A cruel and undignified end awaits hundreds of galgo's (hunting greyhounds) at the end of the hare coursing season in Spain. The dogs, known as galgos, are killed in a variety of brutal ways, according to how well they have raced. Poor performers are hung low to ensure a slow death.

This ritual is known, among those who inflict such cruelty, as "the piano player" or "the secretary" - because the dogs' frantic scrabbling of their legs in a vain attempt to avoid choking is thought to resemble the actions of a pianist or a busy typist. Better racers are "rewarded" by being hung higher in the tree where they cannot touch the ground, resulting in a quicker death.

Jonathan Owen, an investigator for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, said: "Hanging dogs is gratuitous cruelty. It is scandalous that Spain, supposedly a modern Western country, is allowing man's best friend to be so callously abused.

"These gentle creatures endure misery in their short lives as a tool for their owners' hobby of hare coursing, and are then 'rewarded' with a brutal death. This has nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with cruelty for cruelty's sake. It is a graphic example of why a national animal law is so desperately needed in Spain."

The WSPA's investigators found dogs dumped in shallow graves or lying under trees where they had been hanged, and evidence of dogs hanged and set on fire

Neither hare coursing nor hanging dogs is illegal in Spain, where there is no national animal protection law. Under a local law in Castilla y Leon, anybody found hanging a dog faces a £10,000 fine but, so far, there have been no prosecutions.

It is estimated that 50 per cent of galgos die by the age of two, after only one season of hare coursing, during which they exist on bread and sugar and are raced twice a week over many miles.

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