could find one with the demonstrated potential to become a therapy dog. Sherry was unable to use her own dog, Allegre, for this purpose as she remained too traumatized from abuses she had suffered to be comfortable in a such a role. (Allegre had been hung from a tree but was rescued before she expired. She is a joyful, playful dog within her comfort zone but has not been able to adapt to life outside of her home.)

The Patenaudes felt Damaris would be perfect for this role and arrangements were made for the adoption.

Damaris was quickly adopted, dubbed "Whitaker" and from there her astonishing new life began.

Damaris was quickly adopted and dubbed "Whitaker" and her astonishing new life began.

It is fair to say that Damaris, renamed Whitaker, exceeded everyone's expectations. When she arrived at Sherry's home, it was as though she had always been there.  Sherry's other dogs (primarily retired racing greyhounds) greeted Whitaker without reservation. Even shy Allegre bonded with her and was coaxed ever moreso out of her shell.

Whitaker easily took to obedience training.  After completing Novice Obedience she was evaluated for therapy dog training and did incredibly well.  So much so, in fact, that she was accepted into and graduated from the very rigorous Southwest Canine Corps of Volunteers therapy dog training program. As a registered therapy dog she makes regular visits to hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, the 911 Call Center and routinely joins Sherry for Humane Education classes in elementary schools throughout New Mexico. Patient and gentle, Whitaker absolutely loves children but has proven to be unflappable in every situation she encounters.

It is precisely that cool, calm demeanor that landed her in jail.

With Whitaker's reputation as a 'go to' therapy dog for any situation, Sherry was contacted by the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility and has now begun taking Whitaker for therapeutic visits with inmates there. The reception has been wonderful with the inmates freely expressing affection and delight at her playfulness.

How do they respond when they hear of her story?

Exactly as the resident behavioral psychologist had hoped.

As Sherry explained, Whitaker was chosen not only for her temperament for because of the incredible story of abuse and victimization which are part of her and her breed's history.

Once they meet her, the shocked inmates respond to the story of her mistreatment with sympathy and empathy, qualities prison staff want to see cultivated in inmates who will one day return to society.

In fact, Whitaker is breaking ground by her presence for future plans for the prison to host an onsite kennel in conjunction with the local Humane Society. The goal will be to host 12 resident dogs who will reside with assigned inmates who will be tasked with training and readying them for adoption. The program is still some time away but Whitaker's presence is an important first step in making this a reality.

In fact, Whitaker will extend her hospital therapy work to the prison geriatric and hospice wards for those inmates who will never return to life outside the jail.

She's come a long way from being cabled to a tree to starve to death halfway around the world.

What does she do when she's not working?

Sherry laughed, saying that early on a Galgo, who is used to outdoor living,  can be a bit like having an antelope in the house although they do settle in quickly.  She did provide Whitaker with a dog bed but, as Travis and Amanda Patenaude could have predicted, the tall, resourceful girl simply dragged it up onto Sherry's bed!

She's got a mischievous streak, especially if she thinks she can score food, and definitely if said food is Beef Barley soup.

She once carried a bowl from the kitchen counter, dripping as she went (trailed by her adoring canine companions) and took the bowl to her (well, technically, Sherry's) bed and enjoyed dinner there.  In fact, Whitaker's habit after dinner is to collect everyone's empty dog bowls (6 of them), arranging them on Sherry's bed where she naps with them.

Whitaker arranging everyone's empty dinner bowls on the bed for sweet dreams.

Whitaker arranging everyone's empty dinner bowls on the bed for sweet dreams.

After the life she has led who can blame her if her inner Scarlett O'Hara declares, as she drifts off to sleep,

As God is my witness, I shall never go hungry (or sleep on the floor) again!

Sherry takes it all in stride:
It amazes me that after being cabled to a tree and left to die that she can trust again.  She is a remarkable lady (well, maybe not a lady) and is winning the hearts of both the children and adults she meets who hear her story.  I am very proud of Whitaker and she is indeed, loved.

To see Love, Hope Believe's adoptable Galgos, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

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