Photographer Travis Patenaude finds his life's purpose in photography. As someone who was once on the brink of something irreparable, he found a sort of salvation by adopting a dog named Leena. The dog was a Spanish Greyhound, more commonly known as a Galgo, that had been abused and was on the edge of death. Patenaude and his wife rescued Leena, and she, in turn, rescued him, too.
The couple learned about Leena’s life in Spain and the horrible circumstances that Galgos face. They are fast and athletic hunting dogs, but when they are no longer useful to their owners, they are disposed of. Patenaude was determined to do his part to help these creatures. He and his wife started an adoption group for them in Chicago. It was also when he learned photography, using YouTube videos as a way to teach himself how to create compelling and empathetic imagery.
“When I was first starting in photography,” Patenaude tells My Modern Met, “I was told, ‘Shoot what you are passionate about, and it will show through in your images.’ My passion is for telling the story of the hunting dogs of Spain.”
Patendaude saw how translating his passion can impact others. “During a trip to Spain to volunteer at a shelter, I took a photo of a very scared black Galgo who was covered in scars and very thin. When I showed people the photo, I saw their reaction to the photo and how they felt the dog's fear, and it evoked empathy for the dog in the image.”
We spoke with Patenaude about the plight of the Galgo and how you can help. Scroll down for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.
Content warning: Mention of suicidal ideation and descriptions of animal abuse.
Photographer Travis Patenaude finds his life's purpose in photography. He creates soulful portraits of Spanish Greyhounds, more commonly known as Galgo, which are routinely abused and need our help.
How did you get started in photography?
In October 2012, I was dealing with a very dark depression and came very close to hanging myself in my garage. Luckily, I realized what was happening and was able to stop myself. A week later, my wife and I adopted a very scared Spanish Greyhound whose owner was going to hang her in a tree because she was no longer useful to him. The irony was not lost on me.
We spent months working with her to help her learn to trust people again, and because of this, I forgot about my depression. She literally saved my life.
We learned more about Leena's life in Spain and wanted to help, so we started an adoption group for Galgos here in Chicago. We have never been to Spain, did not know anyone in Spain, and could not speak Spanish, but we were determined to help.
After our first transport of four dogs from Spain, we had to promote the dogs for adoption which required taking photos of them. My adoption photos were not very good at that time. We were lucky to have a professional photographer from Hearts Speak come out and take photos of our adoptable dogs. After seeing her images, I knew I had to figure out how to take better photos. I started watching YouTube videos and purchasing several videos. I set a goal to pay it forward and become a member of Hearts Speak and offer photos to dogs looking for their forever homes. One year later, I was able to become a proud member of Hearts Speak.
For those who are unfamiliar, can you tell us more about Galgos?
After adopting Leena, and seeing how traumatized she was, we needed to know more about her past and the life of the hunting dogs of Spain.
Galgo Españols (Spanish greyhounds) are mainly used for hunting or coursing hares. During the annual hunting season that runs from October to January, many live in deplorable dark sheds when they are not coursing, spending their days confined and neglected. Training techniques are barbaric and include towing Galgo’s from cars, trucks, and motorcycles at 30mph for 15–20 miles.
Known as Galgueros, hunters dispose of Galgos at the end of hunting season in the most horrific ways imaginable… hung from trees, thrown into wells, starved, beaten to death, or abandoned. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Galgos are killed every year.
(continued) A favorite among hunters to dispose of unwanted Galgos is called “piano playing.” The Galgo is tied around the neck and hung in a tree so that the poor dog barely reaches the ground with its hind paws, trying to balance and “dancing” back and forth with the back legs and paws, barely on the ground, to avoid strangulation. Being killed in this way is a slow death and the dog experiences panic, anxiety, despair, and unimaginable pain. The suffocation can take hours and sometimes even days. At the end, when the Galgo can no longer manage to stand on its hind legs, exhausted in the snare, the dog finally suffocates to death.
If merely abandoned, they are purposely hobbled so that they cannot physically return to the hunter. Those that survive abandonment languish in state-run shelters where they inevitably die.
