The Wild Gene

by Rockingship

Martin Roper, one of the world’s foremost Greyhound pedigree researchers and authorities, authored his myth-bursting essay, “Everything You Know Is Wrong” in 2008. With it, Roper dispelled the long-held notion that Greyhounds were the personal and highly esteemed dogs of Egyptian Pharaohs. He explained how, in light of modern genomic research, we now know that the Greyhound is unrelated to the Saharan breeds of sighthounds. He suggested that the Celts, and not the Egyptians, were likely the breed’s original and only custodians in their domestication. Some earlier, authoritative 19th century writings on the matter had suggested the same thing, before hard science sustained the thought.

Roper could have expanded the scope of his essay to include the contemporary, popular mythology of the modern, Racing Greyhound. If you have read about the National Greyhound Association Racing Greyhound in the mainstream or online, via the “new media”, chances are that everything you “know” is also likely to be wrong. Very wrong.

Barbarians At the Gate

Tax-generating, State-regulated Greyhound Racing has been under assault by anti-gambling and animal rights activists/propagandists for more than 40 years. The only thing more consistent than their tenacity in prosecuting their anti-racing agenda, is their utter disregard for (and/or their complete ignorance of) the truth and, tragically, of the breed itself.

Thanks to modern science and the unraveling of the canine genome and canine DNA, we now know that our modern Greyhound’s direct prehistoric ancestors evolved in nature. They survived the ages because of the adaptations they developed which made them swifter, more cunning and deadlier than their prey, as well as the other carnivores with whom they competed for habitat and survival.

Popular anti-racing mythology, such as that professed by the Massachusetts-based Grey2k (the nation’s most media-friendly, anti-greyhound racing activist/lobbyist group), teaches, among other misconceptions, that greyhounds are “forced to run” for the benefit of their greedy and exploitative owners and handlers.

Modern, peer-reviewed science suggests quite a different story. It tells a story of a natural evolution toward a genotype and phenotype perfectly adapted and inclined toward the expression of extreme speed as an essential survival tool. The modern Greyhound is bred to race on a track, chasing after a prey effigy, which is the mechanical lure used at the racetrack. The prehistoric Greyhound had to literally race its prey to ground, in order to survive and to breed on. In their domestication, until the advent of track racing early in the 20th century, Greyhounds were used to course and kill vermin, and to provide food for the table. Any way we care to look at it, running and racing is written on the DNA of the natural Greyhound. It’s not only a desire. It is an ingrained and inbred demand, echoing across a universe of time.

The Mythological Greyhound

The mythological, anti-racing narrative, promoted by Grey2k and their networks, in a nutshell (no pun intended), goes roughly like this:

“Greyhounds are bred and raised to serve the “racing industry”. The supply side of the racing industry is comprised of greyhound breeders, owners and handlers whose only interest in the Greyhound is to extract profits from him, essentially by heaping various forms of abuse upon him. These abuses entail the way he is raised, the way he is trained (both in preparation for and during his career as a racer), the way he is housed, they way he is fed and the way he is employed for pari-mutuel (wagering) activity.

Shamelessly greedy and mercenary greyhound breeders, owners and handlers have only one interest in their greyhounds, and that is to accrue as much profit as possible while exploiting them by forcing them to race, thus becoming exposed to the risk of athletically-induced injury or worse.”

Common Sense

Let’s have a brief, common-sense examination of that narrative so far.

In 2008, there were 20,365 NGA Greyhounds whelped in the USA. This figure would include stillborn and any greyhounds who died prematurely of natural causes (approximately 10%). For our purposes here, let’s just say 18,000 greyhounds were raised from that year’s population of newborns, up to the stage where they would begin careers as racers. Let’s also use the (conservative) figure of $2,000 expense per greyhound, to raise them to this stage of their lives, including all costs, like feed, supplements, immunizations, anthelmintics, veterinary care, paying the help, boarding fees and transportation costs when required, etc. We are looking at a total national expenditure by greyhound breeders and owners, of at least 36 million dollars, just to raise that crop of 2008 pups to the “track-ready” stage.

So think about it. We’re being asked to believe that the first thing these singularly, greedy villains do, to begin to recoup their 36 million dollars in expenses, and then to make a profit—the money for which they supposedly lust—is to subject these living, breathing, 36 million dollar Greyhound “investments” to abominable living conditions. As the anti-racing narrative further informs us, racing greyhounds are kept in cramped, atrophy and neurosis-inducing sleeping quarters, to which they are confined for 20 hours per day. Furthermore, as an enhancement, they are fed a substandard and deficient diet. To complete the fable, we are told that racing greyhounds are subjected to long, torturous periods of inactivity and boredom, devoid of even the simplest of human attentions that all dogs seem to crave, while otherwise being subjected to inhumane, even brutal handling.

