It’s 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 ago a letter to the editor appeared in our local newspaper attacking the character of greyhound dogs and the training and practice of dog racing caused by the death of his cat at the hands of a greyhound on the loose. This angry tirade spawned a second that spun more inaccuracies about the nature of greyhounds and their training.
I don’t think either of them wrote their letters with deliberate malice. Friends often ask me if dogs are mistreated or killed when races are over. Animal rights groups have been spreading misleading information about the greyhound industry, and for the most part, greyhound owners have chosen to ignore it rather than validate it by responding. This, in my opinion, has been a serious error of judgement. Kind and well-intentioned individuals donate millions of money to animal rights groups and use these large chests to promote many causes, including banning greyhound racing. By not countering these accusations as they come up, the greyhound people appear 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 its reporter Bernard Goldberg went to great lengths in this segment to further the animal activist’s cause. The story spoke of the cruelty of keeping greyhounds in small cages all day, except when they were taken out for a run. However, don’t all good dog trainers suggest that we keep our dogs in crates during the day when we’re away and for eating and sleeping? Domestic dogs spend many more hours in a cage than racing greyhounds, as they are usually in the cage while the owner is at work. Greyhounds are allowed to stretch out and relieve themselves several times a day and every greyhound I have ever met is a fan of tee times. Many nights out have been interrupted to rush back to the kennel at nine o’clock. Keep that in mind the next time you stop in for happy hour after work instead of heading straight home for Fido’s ride. The suggestion that greyhounds are kept imprisoned all the time in small boxes is completely false. Greyhound crates are large enough for larger dogs to move around and rest comfortably.
It may surprise most people to learn that one of the big adjustments a Greyhound must make when beginning its life as a pet is loneliness which sometimes manifests itself in separation anxiety behaviors. Greyhounds begin life as puppies with their mother and siblings cared for around the clock by their human handlers. They are then weaned and spend the next year of their lives growing and playing with their siblings in large paddocks tended all day by their human keepers. A year the puppies leave the paddock for the kennel and spend the whole day being trained, brushed, medicated and touched and handled all day divided by naps and breaks with all the other dogs in the kennel several times a day. This continues when they transfer after high school to the race track. When the dog leaves the road to go to a pet home, he often finds himself alone all day while his owner is at work after being accused of having humans around him talking, grooming or petting him all the time. Many people mistakenly think that it is better to start with a single Greyhound as they do not want to bite too much, which is also why they are often in a household where they are the only dog after spending their entire existence with a large pack. friends. Dogs are naturally social anyway and that is why they make great pets. While I don’t advocate dogs taking over your life or taking on more than you can adequately handle, two greyhounds are often easier to keep and happier than one.
In the Real Sports article, the guy with the blacked-out face claimed that the dogs were killed all the time when they didn’t make it to the track. He also said that the dogs are just running machines to make money and that is how the greyhounds see them. I have to be careful how I write here because this makes me angry. As in any animal business, there are bin bags trying to make a quick buck who don’t care about the welfare of the animals, hence the darkened face of the guy. These guys are now by far the minority, not the rule, and they don’t last long in the business. To put it bluntly, there is a lot of back-breaking, dirty, hard work, long hours and heartache in the greyhound business and there is not much money to be made. The day at the kennel begins at six in the morning and ends with final attendance at ten at night. In recapping it, reporter Bernard Goldberg told Bryant that all the greyhound owners were breeding hundreds of puppies in hopes of producing a $200,000.00 stakes winner. While this tidbit might have sounded clever to the reporters’ own ears, to someone who has been in the greyhound business for many years, it’s ridiculous. Nobody would put years and years of hard work towards a goal like that, since it only happens once in a lifetime if you are very, very lucky. The simple fact is that most people who are in the greyhound business are in it because they love greyhounds. They love them as puppies and they love the old mother or the salty-nosed stallion. This is evidenced by the fact that many greyhound farms have multiple pets running around the property and living in the house as pets.
