Podencos

THE ILLUSTRIOUS IBIZAN HOUND

The island of Ibiza is a melting pot of people, influences, and cultures. For centuries, this rocky outcrop in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea served as a stopping point for multiple civilisations, each bringing with them their own unique idiosyncrasies that went on to shape the white isle forever. But while cuisine, farming, architecture and an acceptance of anyone and everyone are well documented legacies left behind by these groups of people, there are still some lesser acknowledged byproducts of their invasions. Take the Podenco, or the Ibizan hound, for instance. Now considered the official dog of Ibiza, these canines have an illustrious history all of their own.

There are few dog species who can claim to have been immortalised on the walls of an Egyptian tomb, and yet that’s where the first believed scribblings of these dogs were found. Images in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian Pharoah Tutankhamen from the period 1358 to 1350 BC depict an animal with long, slender limbs, pointed ears and a curled tail that’s believed to have been a tesem, the breed from which Podencos evolved. When the pharoahs died, they would often be buried with a favourite, mummified hound, which was thought to act as their companion as they traversed to a different world.

In fact, superstition followed the Podenco before it even set paw on the Balearic Islands. They were revered by the goddess Isis, who idolised them for keeping vigil over the coffin of her brother-husband Osiris – one of the most important gods of ancient Egypt, and there were many who admired the species because of its likeness to the dog-god of Anubis – illegitimate son of Osiris and the protector of the gates to the underworld. Such was the power and poignancy of Podencos that to kill or harm them was considered extremely bad luck – fortunately that belief saved the species much toil in its early days. 

That is, until it came to hunting, when the Podencos’ unrivalled skills would put them at the centre of the action. It’s their prowess in this field that led them on the long journey to the Mediterranean, when during the 8th and 9th Centuries BC, the Phoenicians set sail from North Africa and made haste for the Spanish coast, establishing trade routes along the way. The Podencos – or hunting hounds as they would have been known then – were brought along to catch rats and to hunt for game and rabbits whenever the ships made port. When they touched land in places like Ibiza, Malta, Sicily and the Canary Islands, they were permitted to run loose, and so began a process of evolution that took place over centuries.

With few other dogs on the island to mate with, the Podencos flourished and are now considered one of the oldest dog breeds in Spain. They are extremely recognisable with long, agile legs, large ears with a wide base and tips that stick up on end, and a lean neck that adds to an already present air of elegance. Their coat can be soft or wiry but predominantly consists of white with copper markings, and their eyes are nectar-coloured and always alert. They walk with a spring in their step and, unsurprisingly given their build, they’re extremely agile. This athleticism, along with speed, and a strong sense of smell, sight and sound makes them expert hunters – skills that have seen the breed become widespread throughout Spain.

Unfortunately, this marks a sad and unfortunate downturn in the story of the noble Podenco. Because despite being an ancient breed, these days they are largely bred purely for their ability to hunt and are consequently widely mistreated. Many reports state that they’re starved to make them more effective on the hunt; deprived of affection; and often kept tied up in chains. Dogs considered too old or too slow are either killed or abandoned – it’s tragically estimated that as many as 200,000 are dumped alongside roads, rivers and fields each year. A stark contrast to the regal heritage that once protected them, Podencos are now very much in danger.

As a result, Podenco sanctuaries have popped up all over Spain – and even as far away as Scotland – to try and provide refuge for these magnificent, yet mistreated animals. In the past, the Podencos’ reputation as hunting dogs and history of suffering abuse made it hard to find homes for them in Spain, but with growing awareness, and the knowledge that they make excellent pets, the tide on this front is thankfully beginning to change. In addition, there are many charities working to re-home Podencos in other European countries, where their beauty, intelligence, and agility is highly valued. With a history that spans continents and the most distinguished of blood lines, let’s hope the dignity of these magnificent hounds is restored soon.

Here in Ibiza, San Rafael animal shelter Sa Coma provides shelter and rehomes many Podencos – some that have been found roaming free in the forests, whether intentionally ‘let go’ by a hunter or simply lost from the pack; those that have been injured in the hunting process; and innocent Podenco puppies who were dumped by uncaring owners. If you’d like to get up close and personal with a Podenco – and perhaps even arrange to adopt one – contact our guest services department to arrange a visit to Sa Coma. Volunteers can walk Podencos every morning between 9am and 11am, and evening from 6pm until 7.15pm, and adoptions take place daily in the afternoons. A Podenco could well be the very best Ibiza souvenir you’ve ever taken home.

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