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Greyhound Racing: Death in the Fast Lane

Greyhounds’ natural speed and grace have been exploited for human benefit since the days of the ancient Egyptians. The dogs have been used for centuries in hunting and coursing events, but the advent of modern dog racing at the turn of the 20th century prompted greyhound breeders and racetrack proprietors to begin to think of this breed as a mere commodity. Greyhound racing continues to be a big business, generating millions of dollars in gambling revenue in the states that still allow it. Today, the cruelty of the industry is finally being exposed, and thanks to the resulting public outcry, the number of spectators attending greyhound races has declined. Unfortunately, the financial losses may be contributing to poor track conditions, which have caused a marked rise in animal injuries at some tracks.(1)

The Killing Field
In a horrific example of the industry’s cruelty, in 2002 the remains of approximately 3,000 greyhounds from Florida racetracks were discovered on the Alabama property of a former racetrack security guard who had been “retiring” unwanted greyhounds with a .22-caliber rifle for more than 40 years.(2) The attorney for the accused said, “If there’s anybody to be indicted here, it’s the industry because this is what they’re doing to these animals. The misery begins the day they’re born. The misery ends when my client gets ahold of them and puts a bullet in the head.”(3)

In a similar case in the U.K., an undercover investigation by the Sunday Times revealed that a builder’s merchant had been taking healthy greyhounds who had been judged by their trainers to be too slow to race, killing them with a bolt gun, and burying them in a 1-acre plot behind his home. The paper estimated that the man had killed more than 10,000 dogs over a 15-year span.(4)

These massacres illustrate that greyhounds are treated as though they are disposable running machines. They are produced in quantities that require the disposal of surplus dogs, and industry workers regularly kill greyhounds who become injured, grow old, or are deemed too slow or no longer profitable.

Winners and Losers
Thousands of greyhounds continue to be killed each year, even though the industry is in decline. Some puppies are killed in the name of “selective breeding” before they ever touch a racetrack. Dogs who do qualify to become racers typically live in cages and are kept muzzled by their trainers at all times. Many exhibit crate and muzzle sores and suffer from infestations of internal and external parasites. Although their thin coats and lack of body fat make them extremely sensitive to temperature, greyhounds are forced to race in extreme weather conditions—ranging from subzero temperatures to sweltering heat of more than 100 degrees.

At the VictoryLand dog track in Alabama, officials suspected that a malfunctioning heating system at a kennel caused 23 greyhounds to slowly die.(5) At least 37 dogs kenneled at Ebro Greyhound Park in Florida died of starvation and dehydration at the hands of their trainer, who was charged with felony cruelty to animals. Dogs who were found alive in his care had duct tape wrapped tightly around their necks.(6) In 2005, 73 greyhounds died in a West Virginia kennel that went up in flames because of a faulty ceiling fan. Only five years earlier, more than 50 dogs had died from heatstroke when an air conditioner malfunctioned in a kennel owned by the same man.(7)

Others suffer and die on the track. Over a six-year stretch, more than 800 greyhounds were injured while racing on Massachusetts tracks (the state has since banned dog racing).(8,9) At the two remaining Texas tracks, more than 340 injuries and 20 deaths were reported in 2008.(10)

Some dogs die during transport from one racetrack to another. It is a common practice in the industry to carry up to 60 greyhounds in one truck, with two or three dogs per crate, and to line the floor of these “haulers” with ice rather than providing air conditioning.(11) The cargo areas of these trucks reach temperatures exceeding 100 degrees on a summer day—deadly conditions for animals who rely on panting to cool themselves.

Several greyhounds died on a truck during a 130-mile trip between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico.(12) Heat exhaustion was suspected in the deaths of eight other greyhounds who were being hauled from Oklahoma to Arizona. Although the dogs were believed to have died en route in Texas, records showed that the owners never stopped along the way to seek veterinary care for the other dogs.(13)

Help and Hope
Greyhounds are usually gentle, quiet, and friendly, and some lucky dogs are placed in caring homes. Reputable adoption groups, funded by donations and staffed by volunteers, save as many retired greyhounds as they can. There are greyhound rescue groups in the U.S., the U.K., and Western Europe.

Although adoption helps, the only way to ultimately end greyhound abuse is to put an end to racing. The industry is slowly dying because of competition from casinos and a lack of interest from younger gamblers who are looking for games with faster action. The Miami Herald reports that the amount wagered annually at Florida’s 16 remaining dog tracks dropped from $620 million to $300 million over a 10-year period.(14) The Washington Post noted the dwindling numbers of breeders, bettors, and purses and concluded that “the sport has declined so sharply even its aficionados see no real hope for its revival.”(15)

Dog racing continues in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia.(16) However, even states that have banned dog racing may still permit off-track or satellite wagering and the breeding of racing dogs. In an attempt to revive dog racing, some state legislatures and lobbyists are rewriting gambling laws to allow the tracks to install slot machines and video lottery terminals. GREY2KUSA is lobbying for legislation to put an end to greyhound racing.

What You Can Do
Help to educate racing supporters by distributing leaflets at a local track or elsewhere. Even if your state has banned greyhound racing, it’s likely that it has breeding kennels that supply dogs to other states. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers explaining why it’s vital that we put an end to this cruel and useless sport.

References
1) Kelly Wells, “Injuries to Dogs Increase at Dairyland,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 14 May 2003.
2) Associated Press, “Ex-Pensacola Security Guard Admits Killing Greyhounds,” 22 May 2002.
3) Debbie Elliott, “Discovery of Thousands of Dead Greyhounds Leads to More Questions About the Dog-Racing Industry,” All Things Considered, NPR, 31 May 2002.
4) Daniel Foggo, “Revealed: The Man Who Killed 10,000 Dogs,” The Sunday Times 16 July 2006.
5) Associated Press, “Officials Investigating Deaths of 23 Dogs at Shorter Track,” 15 Jan. 2007.
6) Mike Cazalas, “Looking Back at 2010: 37 Greyhounds Found Dead,” Florida Freedom Newswire, 30 Dec. 2010.
7) Jennifer Bundy, “Fan Malfunction Caused Fire That Killed 73 Greyhounds,” Associated Press, 18 Oct. 2005.
8) John Woestendiek, “Nine Broken Legs in May,” The Baltimore Sun 27 June 2008.
9) DVM Newsmagazine, “Massachusetts Votes to End Dog Racing,” 5 Nov. 2008.
10) Associated Press, “20 Greyhounds Die, Euthanized in 2008 in Texas,” 26 Oct. 2009.
11) Luisa Yanez, “Inquiry Launched in Death of Dogs,” The Miami Herald 13 Aug. 2002.
12) Becky Pallack, “Dog Trainer Loses License, Contract With Tucson Greyhound Park,” Arizona Daily Star 28 June 2005.
13) Josh Brodesky, “8 Greyhounds Die on Trip: Haulers Fined, Suspended,” Arizona Daily Star 15 Dec. 2010.
14) Linda Robertson, “A Vanishing Sport: Dog Racing Is Running Its Course,” The Miami Herald 27 Dec. 2010.
15) Andrew Beyer, “Greyhound Racing: A Sport Gone to the Dogs,” The Washington Post 27 Feb. 2000.
16) American Greyhound Council, “Industry Map,” accessed 12 Mar. 2014.

 

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