Notes from the Kennel Help

Note from the webmaster: I recently received permission to copy the blog of Tara-Greyhound. Tara-greyhound worked for a short time as a kennel helper in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Her last blog entry was on November 3, 2008. This was the day before the vote on racing in the Commonwealth. The rest is history, many lives destroyed, many people hurt, and in the end the dogs paid a price. When racing fell silent in Massachusetts , so did Tara-greyhound. It is our hope that this will not happen again.

Please Vote No On Question 3

3 November, 08

For most of my over one half century of life, I’ve had the privilege of loving, living, and working with dogs. They are the joy of my existence. Maybe you feel the same way too. There are few things more beautiful than watching a dog do what he was born to do- whether that be a police or tracking dog assisting in a search, a terrier doing earth work, a border collie working sheep, or a racing greyhound chasing the lure.  Even as recently as last year I would have been just incredulous to think that a person such as myself would ever have to suddenly become political for the first time in her life, write a blog, and speak out about the things that I have learned about racing and greyhounds.  Ballot Question 3 has effectively put an end to my complacency.  I have become angry listening to the lies and half-truths spewed by the proponents of this appalling piece of legislation.  The public needs to know that this is just the beginning.  If the animal rights extremists behind Question 3 are successful tomorrow someday our very choices to live with companion dogs will be threatened.

We might start with the very name of their group; why is it not the Committee to Protect Greyhounds? Could it be that there is a much larger agenda at stake here?   Shall we discuss the groups’ links to PETA or their failure to defend Florida greyhounds in any way by working on Florida SB 590, which would have established minimal care and inspection standards in the least regulated state in the Union?   I will hope that the reader might consider seeking out more information for themselves to fully understand these issues.

Why does the Committee not extend its concerns to horse racing?   Whips on their backs, metal bits in their mouths, jockeys controlling their movement- far more inhumane on a daily basis.   No reporting is required, and a recent report states that over 3000 horses were euthanized as a result of racing injuries in the US in the past five years.  Don’t the zealots care about that?   Of course not- the horse industry is very well bankrolled and the zealots know they do not stand any chance against it.   So instead, they have chosen to target a tiny (by comparison) industry which has played by the rules (even the ones G2k added) for over 70 years because greyhound racing is an easy mark: the people work long hours and do not have time to reply along with the facts that the dogs are easier for the public to identify with and have been darned good money-makers for the groups’ personal coffers.

There has never been one single report of greyhound abuse by track personnel of any level since greyhound racing began in this state in 1935.  Why does the Committee not include lure coursing in the Question?   Lure coursing is far more dangerous with its sharp course turns, animals not fully conditioned (they mostly run only on weekends), and lack of veterinary on-site care.   Protecting greyhounds?   Then please do it all the way.   Let’s ban dog parks and backyards too- greyhounds get hurt there as well.   The Committee is going after greyhound parimutuel racing only to support their well known sub-agenda of gambling abolition.

Tomorrow at the polls I will see the dogs and the good people who work so hard with them in my mind all day.   I fervently hope the people of our Commonwealth will use both wisdom and judgement while voting down Question 3.   Greyhound parimutuel racing has been a proud, tax-paying industry in this state since 1935.   The industry has obeyed the laws, filed the reports, and done what has been asked of it.  If greyhound racing is going to die let it be on its own.   Don’t let these animal rights radical groups legislate out a sport that only they themselves do not like.   The next dog sport and dogs they will go after may well be your own.

Please educate yourself and vote NO on Question 3

Crate Expectations

19 October, 08

Meet my friend Martin.

He’s as sweet as he looks.

Martin is tall for a greyhound, measuring 31.5 inches at the withers (shoulder blades).  He’s tired in this picture as he’d just finished racing.

Massachusetts law 205 CMR 12.04: The Humane Handling, Care, Treatment, And Transportation Of Racing Greyhounds states:

“The shape and size of the enclosure shall afford ample space for the greyhounds to comfortably turn around, stand erect, sit or lie down without obstruction, interference, or impediment by the presence of food and water bowls.  Minimum dimensions shall be 32 inches wide, 42 inches deep and 34 inches high.”

The number 79 on his name tape refers to his racing set weight; the 38 his crate number.  Shortly after this picture was taken, Martin rolled onto his side, stretched out his legs and fell asleep as only a greyhound can.  So much for the claim:

“At local racetracks, thousands of greyhounds endure lives of confinement, kept for 20 or more hours each day in cages barely large enough to stand up or turn around in. “

These pictures were taken at 4:30pm.  Martin and all the other hounds had already been out for an hour at 6:00am and 9:30am. He missed the noon session as he was up at the track.  After racing that day he had 5:30pm hour turn-out and late turn-out still to come.  Twenty hours in a crate oops cage?  I don’t think so.

Addendum: The Spin Begins

Say what you will, Mr. Theil.  Again, you have taken copyrighted pictures without permission and used them to present your spin on things.  At least use the entire blog post (again without permission) in your essay instead of editing it.  As you well know, I am neither the racing industry, the race tracks, nor the No on 3 campaign so do not accuse them.  I am just a private citizen who loves dogs, nothing more.   This is my blog and these are my opinions.

Puzzling Evidence

14 October, 08

After two most interesting public debates the zealots have added another page of their own special brand of fuzzy facts to their website.  Warning: their spin may make you dizzy.

