It is a mystery why greyhounds seem to foster so many misconceptions, but new ones seem to crop up with the frequency of urban myths. Some time back a letter to the editor appeared in our local paper with an attack on the character of greyhound dogs and on the training and practice of dog racing brought about by his pet cat being killed by a greyhound that was running at large. This angry rant spawned a second that spouted further inaccuracies on the nature of greyhounds and their training.
I don’t think either person wrote their letters with any deliberate malice. Often friends ask me if the dogs are mistreated or killed when they are done racing. Animal rights groups have been spreading misleading information about the greyhound industry and greyhound owners have for the most part chose to ignore them rather than lend them validity by answering them. This in my opinion has been a gross misjudgment. Kind and well meaning individuals give money to animal rights groups by the millions and they use these fat coffers to further many causes including banning greyhound racing. By not countering these accusations as they come along the greyhound people have appeared to be hiding a dirty secret.
HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble had a story about greyhound racing in 2004 that also emphasized misconceptions and his reporter Bernard Goldberg did his very best in this segment to forward the animal activist’s cause. The story talked of the cruelty of keeping greyhounds in small cages all day except when brought out to run. Yet, don’t all good dog trainers suggest that we keep our pet dogs crated during the day when we are gone and for feeding and sleeping? Pet dogs spend far longer hours in a crate than do racing greyhounds as they are generally in the crate while the owner is at work. Greyhounds are let out to stretch and potty several times a day and every greyhound person I have ever met is fanatical about turn out times. Many a night out has been cut short to run back to the kennel for nine o’clock turn out. Keep that in mind next time you stop for happy hour after work rather than going right home for Fido’s walk. The suggestion that greyhounds are kept imprisoned all the time in small crates is completely false. Greyhound crates are large enough for the biggest dogs to move around and rest comfortably in.
It might surprise most folks to know that one of the big adjustments a greyhound must make when he starts his life as a pet is loneliness that manifests itself sometimes in separation anxiety behaviors. Greyhounds start their life as pups with their mother and siblings being attended to all day long by their human caretakers. Then they are weaned and spend the next year of their lives growing and playing with their siblings in large paddocks attended to all day long by their human caretakers. At a year the pups come out from the paddock to the kennel and spend the whole day being trained, groomed, medicated and touched and handled all day long broken up by naps and recesses with all the other dogs in the kennel several times a day. This carries on when they move on after high school to the racetrack. When the dog leaves the track for a pet home he often finds himself left alone all day while his owner is at work after being accustomed to having humans around him talking, grooming or petting him all the time. Many people mistakenly think it wise to start with only one greyhound as they don’t want to bite off too much, so he is also often in a home where he is the only dog after spending his entire existence with a large pack of friends. Dogs are naturally social anyway and that is why they make great pets. While I don’t advocate letting the dogs take over your life or taking on more than you can properly support – often two greyhounds are easier to keep and happier than one.
In the Real Sports piece the guy with the darkened face stated that dogs were killed all the time when they didn’t make it on the track. He also said that the dogs are just running machines out there to turn a buck and that is how greyhound people viewed them. I have to be careful how I write here as this one angers me. As in any animal business there are dirt bags trying to turn a fast buck that don’t care about the welfare of the animals, hence the guy’s darkened face. These guys are now by far the minority not the rule and they don’t last very long in the business. To put it frankly – there is a huge amount of back breaking, dirty, hard work, long hours and heartbreak in the greyhound business and not a whole lot of money to be made. The day at the kennel starts at six AM and ends with final turnout at ten PM. In his wrap up reporter Bernard Goldberg stated to Bryant that all greyhound owners were breeding hundreds of pups in the hopes of producing one $200,000.00 stakes winner. While this tidbit might have sounded clever to the reporters own ears, to a person who has been around the greyhound business for many years it is laughable. No one would put in years and years of hard work towards a goal like that as it only happens once in a lifetime if you are very, very lucky. The simple fact is – most people who are in the greyhound business are in it because they love greyhounds. They love them as little puppies and they love the old mother or stud dog with the salty muzzle. This is evidenced by the fact that many greyhound farms have several pets running around the property and living in the house as pets.