The excessive, uncontrolled breeding and mass abandonment of dogs at the end of hunting season leaves a massive population of starving and sick dogs.
Associations in Spain rescue and rehabilitate as many dogs as possible so that they have a chance at a future and a forever home. The Galgo is a truly precious and noble breed. Although not considered pets by Galgueros, they are wonderful companions, affectionate, and eternally grateful for a second chance.
What do you like about photographing animals?
I love photographing dogs; their emotions are so unfiltered. I love to capture their personality and show people how I see these beautiful dogs through my eyes. I have learned to be able to read dogs’ body language and this has helped me greatly with being able to communicate with the dogs and help them relax and be comfortable in the studio when I photograph them. This has allowed me to capture natural expressions from the dogs.
After taking the photo of the very traumatized black Galgo at the shelter, I discovered the power of photography and telling a story in a single frame. I suffer from severe dyslexia and inattentive ADHD, I have always found it difficult for me to communicate and express myself. When we had to say goodbye to Leena in April 2015 due to cancer, I promised I would be a voice for Leena and the hunting dogs of Spain. I learned photography with the specific goal to raise awareness and share the story of the hunting dogs of Spain through photography.
What is your goal in representing Gaglos on camera?
I want to show people how I see these beautiful, intelligent, athletic, fragile, and loving dogs through my eyes. I came across Tim Flach’s book Endangered and after researching him, I learned about how he evokes emotions in his images by taking animals and separating them, concentrating on them as subjects and as individuals with personalities, and the importance of empathy. Once I started applying this to my images, I was able to show these dogs truly as I see them.
My image Saying Goodbye was created to honor Leena for saving my life and giving me this new voice through photography. I purchased my first DSLR in August 2014, with the goal to tell the story of these dogs through photography and show how I see them through my eyes. Leena gave me this new voice through photography and my goal is to share her story with everyone I can.
What do you hope to achieve by doing so?
My main goal is to raise awareness about the situation of these dogs in Spain and as more people learn about them, hopefully, more pressure can be put on Spain to change the laws and regulations to protect these dogs.
Many people may feel compelled to want to help the Galgos. How can they help?
One of the most important things is to share their story. If they are animal lovers, then most of their friends are animal lovers also. As more people are aware of their plight, more pressure can be put on the Spanish government to change the laws and include the hunting dogs of Spain in the animal welfare laws.
People can volunteer at a shelter in Spain for a day or a week. If you are a veterinarian, you can volunteer at a shelter and perform spay and neutering for their dogs. Dog trainers that are experienced with positive reinforcement and dogs that have endured abuse.
Shelters can also use help with social media, fundraising, foster homes, and adoptable homes. Galgos are very smart and very good at problem-solving. They are also very good jumpers and require a 6-foot fence or commitment to leash walk only. Galgos should not be off leash in open areas as they can reach full speed within two strides and can run at full speed for 10–12 miles. Galgos are usually very good with other dogs as they were raised around many dogs and several live happily with cats and small dogs.
If you travel to Spain from the United States, you may be able to help transport dogs from Spain to adoption groups here in the U.S. Flights would need to be direct flights from Spain to the final destination in the U.S. There are several groups in the U.S that find loving homes for dogs from Spain.
How do you think photography can help others?
I was really drawn to photography and the ability to tell stories through a single image that has no language barrier, which can make them more powerful than the written word. Photography has helped me be more open about my depression. I find a part of me in each of my images of the Galgos. When you open yourself up and allow yourself to be vulnerable and in the moment, it shows in the images. Photography can act as non-verbal communication, which can be very helpful when dealing with issues like depression or anxiety when you feel isolated due to stigma.
What's on the horizon for you? Anything exciting you can tell us about?
I’m planning on additional trips to volunteer at the shelters in Spain to continue to highlight the amazing work the shelters and volunteers do to rescue these dogs. In April I will be doing a presentation at the Animal Image Makers Conference to talk about Photo-Activism—Photography with a Purpose.