Injuries in Racing Greyhounds

by Dennis McKeon

The toughest thing in the world for anyone to do, is to get greyhound breeders and/or trainers to agree on anything. This seemingly congenital inability to coalesce pretty much defines the nature of a “my-dog-is-faster-than-your-dog” sport, a last bastion of rugged individualism if ever there was one.

Injuries are the exception that proves the rule, however. No one likes them. We all agree. Racetracks can spend thousands upon ten thousands of dollars upgrading and maintaining racing surfaces, usually with a full time staff employed to do such painstaking work. It’s not easy, and the guys who labor at it never hear from anyone when thousands of dogs go around the track safely in race after race after race, without so much as a shucked nail. Then the inevitable happens, and during the week in question, a couple of greyhounds suffer metacarpal fractures, another displaces a hock, and another breaks a toe—and the track guys can already hear the war drums beating, off in the distance.

Injuries in racing greyhounds have produced almost as much angst among the low-information public as they do among greyhound professionals, but for different reasons. Breeders and trainers spend a significant portion of their lives with their greyhounds. Breeders nurture and raise them as a canine family, from their own breeding colony and of bloodlines they have developed, often for as many as a dozen or more canine generations, and sometimes for even 3 or 4 human generations of their own family.

For example, the Randle family, one of racing’s pioneer clans, has been breeding dams from a single female family, which goes all the way back to a 1925 whelp they acquired, named Miss Judy. That is almost 90 years of producing champions and near champions, generation after generation, from the same female taproot. This is breed custodianship and nurturing excellence of the highest order. Their immortal Real Huntsman, two-time winner of the hallowed American Derby and winner of just about every other major race of his era, was from this very same female line. He is considered by many, including yours truly, to have been perhaps the most accomplished and versatile racing greyhound of any era.

Breeders take an enormous amount of pride in their racing greyhounds, and invest even more emotion, labor, time and money in caring for, improving and preserving their bloodlines. They are never happy to see one of their canine family members hurt or injured in any way. And yes, it is an expensive proposition to see one’s greyhounds suffer a rash of injuries, even minor ones, and to deny that would be fundamentally disingenuous. But if you think for one second, that is the only “hurt”, then you haven’t a clue as to what motivates real greyhound professionals. It’s a sad commentary on our pop culture, and anti-racing dogma and ideology, that anyone would think breeders are casual or blase about having a hurt greyhound who wears the emblem of their passion, devotion, labor, skills and attentiveness to details–one they watched and helped come into the world at an ungodly hour of the morning–one that they placed on her dam’s teat so she might take her first drink of mother’s milk. If that is the case, we are missing the ocean for the waves.

The greyhounds placed in care of the track trainer are their co-workers. The track trainer knows each and every one of them as well as he knows any of his human friends or family members, and spends far more time with them. A sharp and dedicated trainer will visualize and memorize every nuance of every greyhound’s movement and galloping action, every quirk or idiosyncrasy of their personalities and kennel habits, and can tell in a moment, when something is not right with them. He can also tell, simply by touching them, without seeing them, who they are. He gives himself to them, and they to him. The more he gives, the more he receives in return. It’s a beautiful thing.

Nothing is more upsetting to a good track trainer than seeing one of his greyhounds suffer an injury, unless it would be one of his own children. That’s a fact. It shouldn’t take a whole lot of empathy for anyone to understand that. And if you have trouble with that, well then, I’m truly sorry. I can’t reach you.
Now a lot of controversy has arisen as a result of certain, self-anointed “humane greyhound protectors” who contend that greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane because greyhounds can and do suffer injuries while racing. They seem to promote the idea that even one racing related injury is too many, and it is the result of unbridled human greed over-ruling compassionate, empathetic kindness.

So, for the “humane greyhound protector”, state-regulated greyhound racing should be a crime, because greyhounds are sometimes injured while racing, and therefore racing is “cruel and inhumane”. My question to them is “compared to what?”

I have never received an answer to that question from any “humane greyhound protector”. It’s not as if accidental injury is the sole domain of racing greyhounds. Ordinary and sedentary household pets suffer injuries all the time.
As a matter of fact, Consumer Reports, in an article on pet ownership, cites a study done by the American Veterinary and Medical Association and says: “Roughly 1 in 10 cats and dogs visited the vet for an emergency in 2001, according to a survey of 54,240 pet owners by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2002.”