THEY CLAIM THIS IS FALSE:
“Massachusetts greyhound racing achieves 100% adoption rate”

THEIR FACTS:
According to the State Racing Commission, the actual adoption rate is only 31% 

Really?  And that’s because many greyhounds move on to other tracks and some return to the farms to be bred.  31% of the dogs are retired and made available to adoption and 100% OF THE DOGS MADE AVAILABLE TO ADOPTION ARE ADOPTED OUT.


THEY CLAIM THIS IS FALSE:
“From 2002 to 2007, 465,176 greyhounds raced at Massachusetts tracks.”

THEIR FACTS:
This is completely false. To arrive at this inflated figure, opponents of Question 3 are counting the same dogs over and over again dozens of times.

No kidding…  THAT’S BECAUSE THE SAME DOGS RACE OVER AND OVER AGAIN!  Sheesh.
The 465,176 figure IS correct- there were that many individual dog performances in the time period alluded to.  You forgot the total injury rate over the period which was 0.15% of these 465,176 performances.


THEY CLAIM THIS IS FALSE:
“Massachusetts dog tracks have “at least 1000 full and part time workers.”

THEIR FACTS:
According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, all racetracks in the state only employ a combined total of 707. This includes dog tracks, horse tracks and even auto speedways

Raynham employs 833, Wonderland 305.  Your figure is from September of 2007; you have not factored in ancillary services or the fact that Wonderland had closed for the season.

“The racing commission report shows that at Raynham there are 833 jobs and at Wonderland 305. Here’s what [supporters of the ban are] doing, they’re parsing the tax numbers, looking only at W-2s, and what they don’t deal with is the huge chunk of people who get issued 1099s.”  -Glenn Totten


THEY CLAIM THIS IS FALSE:
“The backers of Question 3 are part of a fundraising machine that moves from state to state, puts initiatives and referenda on the ballot, enlists local support and raises money.”

THEIR FACTS:
Question 3 is sponsored by mainstream animal protection groups like the MSPCA, the second oldest humane society in our nation’s history. It is supported by every major animal shelter, dozens of lawmakers, and more than sixty local veterinarians

Let’s not forget HSUS who is a mainstream animal rights group headed by the self-same Wayne Pacelle who has said: “We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals…”   I note you don’t mention his group here… and they’ve given you enormous amounts of money for your campaign.  How many dogs does “every major animal shelter” euthanize each year when their time is up?   The MSPCA must kill a lot as they even have their own crematorium in Methuen.  The main group behind this ballot question is a 501(4)c “advocacy” group- fundraisers and talkers- nothing more, certainly no funds given or volunteer efforts perfomed for greyhound adoption.

You also forgot to mention your recent brainwashing of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.  In 2000, Father Michael Guarino, a staunch advocate of greyhound adoption spoke out on behalf of greyhounds and you mobilized your minions to terrorize the Archdiocese. Guess it’s okay for you to exploit the religious if it suits your agenda.


THEY CLAIM THIS IS FALSE:
“Supporters of Question 3 “have no legal requirement to explain to the state where money comes from or where it goes.”

THEIR FACTS:
This is completely false. The Committee to Protect Dogs files detailed reports with the state documenting every single contribution and expenditure. These reports are posted on line by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance

Uh huh. What are your REAL salaries?  All those in-kinds to your friends too… John Parker on Greyhound-L keeps asking you this question and you have never once answered it; you either evade or vanish.


THEY CLAIM THIS IS FALSE:

“From 2000 to 2007, “Massachusetts’ tracks contributed $1.34 million for greyhound adoption.”

THEIR FACTS:
This money comes from a tax on gamblers that previously went to the state. These tax dollars were redirected to adoption efforts in 2002 after the passage of a bill that was sponsored by Yes on 3 supporters

Let’s use the “Committee’s” logic method just for fun. The tax DOES come from the tracks because if the bettors had not bet the animals at the tracks, there would have been no tax to collect!  It is still 1.34 million dollars going straight to greyhound adoption.  The “Committee” itself along with any of its spurious groups has never contributed a penny as we well know.  Thank goodness for the bettors as there are adoption agencies in this state in great need of these funds.


THEY CLAIM THIS IS FALSE:
“The size of the crates used in Massachusetts racing kennels was set with the assistance of Grey2k and the MSPCA”

THEIR FACTS:
This is completely false. The cages used at commercial racetracks in Massachusetts are five times smaller than the runs used for similarly sized dogs at the MSPCA-Angell Boston Animal Care and Adoption Center.

You must mean those soaking wet cement and cinder-blocked walls booths? The ones in which a greyhound could not see his or her neighbor much less get comfortable? The cement is cold all the time and the surface and dampness is terrible for their feet and skin.
Dogs are in THOSE 24/7…
One of the larger adoption groups in this state has those; the dogs push the edge of their blankets out into the wet gutters hoping another dog on the opposite side of the wall will pull at it- that way they know they are not alone. From birth through track life, greyhounds spend their lives together in groups and love every moment. In the kennels they frequently rest back to back by preference. They can always hear and see the other dogs around them and spend time outside socializing, playing, or napping in the sun with their friends and people. Instead you’d rather see them in those isolation cubicles?


