Today the Podenco is a forgotten breed, most commonly associated with the small rural towns of Spain. But, if we travel back in time to the land of the Pharaohs, Podenco dogs were given God-like status. So, where did it all go wrong?
The Early History of Podenco Dogs
The origins of the Podenco (or what is considered to be the Podenco) date back to Ancient Egypt. Images from Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb (1358-1350 BC) show a shrine to a dog with a slender body, pointed ears and a thin, curled tail. A cross between a jackal and a greyhound. This shrine, known as the Anubis Shrine depicts the Egyptian God Anubis, the guardian of the graves. It was also not uncommon that when a Pharaoh died, his favourite dog would be mummified and buried with him so that they could travel into the underworld together.
Podencos in Myths and Legends
Podenco dogs are shrouded in mystery and have been used as the protagonist for many myths and legends. The Egyptian Goddess Isis was convinced that her Podencos kept watching over the tomb of her husband Osiris and it was believed that if anyone should kill a Podenco, they would be cursed. Ancient Greek and Roman myths depict the story of the Goddess Artemis. She was bathing in the river one day when Actaeon, a human, passed by with his pack of hounds. He caught a glimpse of her body and as a punishment, Artemis turned him into a stag and ordered his hounds to hunt him down. The history of the Podenco is also documented through numerous archaeological artefacts from cave paintings, ceramics and even gold coins. There is no denying the unbreakable link between man and his dog.
The Migration of the Podenco
Slowly, in the 8th and 9th Centuries BC, Podenco dogs began to migrate to other parts of the world. Libyan merchants travelled with these dogs on their trade routes between North Africa and Spain. This is how the types of Podenco dogs originated. The Canarian Hound developed in the Canary Islands, Pharaoh Hound in Malta, the Ibizan Hound in Ibiza and the Cirneco dell’Etna in Sicily. The remoteness of these islands allowed for little cross-breeding and the individual landscapes shaped each breed. The most common reason for owning a Podenco during this time was for hunting rabbits. Later on, the Portuguese used the smaller Podencos on their ships during their explorations to keep vermin at bay. The sharp hunting instinct of the Podenco ensured that the boats were rat-free and the crew safe from any disease.
Podenco Dogs in Spain
When we talk about the Spanish Podenco dog, we are in fact referring to all the varieties of Podencos that exist in Spain. This sweeping term unites the Podenco Canario, Podenco Andaluz, Podenco Ibicenco (Ibizan Hound) and the list goes on. In total, there are around nine types of Podenco native to Spain. Each variety has evolved and adapted to its surroundings with the Podenco Andaluz recognised as being one of the oldest breeds of dog in Spain. Today, the Spanish Podenco dog is still highly regarded for its ability to hunt. However, this has now caused the breed to be treated as a ‘tool’ – something throwaway and of little value. Spanish hunters are known to keep as many as 30 Podencos at a time. They keep them in appalling conditions, close to starvation and throw them away at the end of the hunting season.
A Brighter Future for Podencos?
Podenco dogs, through no fault of their own, may have fallen from grace. But, is there a brighter future ahead for this breed of dog? Personally, I would like to think so. Before moving to the Canary Islands, I was unaware that this breed existed. I had adopted a Greyhound before but I had never heard the fascinating story of the Podenco. Living in Tenerife it is hard to ignore the hunting culture and the animal abuse directed towards hunting dogs. It was because of this that I adopted Frida. But many people still associate Podencos with hunting. This has to change in order for this vicious cycle to stop. Podencos make fantastic pets, especially for families but this needs to be made known to the wider public so that more people adopt instead of shop.
How Can I Help Podencos?
Luckily, there are so many charities like Hope for Podencos (Spain) and Tenerife based charities such as Valle Colino who work tirelessly to protect the welfare of these animals. We are still far away from seeing justice for Podencos but there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel. Adopting a Podenco will change the world for one lucky dog and will spread awareness within your network about how wonderful they are as pets. If adopting a dog is not possible, volunteer in your local charity or donate to a Podenco charity. If time and money are limited, simply sharing information on social media will go a long way in helping Podenco dogs regain their voice and stop them from being seen as mere hunting tools. Are you ready to help give Podencos their rights again?