One only has to visit websites like Greytalk, which specializes in greyhound adopter networking and advice to greyhound adopters, to see that a shocking number of retired greyhounds manage to injure themselves in a plethora of ways–not to mention the innumerable amber alerts, where greyhounds manage to get loose, often for days, and often a bit worse for wear when they are found. Whether racing or retired, these are large dogs, otherworldly athletes, who can reach super-canine speeds in a very short time, who can turn on a dime, and often do. Injuries happen.

So while we may read about the numbers of injuries that occurred at a certain racetrack over a certain period of time, we never seem to see that number placed in any sort of context. We know that injuries happen to all breeds in all manner of ways, no matter what their lot in life.

Common house pets, military dogs, police dogs, service dogs, flyball dogs, agility dogs, guard dogs, hunting dogs, sled-pulling dogs, and lure coursing dogs, all have the opportunity, and sometimes do sustain injuries. Injuries are not unique to racing greyhounds. So the crucial information we need, to avoid singling out greyhound professionals for special censure and discrimination, and to protect the Greyhound from harmful, breed-specific legislation is:
“Are greyhounds in the racing population, and in their tightly controlled and state-regulated racing environs, doing what they have been bred and love to do, at greater or lesser risk of injury than are these other unique groups of sporting or working dogs? Or even the everyday family dog, who according to the AVMA, has a about a 1 in 20 chance of being rushed to the vet for an emergency this year?”

Results of a survey reported in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, quantified the frequency and types of agility-associated injuries.

Per an article on the website, Speaking For Spot, here are some of the data gathered for that AMVA study, regarding injuries suffered by dogs who participated in agility competitions:

“The surveys were completed by 1,669 handlers of 3,801 agility dogs around the world. The data was collected in 2009. (Yes, there is typically quite a long lag time between acquisition of data and publication within the veterinary literature.) Handlers were asked to provide information, to the best of their knowledge, about the cause and nature of their dogs’ injuries. Documentation by a veterinarian was not required.

Here are some of the studies’ findings:

One third (31.8%) of the dogs experienced agility-related injuries.
27.6% of the injured dogs sustained more than one agility-related injury.
Soft tissue strains, sprains, and contusions (bruising) were the most commonly reported injuries.
Of the 1,523 injuries analyzed, the shoulder, back, neck, and toes were the most commonly affected sites
Of the injuries 50.5% were mild (required less than one month for recovery) and 44.6% were severe (required two months or longer for recovery). The remaining 4.9% were unclassified.
Injuries were commonly attributed to faulty navigation/interaction with bar jumps, A-frames, and dog walk obstacles.
There was no significant difference between the numbers of injuries that occurred during practice versus competitions.

To establish some sort of comparative context to racing greyhound injuries, Dr. Rob Gillette, a noted expert on canine and greyhound biomechanics, has this to offer:

“In a survey reported by Bloomberg and Dugger, there were 761 injuries reported for a total of 47,323 races ran at sixteen racetracks between the years of 1984-1990. Eight Greyhounds run in a race, so the total number of greyhounds competing one time or more included in this survey were 378,584. This means that the injury ratio is 0.2%. This number of injuries is miniscule, when compared to figures from the field of human sports medicine. Sports Injuries Online, a website developed to provide sports medicine information, reports that sports injuries are the leading cause of unintentional injury in children and youth and peak at 42% annually for people aged 15 to 24. They also report that sport Injuries represent a significant public health concern accounting for 23% of all traumas. When a comparison is made between human athletes and canine athletes, it shows that Greyhound racing is a very safe sport.”

Every subsequent study of greyhound injury rates since then, has confirmed Bloomberg and Dugger’s findings.

The idea of using injuries as a pretext to ban such a tightly, state-regulated sport as greyhound racing, is as absurd as the idea that we should ban all manner of canine athletic competitions that present any risk of injury to the participants.

The fact that there are people posing as greyhound protectors, who are so oblivious to the essence and nature of an entire population of racing dogs, that they would even entertain such a disassembling and destructive notion, is tragic.

copyright, 2015