As Dog Racetracks Close, Where Do All the Greyhounds Go?

BlogHer Original Post

Due to changing laws and declining business, at least seven Greyhound race tracks closed their gates in 2009, including several on New Year's Eve. (Between 2002 and 2007, dog racing bets declined 42 percent.) So what's to become of all the unemployed racers? For animal shelters across the nation, a new race is on … to find homes for these special dogs.

"We're working as fast as we can to place these dogs without sacrificing normal protocol. In late December we had 80 applications. It's going to take the rest of January to plow through the applications and get more dogs placed."
-- Ellen Paulus, president of the Greyhound Pets of America-Wisconsin (GPAW)

A greyhound's racing career usually comes to a close between the ages of four and six or when they no longer consistently place in the top four. (High-performance dogs are usually kept for breeding.) Animal activists claim that tracks routinely house the dogs in tiny cages, feed them sub-standard food then discard them by euthanization, abandonment or selling them to research labs, all claims the industry steadfastly denies:

"It behooves every kennel owner and trainer to give them the maximum of care so they can maximize performance. In most of those cases where there's neglect, we're the ones who went in and discovered it."
-- Gary Guccione, executive director of the National Greyhound Association

In any case, the decline of racing means there are soon to be more retirees than the adoption market normally allows.

Humane societies and animal shelters are bracing for an influx of these unique dogs, so if you are considering adoption, please research the breed. Greyhounds are not for everyone, and yes, there may also be some home-life acclimation issues for these racers.

For example, most Greyhounds bred and raised for racing are unfamiliar with stairs and windows. Strange, no? Also, while all dogs love a snack, Greyhounds are notorious "counter surfers" for food. Those long hind legs sure make it easy …

Greyhound owners claim that the dogs are quiet, clean, non-aggressive and love to sleep all day. (Since they rarely bark, they are not ideal watchdogs.) Despite their racing status, Greyhounds are not hyper -- more like couch potatoes with occasional spurts of energy. In fact, they are often used as therapy animals and much prefer calm, gentle attention.

"The Dairyland Greyhound Track in Kenosha, Wisconsin will be closing its gates forever on December 31, 2009. As a result, about 300 dogs will be in need of homes, and soon. For Greyhounds Only, the closure will bring significant financial and logistical challenges, but it also promises a unique opportunity to bring new people into our organization's fold, and raise awareness about this extraordinary breed."
--Greyhounds Only website

If you've got a cat (or other small pet) in the house, I would dig into this a bit. Googling "Greyhounds" and "cats" pull up an endless amount of resources on how to make a successful introduction. Often, the rescue-adoption group evaluates each dog's prey drive for small animals. Overall, 25 percent of Greyhounds have no prey drive, 50 percent are curious but trainable, and 25 percent cannot be placed with small animals. (For some adorable evidence that Greyhounds and cats can most certainly be buddies - go here. )

Greyhounds range in size from 40 to 65 pounds and can run up to 45 miles an hour. The breed is referred to as "site dogs," which means that they can fixate on a distant object, speed toward it and never return -- the very same behavior that makes them ideal racers. These dogs should absolutely be kept on leashes when outside or under close watch when unleashed in a fenced yard or other enclosures. By all means, make sure you micro-chip them, too.

From a pure physiological perspective, Greyhounds differ from other dogs. For example, their blood work panels vary from other canine breeds, meaning they handle anesthesia and some drugs differently. Due to their extremely low body fat, extra care must be taken both in the winter and summer to regulate their temperature. They occasionally have dietary issues or loose bowels, often due to stress.

"The first recorded attempt at racing greyhounds on a straight track was made beside the Welsh Harp reservoir, Hendon in 1876, but this experiment did not develop. The sport emerged in its recognizable modern form, featuring circular or oval tracks, with the invention of the mechanical or artificial hare in 1912 by Owen Patrick Smith. O.P. Smith had altruistic aims for the sport to stop the killing of the jack rabbits and see 'greyhound racing as we see horse racing.'"

Dog racing as an accepted form of gambling here in the U.S. continues to decline. In the last five years, 20 tracks have closed, and as of this month, just 23 dog tracks remain in eight states, primarily Florida. Looks like a lot more racers are going to need homes.

Other Grey-te sources:

Grey2K - Protecting Greyhounds Nationwide

Adopt a Greyhound

National Greyhound Adoption Program

Greyhound Angels Adoption

David, a Greyhound owner, reacts on Animal Blawg to the Greyhound Protection Act (GPA) in Massachusetts that banned dog racing:

"As a greyhound owner, I have personally seen the harm that people inflict on these gentle giants at the racetrack. My own dog, Fiona, raced 17 times at a Florida racetrack before being given up for adoption. Lucky for her, she wasn’t fast enough to be kept as a brood where she would spend the remainder of her life on a farm breeding more potential racers. When I first got her, she had hair loss due to stress, scars from a racing muzzle, and an intense fear of loud noises."

NoMoreRacing reacts to some welcome news on the End Tucson Greyhound Racing blog:

"Goodbye and good riddance. The last dog track in Wisconsin closed its doors. Depending on what articles you have read, 350 to 900 dogs will need to be adopted or go elsewhere to race or back to the farm for breeding and dog knows what else ….So which is the first dog track to close in 2010?"

Finally, Kathryn, an adorable Brit who blogs about "life with my husband and our Greyhounds" over at Hound Mistress, deals with a nearby track closing. Evidently, there were some terrible issues around animal mistreatment:

"The final races will be run on Saturday 7th November. Operation Greyhound has now swung into action, involving a partnership between us, (GRW), Dogs Trust, RSPCA, the Council, the track, Greyhound Welfare and Swiss Valley Greyhounds. By operating in partnership we believe we can ensure that every racer that needs re-homing can be, and none need to be put down or dumped. Knowing this was imminent, we were quietly trying to maximise the number of spaces available for immediate intake and we had a phone call last week about fostering."


BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz


(Image Credits: Top - Lisa Poole/AP; Middle - Big Dog Clothing; Bottom - SanSan Pups)


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