THEY CLAIM THIS IS FALSE:
“The cages at commercial racetracks are comparable to crates “sold at PETCO for dogs like Great Danes and St. Bernards.”

THEIR FACTS:
The cages used at Massachusetts racetracks are not sold by PETCO or other pet supply stores. Instead, they are produced by companies that specialize in commercial cages, such as G&T Crates, which manufactured at least some of the cages being used at Raynham Park.
 

Yikes! Is this really all you can come up with for a “false claim”? The crates at the tracks are LARGER than the crates at the stores. A Varikennel 500 has 16+ cubic feet of useable space (inside dimensions). A track G & T has 26+ cubic feet of useable space (inside dimensions as well). I note you don’t try your usual “smaller cage/ confinement” argument here for a change; that’s refreshing.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

25 September, 08

In a recently released highly-touted video pseudo-expose′,  the animal rights extremists displayed footage of alleged mass maimings occurring during racing at Massachusetts tracks.  Yes, injuries can and do occur but according to the Massachusetts State Racing Commission’s official records  (in the six years in which these records were kept from 2002 to 2007)  in 465,176 individual greyhound starts at Massachusetts tracks the official injury rate was far less than 1 percent : 0.15% to be exact. Unfortunately, such facts do not keep the extremists’ constant fund-grubbing efforts going as they do not milk the public’s emotions.

Let’s have a look at the dogs exploited in the video, shall we?  Please forgive formatting.

Cawa Harli
fell                  12/13/07
next raced      3/14/08
August Extremist Report: laceration inside right rear/ soft wrap
2-3 weeks recovery recommended   (trainer rested her longer)
Harli last raced 9/22/08 at Twin Rivers in Rhode Island

Starz Voice
injured             6/25/07
August Extremist Report: severe elbow fractures- euthanized

Phyllissassygirl
injured             9/27/07
next race         10/3/07
August Extremist Report:  No injury report filed so not noted
Last raced 9/23/08 at Palm Beach

WW’s Brave Honor
 fell                  6/8/07 judged okay 6/15/07
next race          6/18/07
August Extremist Report: No injury report filed so not noted
Last raced 8/28/08 at Wonderland (now closed for the season)

Starz Checkers
two falls:      fell first turn 11/10/07
next race      11/14/07
August Extremist Report: No injury report filed so not noted
12/19/07 hit rail, fell first turn
next race      12/30/07
August Extremist Report:  No injury report filed so not noted
Last raced 9/22/08 at Raynham

Fuzzy’s Spider
injured           11/14/07
August Extremist Report: fracture right tibia, prognosis career-ending
Spider has retired and right now has a litter of eight puppies

Cayman Count
injured          10/14/07
August Extremist Report: right radius/ ulna fractures, prognosis 1 year to career-ending

As you can see, excepting Starz Voice whose injuries were sadly irreparable, most of the dogs from the video returned in very short order to racing and are racing still; two have been retired.  The dogs seem to have been chosen for their dramatic falls- although other animals may have received injuries in races in the time periods listed, they evidently did not fall impressively enough to qualify for the video.  The slow-motion scenes make it look like a massacre has taken place but this is just not the case.  Amusingly, they left the audio portions intact to make this slo-mo hogwash even more surreal.

Oh- some news to share!  The Massachusetts Animal Interest Coalition now has its website up at:
Click Here For The Truth

You can find their campaign funds report at:
http://www.efs.cpf.state.ma.us/DisplayReport.aspx?reportId=85138

and may enjoy comparing it with the extremists’ funds report at:
http://www.efs.cpf.state.ma.us/SearchReportResults.aspx?cpfId=95329

Vote No On Question 3

16 September, 08

Who I am is not important; I’m someone just like you. What makes me different from many is that I have sought to understand the facts about greyhound racing in Massachusetts and will herein try to separate the truth from the anti-racing zealots’ propaganda.  I am but one small voice- but a voice nonetheless. And here I will have my say.

As you may know, greyhound racing in this state is the topic of a ballot question in the upcoming November elections.  Several groups that purport to have the best interests of the racing greyhound at heart have banded together in an attempt to end the proud 73 year history of Massachusetts greyhound racing.  In actuality, they have their own best interests at heart: animal rights extremism which may well someday affect your very choice to live with a companion dog.  Greyhounds, for these people are just the beginning.  But these are topics to delve into another day.

Today, I am tired of hearing false adoption statistics for retired greyhounds in Massachusetts.  Let’s start here: racing greyhounds do not need “rescue” as they are well cared for and happy to race. When the time comes, they RETIRE

“The commission shall maintain accurate records and statistics regarding the disposition of all greyhounds that have participated in dog racing, including schooling races, in the commonwealth” (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 128C: Section 7)

When a greyhound retires to adoption, returns to its home farm for breeding, or is moved to another track extensive information must be supplied to the state.  The zealots would like you to believe that they “disappear” but that is simply not true.  And how many greyhounds retired in Massachusetts are adopted out?  100%   Can that be said of the dogs languishing at the MSPCA (a big supporter of the ban on racing) or in local pounds who are euthanized in huge numbers daily just because “their time is up”?  Nationwide, greyhound adoption this year has had 93% success placing animals retiring into homes.  We in Massachusetts lead the way, and that is something to be very proud of.