I have often heard that greyhounds are fed poor quality manure with dangerous raw meat from dead animals which often starts to rot and that is why their teeth get damaged. The “slop” fed to greyhounds is a mix of quality red meat, flour and supplements with the exact balance of carbohydrates, protein and vitamins, designed not only to keep them lean, but fat in the animal world. they tend to be slow, and unhealthy as in the human, but also to keep the muscles healthy and with a lot of energy for the sprint. Greyhounds are the best canine athletes and therefore need nutrition to support their systems. The food they are fed costs 2-3 times what a pet dog eats. Greyhound racing is very competitive; in fact, I often liked to break into Hollywood as an actor. It would make little sense to spend thousands of dollars on breeders, facilities, equipment and time to save a few dollars on feed. The downside is that, much like canned dog food, the food greyhounds receive tends to stick to their teeth and cause cavities. The proof of the quality of the greyhound diet is that they tend to live much longer than other dogs of their size.
Greyhounds are not neurotic and it is highly unlikely that an adopted greyhound has ever been physically abused. Greyhounds are very sensitive dogs and abusive treatment will always ruin them. They also seem to have an amazing memory and the mistakes they make in handling them, while usually forgiven, are rarely forgotten. All of an abusive handler’s dogs would fail and he or she would immediately be out of business. The abusive kennel helper would find themselves immediately kicked off the premises, probably with a good beating from the trainer for good measure. When an adopted dog exhibits neurotic behavior, it is usually due to the issues listed above. Although they are called the Forty Miles an Hour Couch Potato, like all dogs, they need to get out and see the world. It is absolutely essential that dogs go for daily walks around the neighborhood. This is their whole world and they love to investigate it. The metabolism of a greyhound is like that of a cheetah. They lie down and relax to conserve energy for that explosive sprint. A couple of times a week to go to the dog park for a good off-leash run is enough – be careful to keep an eye out for the little fluffy ones and the muzzle, just in case one walks in after you’ve dropped your Ferrari. Greyhounds are perfectly capable of learning to remember, you just have to be careful never to let them off the leash in open parks where they might run into traffic. This, as far as I’m concerned, is true of all dogs.
Yes, it is true that over the centuries greyhounds have been bred and trained for human greed and pleasure. Name a domesticated animal that has not. For my part, I am very glad that greyhounds are here and that the racing industry has made them, possibly by accident, the healthiest breed of dog when it comes to genetic disease. Hip dysplasia in greyhounds is, in the opinion of every breeder and racing trainer I’ve asked, (these guys have known and handled literally thousands of dogs) almost unknown and in AKC show lines, according to the OFA database is still only two percent. When tenths of a second separate the great from the duds, great bone structure is a must. Since usually only great runners are used for breeding, things like hearts, elbows, and hips have never been perpetuated in bloodlines. The narrow, deep chests seen in show greyhounds that contribute to the tendency to swell should not be productive for running, as that conformation is not found in a racer. The bone cancer that seems to affect all large hound breeds is generally thought to stem from a previous injury to the bone that often goes undetected during growth.
There are some greyhound owners who still breed too many dogs. Risking that an average female crossed with a great bull turns out to be the winner. These dinosaurs are being driven out of 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. The shotgun method of producing hundreds of pups to get a few good ones is no longer feasible. Very few healthy, adoptable greyhounds are now euthanized and we are working towards the day very soon when that number drops to zero. Owners, breeders and trainers will be responsible for the welfare of these wonderful animals in their care.
Everyone who receives the great gift of knowing and loving a greyhound knows that there is nothing like them. The day may come when the racetracks close and the flow of dogs for adoption stops. Then the thousands of people who have come to love greyhounds 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 easy money and then mothers and fathers of greyhound puppies will no longer live in comfortable kennels with large spacious paddocks to romp in and keepers armed daily with poop scoopers, nail clippers, soft brushes , Milkbones. and hugs, but they will be imprisoned in cramped, filthy cages with their own urine burning their unprotected elbows and haunches. Then the puppies will end up in crowded pet store cages waiting for someone to come and buy them with no background checks, no mentorship and not as a carefully thought out member of the family, but out of sympathy looking into those deep soulful eyes. So the folks at PETA, HSUS, GREY2K and the rest can pat themselves on the back and know they’ve done their good deed.