Then, at the first inkling that the self-fulfilling prophecy has finally come to pass, meaning as soon as these greyhounds demonstrate that they are unable earn their keep on the racetrack as finely tuned athletes, or when they suffer an injury, they are discarded like rubbish.

That’s quite a business model, don’t you think? Need we say any more? Does anyone, with even a shred of dog-sense, business acumen or critical thinking ability actually believe these absurd, contradictory, irrational talking points?

Everything You Know Is Wrong Redux

Additionally, according to this popular mythology, everything we know (those of us who have actual hands-on experience in breeding, raising and training racing greyhounds) is indeed wrong. The general public is told that the real experts on the breeding, raising and training of the Racing Greyhound are not those who actually rely upon their experience, knowledge and skills in the matter for their living. The real experts, they imply, are the politically motivated, propaganda-spreading, anti-racing lobbying groups. It matters not that none of the principals of these organizations have ever been any closer to a professional racing kennel or breeding facility than they have been to the moons of Saturn. It doesn’t matter that political lobbying is the realm of hyper-partisanship and untruth for virtually every other issue in the public discourse. They and they alone, somehow, have all the answers, and everything that dedicated, career racing professionals and breed custodians know to be the truth, is indeed wrong.

Likewise, most of the hundreds of thousands of pet greyhound owners, who have adopted retired racers through the more than 350 track/industry sponsored and independent adoption organizations cross-country, must also be wrong, or at least delusional. Despite the litany of inflammatory, ignorant, manipulative and sometimes hateful anti-racing rhetoric and talking points, the retired Racing Greyhound has become a virtual sensation in the pet world.

How can this possibly be? How do such badly raised, improperly socialized and miserably treated dogs manage to make the intimidating, life-altering, quantum leap of re-habituation from mere, disposable earning devices, to beloved and cherished, well-adjusted, personal and family pets, by the tens of thousands each year? Everyone knows that dogs are a reflection of their breeding, raising, training and handling, their environment and their experiences. It is a basic matter of genetics and cause-and-effect. Dogs who have seen nothing but a lifetime of neglect, cruelty and abuse, usually need at least some professional rehabilitation, and very careful, empathetic handling thereafter, if ever they manage to adjust to everyday life in a family/pet situation.

Racing Greyhounds, on the other hand, are an unprecedented and hugely successful pet phenomenon. They are reknown for their sweet, placid, steady temperament, and for their non-aggressive and sociable tendencies, with people as well as with other canines. Like all other canines, they tend to reflect and express the quality of their breeding, and the nature of their upbringing, training, handling, environment and life experience. Retired Racing Greyhounds have become the sensation of the pet universe because of, not in spite of, the totality of their incarnation and experiences as well cared for and highly valued racing athletes. Everything we know to be empirically true concerning the manifestation of individuals, colonies, populations or breeds of canines tells us that this must the case. Whether the individual is an outgoing “alpha” personality, a passive “beta” personality or even a timid “omega” personality, most retired racing greyhounds seem to be capable of making the challenging adjustment from life in the “racing pack” to life in the “family pack”, without too much bother.

The Wild Gene

Retired Racing Greyhound adopters, as a group, are perhaps the most enthusiastic, enthralled and bemused pet owners in the world. Many of them have adopted small packs of retired racers, unable to resist having “just one”. The Racing Greyhound is a bewitching creature, indeed. One only has to search the various internet Forums, like Greytalk.com, (dedicated to discussing the experience of retired greyhound adoption and ownership) to infer that there is something very special happening here. People all seem to sense in their greyhounds, an ethereal, mystical and beguiling quality, the essence of which they just can’t seem to identify, grasp, or wrap their minds around. They don’t quite understand it, but they know it is there, just below the surface.

Since before the dawn of civilization, Greyhounds have been the companions of men. They have always served a purpose, and they have been maintained as a supremely functional breed, because of this symbiosis. Yesterday, they were lethal coursers and hunters. Today, they are racers of astonishing athleticism and speed.

The essence of our modern Racing Greyhound’s ancient ancestors is still held just beneath their skin. When you see that certain look in his eye, when you notice that certain set to his ear, or that certain body language and expression that seems foreign to you, almost otherworldly, don’t be alarmed. You’ll never touch it, you can’t hold it, and you can’t feel it. The ancient dogs of pre-history who culled the elk herds, the dogs who hunted and fought with the Celts, and the dogs who coursed after the hares and deer on the verdant fields of Ireland, are simply calling out to him. He can hear them as clearly as you hear the alarm clock in the morning. He can hear them, and he can understand that ancient language which has resonated across countless generations and through oceans of time. He can hear them, and he can heed them, because he is a Racing Greyhound. When racing is gone, when Greyhounds no longer perform even a variation upon their natural function, only then will those voices forever be still.

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