Why is our rate so high?  Our laws are strict and there is good cooperation between the track kennels and the adoption groups to facilitate the care and placement of retired greyhounds.  There are no “kill dates” as there are at the pounds; occasionally, greyhounds may wait many years for the right home but none are euthanized.  Let us also not forget that Grey2K, now a part of the “Committee” which sponsors the anti-racing bill along with HSUS and the MSPCA has never given any money or any support whatsoever (not even a can of food) to any adoption group in this state (or any state!) or any greyhound in need.  They have, however, finally adopted one- it’s good exploitation oops public relations after all…

 

You might enjoy these videos:
Video 1
Video 2

Hound Music

3 June, 08

There is a haunting beauty in the tonal quality and repertoire of the greyhound voice.  From the song of a lone hound breaking the momentary silence with a howl somewhere within the compound in the early evening to the rising chorus of hundreds of voices at dawn as the kennels start their day, there is always a bit of music in the air.  As I stand in our turn-out pen with our dogs I listen and marvel. Greyhounds, like most dogs, use their voices to communicate how they feel.  In the morning, they sing of the joy of going out to play and taking care of their business.  They bark, roodle, and tell the latest gossip to their friends.   Later, at feeding time, the sounds change to happy yipping which tails off as each dog receives their bowl.

Bliss believes that everyone should always know how she is feeling about any given topic- especially if she knows that she will race that day…   On days when she is scheduled, we bench her for the usual full grooming and physical exam.  The moment she finishes gobbling down the milkbone she’s been given for being so good (as always!) on the bench the singing starts.  She will spend her morning using her amazing coloratura (methinks bragging) that she is going racing- this continues until she hops into the truck, her tail wagging in anticipation.

If a leash is so much as moved on the leash hook in any kennel in the compound, the roar becomes absolutely deafening as they all want to go up to the track to race.  While the kennels are preparing to leave for the afternoon card the music echoes between the buildings: All is well!  I want to go!  Let’s go now!  What about me?  Hey!  Are we going?  Let’s go!  Now!  Hurry up!  Up at the ginny pit each time the doors are opened by the leadouts to bring the racers for the next race out the hound music billows out behind them, happy and excited.  I really enjoy the “gonna race now” chorus that emanates from the starting box before the lure starts.  Each group in the boxes has a different thematic pattern, but all sing of the same messages- the joy of the chase and the sheer thrill of being born a greyhound.

The Weekend

1 June, 08

Weekends are an exhausting time for the trainers and kennel workers at Raynham as the track offers two racing sessions (cards) on Friday and Saturday evenings in addition to the normal afternoon racing.  The schedule for the dogs changes little except for those who will race in the evenings.  Evening racers are benched in the morning and are fed a “meatball”- a 1/4 ration of their daily food to tide them over until after racing that night.  Weigh-in for the evening dogs begins at 6:30pm and racing starts at 7:30pm, often lasting till 11:00pm.  The workers put in 18 hour days (at least!) on Fridays and Saturdays, and by Sunday everyone is dragging- but still wearily smiling.  Henry finds a table in front of the simulcast monitors, watches his racers, and tries valiantly not to nod off.   He never gives in to it as he frequently runs to the cool-down room in the paddock to see how his dogs are feeling before Katie takes them back to the kennel for a rest.

The weekend was the hardest part of Kennel Week for me- by Saturday afternoon my head was swimming and by Sunday I had seemingly forgotten most of the English language…  There are not enough words to describe my respect for the people that do this work week in and week out.  The job is six to seven days a week and 16-18 hours a day of physical labor on one’s feet; you must truly love the dogs and be dedicated to the work to endure.  The people from all the kennels at Raynham are a very special group.  Most could be working an easier job somewhere else but all have chosen to work hard for the dogs that they love and believe in.  You are all amazing.

Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner

31 May, 08

Ask ten trainers what they feed their dogs and you will get ten separate recipes.  Each trainer has widely differing (and frequently strong!) opinions on which ingredients are most important for their athletes.  But most US trainers will agree that the basic components of a good diet are a high quality kibble and meat.  There has been much controversy about the meat that racing greyhounds are fed.  The USDA has strict rules guiding the grading of slaughtered animals- and the designation 4-D (dead, diseased, dying, or disabled) is given to meat not used for human consumption but appropriate for other uses.  4-D is a utility grade per the USDA and there are two grades still below it: cutter and canner.  If you’ve eaten hot dogs or ground beef, you’ve ingested meat from these lower two grades.  Denatured charcoal is added at the packing plant to the meat the greyhounds eat to make its taste unpalatable to humans; it is labelled clearly on the boxes that the meat blocks come in.  Is there anything wrong with this meat?  Not at all!  It is quickly frozen into 30 pound blocks at the plant and when thawed looks exactly as red and smells as fresh as beef cubes you might use to make a stew at home.  Bacterial contamination is rare secondary to the methods of rendering and packing.