I have often heard that greyhounds are fed poor quality slop with dangerous raw meat rendered from dead animals that is often starting to rot and that is why their teeth go bad. The “slop” that greyhounds are fed, is a mixture of quality red meat, meal and supplements with exact balance of carbohydrates, protein and vitamins, designed not only to keep them lean, as fatties in the animal world tend to be as slow, and unhealthy as in the human, but also to maintain healthy muscle with plenty of energy for the sprint. Greyhounds are the ultimate canine athletes, and so, need the nutrition to support their systems. The food they are fed costs 2 to 3 times what a pet dog eats. Greyhound racing is highly competitive; in fact I often liken it to breaking into Hollywood as an actor. It would make very little sense to invest thousands in breeding stock, facilities, equipment and time to save a few bucks on feed. The down side is that like canned dog food, the food greyhounds get, tends to stick to their teeth and cause tooth decay. The proof of the quality of the greyhound diet is that they tend to have a much longer lifespan than other dogs of their size.
Greyhounds are not neurotic and it is highly unlikely that an adopted greyhound was ever physically abused. Greyhounds are very sensitive dogs and abusive handling will always ruin them. They also seem to have an amazing memory and mistakes made in handling them although usually forgiven are rarely forgotten. An abusive trainer’s dogs would all fail and he or she would be immediately out of business. Abusive kennel help would find themselves booted immediately from the premises, probably with a good thumping from the trainer for good measure. When an adopted dog shows neurotic behavior it is generally due to issues mentioned above. Although they are called the Forty Mile an Hour Couch Potato, like all dogs they need to get out and see the world. It is absolutely imperative that dogs get out for daily walks in the neighborhood. This is their whole world and they love to investigate it. A greyhound’s metabolism is like a Cheetah’s. They lie around and relax to conserve energy for that explosive sprint. A couple times a week to the dog park for a good off leash run is plenty – be careful to watch for the little fluffy ones and muzzle please just in case one comes in after you have let your Ferrari go. Greyhounds are perfectly capable of learning to recall, one just must be careful to never allow him off leash in open parks where he could run into traffic. This as far as I’m concerned is true for all dogs.
Yes it is true that over the centuries greyhounds have been raised and trained for human greed and pleasure. Name one domesticated animal that hasn’t. I for one am very glad that greyhounds are here and the racing industry has made them, possibly by accident the healthiest breed of dog when it comes to genetic disease. Hip displasia in greyhounds is in the opinion of every racing breeder and trainer I have ever asked, (these guys have all known and handled literally thousands of dogs) all but unknown and in the AKC show lines, according to the OFA database is still only at two percent. When tenths of a second separate the fantastic from the failures great bone structure is a must. Since generally only great racers are used for breeding, things like bad hearts, elbows and hips have never been perpetuated in the bloodlines. Deep narrow chests seen in show greyhounds that contribute to the tendency to bloat must not be productive for running as you do not find that conformation in a racer. The bone cancer that seems to plague all large hound breeds it is generally believed comes from previous injury to the bone often undetected during growth.
There are some greyhound owners out there still breeding too many dogs. Taking a chance that an average female bred to a great sire will pop out a winner. These dinosaurs are being weeded out of the business by economic pressures. If only the best females are bred to the best males the results will be fewer and better dogs and that means fewer dogs that need to be petted out. The shotgun method of producing hundreds of puppies to get a few good ones is no longer feasible. Very few healthy adoptable greyhounds are euthanized now and we work toward the day very soon when that number drops to zero. Owners, breeders and trainers will be held accountable for the welfare of these wonderful animals in their care.
Everyone who is given the great gift to know and love a greyhound knows there is nothing out there like them. The day may come when the racetracks close down and the flow of adoption dogs slows to a stop. Then the thousands of people who have come to love the greyhound will have to buy their greyhounds as puppies and the price will be high and the demand huge. The puppy mills of Missouri and Oklahoma will smell the easy money and then the mothers and fathers of greyhound pups will no longer live in comfortable kennels with big roomy paddocks to romp in and caretakers armed daily with pooper scoopers, nail clippers, soft brushes, Milkbones and hugs but will be imprisoned in filthy cramped cages with their own urine burning their unprotected elbows and haunches. Then the pups will end up in cramped pet store cages waiting for someone to come along and buy them with no background check, no mentoring and not as a carefully thought out family member but out of sympathy when looking into those deep soulful eyes. Then the folks at PETA, HSUS, GREY2K and the others can pat themselves on the back and know that they have done their good deed.