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
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.
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.
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 got in touch with several grassroots groups striving to save them from short, brutish lives. Many of the organizations were founded by people who, like them, suddenly and unexpectedly had their hearts touched by Spanish dogs.
People like Petra Postma, who founded Save a Galgo Espanol (SAGE). Postma tells MNN she wasn't even into dogs — until she saw a magazine article about galgos while living in the Netherlands.
"We drove five hours to pick up the most gentle, sweet female galgo that was the perfect introduction to life with a dog," she explains. "She changed my life."
Postma would eventually move to Pennsylvania, where she's in touch daily with Spanish rescue groups, working to bring dogs to homes in the U.S.
But building that bridge — a continent-spanning lifeline — is challenging. Coordination between groups so widely scattered can often be difficult.
Knott and Gulledge, who now live in Palm Springs, California, proposed the idea for a larger coordinating body — an organization that could not only liase 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."
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."
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.
These podencos have come a long way to find a loving home -- and a warm couch -- in the U.S. (Photo: Emily Whitaker)"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," he 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.