Ranging between 7% (for racing dogs) and 15% (for brood mothers) fat content, 4-D beef forms a integral part of the diet that racing dogs typically eat- and they love it.   It’s pretty much the same beef that raw diet aficionados feed at home and is a major component of all commercially-prepared dog foods in this country.  If you might like to read more about this, please visit this link at the Greyhound Racing Association of America website or this essay by Dr. Randy Wysong.  Each day at the kennel, the 68 dogs consume 90 pounds of meat.  They all have bright shiny coats, excellent muscling, clean teeth, fresh breath, and small stools as their bodies use the food so well.  Henry also purchases another by-product monthly: large very meaty bones with lots of cartilage points which the dogs love to chew down to tiny stumps; plenty of fun, good nutrition, and tartarless teeth are the results.  The dogs never need dental cleanings when they enter retirement.  Note to self: start giving more bones at home…

A Day In The Life Of A Racing Kennel

30 May, 08

The long hoped for news has come- Kennel Week starts today!   I fly out of bed when the alarm sounds, run downstairs to jumpstart the neurotransmitters with a cup (vat) of coffee, and dive into a pair of dungarees and a hooded sweatshirt.  Note to the fashion-conscious: hooded sweatshirts are your friend at the track…   Grumbling at the morning traffic I finally pull into the compound- the last thing I would want to be today is late!   I sling my totebag filled with The Necessities Of Life onto the top of a stack of joint compound sized buckets and wave good morning to Henry, who is intent upon the never-ending stack of dog paperwork on his desk.  The dogs bark their good-natured greetings as I walk about visiting them.

The schedule in a racing kennel is of great importance.  Dogs being creatures of habit are most happy if they know what to expect and when to expect it.  Deviations from the schedule could possibly induce anxiety, stress, and incontinence in some dogs, so the daily routine is closely adhered to.  There is a wonderfully gentle rhythm to the day once one gets used to it.

0600-0700  Morning Turnout
All the dogs go out in groups separated by sex to relieve themselves, play, or nap in the early sun.  They wear plastic kennel muzzles with their names on them; as greyhounds have thin skin and minimal fat on their bodies, cuts and scrapes from another dog’s teeth or nails can occur very easily during play.  They can pant, sniff around, and drink water easily with the muzzles on.  Or, if you’re Beta, they make a very handy toy to remove, fling, and incite riot with- she’s so darned smart!  Turnout groups at Ryan Racing average 13-17 as Henry’s kennel has four turnout pens.  We let out two pens at a time (one all male, one all female) then I am assigned waste management chores (!!) and get to be in the happy position of being the person in the pen who gets to hug all the dogs.  It’s great!  Once the girls (or boys) are done from either side they are let back into the kennel and those who will race today or tomorrow will be weighed so that their feed portions might be adjusted as needed.  The boys are then moved over to the area that the girls just vacated as there are a lot of wonderfully perfumey (to a male) smells over there to investigate.  This inspires a second round of pooping and peeing within minutes; I race around to collect the um, results.  Henry is inside the kennel changing any wet beds and replacing/ fluffing the paper on which the dogs rest.   This white paper comes in bales about 6′ high by 2′ deep; it is shredded into long strips and is comfortable and absorbent.  The crates are filled to the ceiling with the paper- one of my favorite things is to watch the girls jump up into their crates head first into the mountain of paper then shake it all around to make themselves a cozy nest to rest in.  The stew in the kitchen area cooks and we check the meat removed from the freezer the day before to make sure it has thawed.

0700-0900
Dogs who are entered in races today are benched (see previous post) and fitted for racing muzzles.  We also bench dogs that seem to have muscle soreness or need a quick check.  Some are rubbed down with a very thick blue linament which smells nicely of wintergreen and helps with healing- they love this and run back to their crates for their cookies.  I laugh after we bench my beloved Chandra; she’s an all-white dog who is now a turquoise dog after the massage!  The color is non-toxic and will rub off on her bedding, but her back and shoulder muscles are soothed by the rub.

If the weather is nice and the dogs need it, we load the 6-hole dog truck and drive over to the sprint path behind the track.  This is a sand floored ~600 foot long fenced-in area about 15 feet across.  It is a great place to help a dog get back into racing condition- one to three dogs will be let loose as the trainer sees fit and allowed to run freely and play for a bit.  The trainer can evaluate the dog’s movement and watch for any signs of soreness.  Two mornings a week, the track offers unofficial schooling on the track itself which is great fun for all.  Each kennel brings up dogs that need training.  The trainer chooses (based upon the dog’s need) to let them run from the starting box, handslip (run without the starting box), and the distances and number of dogs to run at a time.  Henry will have a maximum of three at a time so that he can closely watch each dog.  The area near the track is filled with dogs and kennel personnel; people talk and laugh while patting their dogs.  Tails are wagging everywhere as the dogs await their chance to run.

0900-1000
Turnout begins again and last an hour as do most.  The dogs swarm for hugs, play a bit, then lie down in their favorite spots.  Taos checks to be sure that no frogs have entered HER pen (woe to the amphibian that tries…) .  On the other side of the kennel, Winter and Happy teach Isis how a proper young greyhound lady should behave.  Avalon and Tobias stake out their sunspots while Kang acts as social director for the rest of the boys…

1000-1100
The dogs (except racers) are fed; a quart pail of water is hung from a double-end bolt snap in the crates of all the dogs not racing today.  Those who are racing will be fed their full meals and given their pails several hours afterwards along with receiving extra turnouts.  Henry strongly believes in the water pails rather than communal water buckets in the turnout pens; he feels that the dogs have access to clean, fresh water all day this way, contamination by sandy kennel muzzles is prevented, and he can monitor things to ensure that each dog is drinking and urinating well.  Hydration status in a greyhound is very important; like us, they do not feel at their best when the least bit dehydrated.  Conversely, if a dog begins to consume lots of water suddenly it may be a sign that there is something going on which might need attending to.

Floors are swept, mopped, and disinfected.  The feed tub and stainless steel feed pans are scrubbed and dried.  All surfaces are wiped clean then disinfectant spray is applied.  Meat for tomorrow is brought in from the freezer to thaw and meals for those racing later are prepared and placed on top of the dog’s crate.

1130
We have loaded the truck with the dogs who will race today and have driven up to walk to the area in the track paddock known as the ginny pit to have our dogs officially weighed in.  This occurs in a large room with crates along the walls on three sides, each labelled with the numbers of both the race and the dog’s starting box.  Dogs must be within 1.5 pounds above or below their set (proper racing) weights, otherwise they are scratched (dismissed from racing) for the day.  At exactly 1130, the racing officials enter the room, stand at a computer connected to the scale, and begin recording the weights as each dog stands on the scale.  An official checks ear tattoo numbers and carries a box filled with Bertillon cards.  These cards carry the dog’s specific registry information and a diagram of the dog’s body markings (white toes, black dots on ear, etc.)  Once weighed in, the dog is placed into the correct crate by the leadouts to await racing.  The racing muzzle and leash are hung outside the crate.  Per Massachusetts law, the temperature in the room is maintained at a level between 65′-75′F year around for the dogs’ comfort and safety.  Also per law, one must be licensed to even step into the room; this includes kennel help.  After all dogs have been weighed in, the room is off-limits to all except officials and leadouts; we will not be able to have any direct contact with our dogs until after each dog finishes racing.

1130-1230
Henry heads back to the kennel for the third turnout of the day.  I stay at the track to help Katie Melo, our second trainer prepare to receive the dogs after each race.  It’s time to eat some lunch and pore over the program of races today.

1230- End of Racing Card
Racing!  The sheer beauty of eight hounds doing what they were bred to do and love to do most…  If you have never been to a track, I hope you might consider a visit.  Raynham is a nice place to watch races-greyhound greats like Swedish Episode and Ethereal Force raced here.  If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear the ghostly sound of their feet pounding up the stretch still.  I love standing at the rail to watch the dogs racing thunder up and past in a blur of color and pure athleticism.

As each race ends, the dogs are brought by the leadouts into the cool-down room.  This is a huge rectangular room in the paddock where the dogs will be allowed to sip water and be walked in a large oval around the room to facilitate the cooling down of their muscles.  Like the ginny pit, the room is climate controlled per state law.  We wait by numbered posts for our racers.  Their racing silks (jackets) are removed and we lead them over to our wash stations.  A pediatric bulb syringe full of cool clean water is immediately used to flush each eye of debris kicked up during the race.  The sand and silt of the track, being coarse (better traction and safety), can be very irritating to the eyes and corneal abrasions are prevented with adequate flushing.  The dog will sip some water (not a lot as it may lead to cramping), then walk with one of us a bit.  Occasionally the state officials may request and take the dog to a special sand floored room to obtain a urine specimen.  These are analyzed for prohibited substances (such as caffeine, worming meds, etc.).  No one at Raynham can remember the last time any dog tested positive, and many people have been there for years.  Next, the dogs are brought over to the bank of hoses and feet, legs, and undercarriage are cleansed.  Feet are always throughly checked and scrubbed gently with a brush.  After the racing muzzle is scrubbed in hot soapy water and rinsed walking continues.  The dog is taken outside to empty bowels or bladder as need be then walked more if necessary until fully cooled.  Once this is done, we take the dog back to the truck and lift them in as they are tired.  Lest you think that they spend their whole afternoon in the truck, let me assure you that that is not true.  One or two dogs will finish racing then the truck will be driven back to the kennel (about a mile away) to have a quick turnout then go in to have some rest.  The dog trucks in the back parking lot are in constant motion as tired racers head back for their naps.

Three afternoons a week official schooling is held after racing is over.  The dogs weigh in after the 13th race (if there are fourteen) and wait with their kennel people to be called.  These races are watched by the judges- if a dog is new to the track he must school to prove he is fit, a dog that may have taken a spill during a race will be judged for soundness- there are many reasons why they are officially schooled.  These races will go on their permanent record.

End of Racing- ?
A quick turnout occurs now; early racers are fed, given water pails, and encouraged to rest.

1845-1945
A full hour turnout begins.  Most of the dogs, tired from the day sprawl in the warm sand or play quietly.  Beds are again checked for dampness and changed if needed.  Water pails are removed for the night, scrubbed with soap, and left to dry.

2200-2300
Henry may come back to again do a turnout.  Massachusetts state law mandates five turnouts a day, most kennels do at least that if not more.  In comparison to the average dog in the average household, racing greyhounds spend much more time outside each day and and have had the company of their people for most of each and every day, unless they are in the ginny pit waiting to race.  It has been a 17+ hour day for Henry- and this is the norm, not the exception at the tracks.  Wearily, we say good night to the dogs.  Carmella and Henry play their nightly bedtime game with a marshmallow (she’s nuts for them).  We head home for a few hours only to start anew at 0600.  I’m so tired that I think I forget where I live… but it’s been a wonderful day.

Hey Lady- You Got A License For Those Hounds?

2 April, 08

In order to work even as a kennel helper at a greyhound track occupational licensure is required by state law.  Leadouts (those that walk the dogs to the starting box and retrieve them at the end of the race) , assistant trainers (kennel help), trainers, and owners of racing dogs must be licensed and issued identification cards by the states they work or race dogs in.   Massachusetts has some of the strictest laws in the nation for the proper care, racing, licensure, and retirement of the racing greyhound despite what some may wish you to believe.  Amongst other things, required dimensions for crates are clearly delineated, the number of turnouts (dogs’ outdoor exercise periods) per day are specified, and surprise thorough kennel inspections may happen at any time- the State Police accompany the inspectors and the penalties are severe for infractions.  Racing in the Commonwealth at both Raynham and Wonderland is highly regulated and the laws ensure the good care of the dogs.

Henry and I navigate the maze of hallways and stairs leading up above the clubhouse to the Judges’ Office.  Set at the highest vantage point above the track, the office is normally off-limits to all, except for a certain amount of time before daily racing begins and after it ends.  It is during this period that the judges allow licensure testing.  We’ve come to apply for my assistant trainer’s license.  Inside the small room, the judge hands me the test I must pass with at a score of at least 70% and sends me into an adjoining room to work on it.  I’ve been studying the Mass and Racing Commission laws for some time and work my way through the questions.  I’m a wreck.  The judge takes my application form, my test, and the application fee that Henry insisted upon paying for himself (even after multiple arguments…).  She reviews everything, grades the test, and pronounces me licensed!  I don’t even remember walking all the way back downstairs as I was dumbfounded.  The State will perform a background check on me as a routine part of the licensure process.We stop at the racing office to have a photo (eeeks!) ID made before heading to watch Henry’s racers. This is probably been one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had (and I’ve had MANY).  Thank you Henry for teaching me and believing in me enough to fund my application; I hope to someday make you proud.

The Day Begins

23 March, 08

The long rays of the early Spring sun cast a slightly golden glow onto the morning air.   Henry has brought six dogs up to the track to sprint for exercise.  Three at a time, we loose them from their leashes and they choose to run together, galloping around the large oval chasing each other in play.  They romp to the tote board on the back stretch and then two decide to run back to us, tails wagging and eyes sparkling.  Powell  thinks he’d like to explore a little more; Henry reaches into his coat pocket for a squawker- he hears it and comes running back for pats and praise.  The track surface at this time of day is open and soft; later before racing starts it will be dragged once again and compacted.  We bring the dogs back to the truck as there are other kennels awaiting their turn to let their dogs freely exercise.

Back at the kennel, Henry checks the stew’s progress (today’s feature: bell peppers, lentils, chicken, and a little pasta) then starts benching the dogs who will race or school today.  The bench is a wooden two step platform on which the trainer examines, grooms, massages, or treats the dogs.  They love it and most, once they know what to do will step up onto it as they know good things always happen there.  The first step is low and easy to step onto and the second is about a foot higher.  It is here that the dog places the front paws and is comfortable whilst being assessed- the trainer does not have to bend down as much as a result to give care.   Their ears, eyes, and teeth are examined and cleaned as needed.  Toenails are checked and trimmed as there is a correct length for a racing dog’s nails.  The skin, haircoat, and musculature are inspected; the trainer will find any possible soreness or sign if he or she is thorough and believe me, Henry is.  Next, he grooms the coat with a shedding blade and each dog is fitted for a racing muzzle to be put on later today.   As each dog finishes benching they play on the floor, jumping back onto the bench for more or running over to the scale as they know that if they are weighed that they might be racing that day.  It’s cheerful pandemonium in here- the dogs all around us bark because they want to be benched, the “benchee” prances over to Henry to get a marshmallow peep (it’s Easter and they love them) then runs back to their crate very happily.  The racing muzzle is hung outside the crate on a peg with the dog’s regular turnout muzzle and we go on to other preparations.


Steve Sarras benching a greyhound; photo from the Expo website.

It’s great to be here today.  I’ve really missed the dogs and Henry and have at least a thousand new questions to ask him, five hundred of which he has already patiently answered already this morning…

Watching and Waiting

15 March, 08

Gah! I am suffering seriously from Henry and Hounds withdrawal… There has been no word still on the dates for Kennel Week, so here I am watching the Raynham livecast on this murky afternoon- it’s fun to watch and follow the progress of Henry’s dogs.  My buddy Limen will be in the 11th race soon…  he wags his tail as the track judge checks his muzzle and stretch vest.

I’ve decided use the time waiting for The Big News to re-educate myself about our breed and the history of greyhound racing in America. Following are some suggested books to enjoy in case you too would like to explore more deeply.

The Road from Emeryville, available directly from the NGA is an inexpensive paperback full of history, photos, and interesting details about the sport.  It’s a quick read, yet loaded with information organized by decade.

The Care of The Racing and Retired Greyhound (AKA The Bible) should be a part of all greyhound lovers’ libraries. This exhaustive manual newly revised to include sections on geriatrics and other topics pertinent to adopted hounds can be obtained from both the NGA and GEM. Amongst others, there are chapters covering anatomy, treatment of medical problems, medications, pediatrics and excellent illustrative photos throughout the book.  Dr. Linda Blythe (one of the authors) will join us at the Expo for a book signing- it will be an honor to meet her.

Keefer: The Peoples’ Choice by Leslie Wooten is one of my personal favorites. It is a wonderfully written biography of Keefer, a racing greyhound who through the ups and downs of his career became a huge crowd favorite and a true greyhound celebrity. Ms. Wooten writes with deep sensitivity and obvious love and respect for her subject. I cannot recommend this one strongly enough. If you’d like a copy, the NGA and Amazon both carry the book.

Lastly, want to learn more about racing life and your dog’s past? The Born to Run videos are available on the internet and are a great start.

The New World

17 February, 08

10 Feb 08 Sunday

The icy wind blows the cirrus clouds into delicate feathers as I stumble down the driveway to the car. Armed with a very large cup of coffee, I make the ten minute drive to the track. I am not a morning person… Henry has invited me over today even though the kennel helper week has not yet begun to meet the dogs and see his kennel. For this I would get up at 3:00 AM with a smile on my face if I had to. But it’s 8:00, and I remind myself that he’s already been hard at work for two hours after leaving the kennel for home at midnight once all the dogs were settled in after the evening racing.

As I have not been issued the proper identification badge yet, Henry meets me in the track parking lot and I follow his car past the security booth into the kennel compound. Rows of long white buildings border the roads, each numbered and housing two racing kennels. We come to a stop at his building and park; the green and yellow greyhound sign cut-out on the chainlink door says Ryan Racing. Walking past two very clean turnout pens and an enormous freezer, we go in. The kennel is immaculate- white walls brighten the two large rooms which are lined with banks of large crates and 68 greyhounds bark happily in greeting to Henry and This New Person. I check my pulse to see if I have actually died and gone to heaven. Reassuring myself that I still inhabit this planet, I walk across the clean poured cement floor to start visiting the dogs. There isn’t even a shred of bedding paper on the floor much less a scuff mark. One might think that there would be an odor present with this many dogs housed, but the only thing I can smell is the chicken cooking in the stew for the dogs that Henry started when he came in this morning.

I will not detail all we do today but suffice it to say we do everything from feeding to physical care to racing. Instead, I will wait to tell you more about many things once the Kennel Week starts. Today I got to spend a wonderful amount of time getting to know the dogs and had the very special chance to follow Henry around (um, make that sprint as that man is fast) and see racing life from a trainer’s perspective. Incredible AND exhausting! One brief vignette: one of his dogs won his B race, Henry was quietly pleased. However, one of his younger girls in a CJ race (the step at Raynham after Maiden) figured out how to navigate the traffic and passed several dogs at the far turn and into the stretch to finish far better than she had started. He couldn’t wipe the smile off his face- he was so pleased that she used her head and showed a lot of heart in doing this.

It’s now 4:00pm and we return to the kennel so that Henry can get the dogs ready who will be in schooling races later today. We take our leave in the road in front of the kennel and I drive home, turning the events of the day over in my mind. Now we must wait to hear from Gary Temple the Raynham assistant general manager and Linda Jensen about the dates for Kennel Week. It cannot come soon enough, methinks- I look forward to time with the dogs and Henry again and am so thankful for this experience thus far.

First Things First

14 February, 08

5 Feb 08 Tuesday

Tuesday is a “dark” day atRaynham (no racing is held) and it’s living up to its name.  I stand in the empty and unlit track lobby looking out onto the silt, sand, and clay track as the rain falls and imagine some of my dogs and many of yours during their racing days here.   In my mind I hear the excited, happy barking that begins when the lure starts then see them flying out of the boxes and down the track in joyous pursuit. 
Why am I here today? 

The place is closed- but it isn’t.
I’ve been offered a very special chance to work for a week here as a kennel helper, and I can’t wait.  Today, I will meet Linda Jensen who will introduce me to Henry Chin, owner and trainer of Ryan Racing.  Henry, brave soul that he is, has agreed to take on yours truly as a volunteer, let me hug his dogs, teach me how things are done properly, answer my endless questions, and help me understand every aspect of kennel work and the care of racing greyhounds. 
We sit down to lunch in the Grille Room.  Many people in the greyhound industry come from generations of dogmen.  Not so Henry.  He tells us that he came to the races many, many years ago for the first time with some friends.  He loved watching the dogs but most of all, he really wanted to know where they went when they were done for the day.   He had to find out:  working in his family’s  restaurant, he saved up enough money to go to a “greyhound school”  in Taunton that trained students as greyhound trainers.  His face lights up as he tells of his education there- he still keeps the big notebook he compiled in class with him in the kennel all these years later.

Linda had told me that the dogmen tend to be shy people.  But here was this man who could not stop smiling as he animatedly told us about his dogs.  He did not speak of their wins or track records- he spoke of their personalities and temperaments, of how each learns differently, of who likes what, and how he learns to read what they are trying to say, be it a change of tailset or the droop of an ear.  He loves his dogs and works endlessly to keep them happy and healthy- it is the joy of his life.  I am the happiest volunteer in the universe and have learned more in three hours with Henry and Linda than I have in years.

Downing

13 February, 08

He’s here for inspiration
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