by Dennis McKeon
I found this while rummaging through some old files. It came about as a solicited response to a young man, who was writing a college paper on greyhounds and greyhound racing, and was a seeker of knowledge. I think you might find it interesting, (with some updates).
He wrote…… The more races I watched that afternoon, the more I understand how Greyhounds were once one of this country’s biggest sporting draws. Back in the 1940s, an estimated 40 million Americans attended dog races each year. Racing was equally beloved in Britain, where in the 1930s it was considered the third-most popular leisure activity behind soccer and the cinema.
But Greyhound racing is near death today. The nearly two-dozen tracks that remain in this country barely turn a profit, and they’re under intense pressure from animal rights groups to halt dog racing altogether. In Florida, the money bet on dog racing plummeted nearly 60 percent between 2002 and 2010. “The only time there’s a large crowd of people watching dogs (race) is when people get up from the poker table to smoke,” Izzy Havenick, the owner of two Florida dog tracks, said recently.
Greyhound racing has fallen victim to two very different cultural and economic pressures: changing beliefs about animal welfare, and the success of the larger gambling industry. Thirty years ago, gamblers had few options—they could travel to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, or they could visit a nearby horse or dog racetrack. But as casinos sprouted up on Indian reservations and Internet gambling removed the need to leave the house to get a fix, greyhound racing lost much of its market share.
Dog racing also didn’t translate well onto television, which failed to do justice to the sport’s greatest draw—the dogs. Viewers were treated to a few seconds of sinewy blurs, followed by twenty minutes of boredom before the next race. By the time close-ups and slow-motion replay became widespread, popular greyhound was already on its way out.
I wrote….. There are many economic reasons why greyhound racing has declined. The general economy itself is a good place to begin. Casino wagering, within that, is among the most important. In most states, the “takeout” (what the state and tracks keep) on the slot machine bet is 5-6%. On greyhound racing wagers, it is closer to 15-20%. Which means that 94-95% of monies wagered on slot machines are returned to the wagering public in the form of winnings, while the greyhound racing wagering public receives a return of only 80-85%, or thereabouts, on their wagered monies, in the form of winnings.
So greyhound racing has been forced to compete on a non-level playing field from the git-go. Gamblers, no matter how astute they may be, realize they cannot show a long term profit when the takeout on each dollar they wager is hovering in the teens to sometimes even near the twenty percent mark. So most of them have deserted the greyhound races. Still and all, the racetracks make money sending their signal to off-track betting venues as well as to other tracks, and this income information is very hard to research. We know that billions are wagered on horses and greyhounds through “simulcasting”, but we don’t know the breakdowns of what percentage is bet on the horses and what is bet on the dogs. Needless to say, the greyhound racing kennels do not get much, if any of this money. I certainly hope that no one feels that because the newspaper industry is in steep and disastrous decline, we should force them to shut down.
He wrote…..Though competition and technology may have hurt the sport, animal rights groups are trying to finish it for good. They have been effective so far, successfully lobbying lawmakers and dog-lobbying voters in eight states to ban the races over the last decade.
I wrote…..The only state where operational greyhound racing has been forcibly shut down is Massachusetts. Some states have long-standing laws against greyhound racing, which were passed many years ago at the behest of the blue-blooded and well-heeled Thoroughbred racing lobby, because they feared competition for the wagering dollar from the greyhounds. Greyhound racing, as a matter of fact, is perfectly legal in 49 states. What has been made illegal, is WAGERING on greyhound races—not racing itself. What anti-racing activists have done successfully, is to create a counter-intuitive, preposterous and false narrative of the greyhound’s life, before and during their racing careers. This false narrative disingenuously portrays the Greyhound as an object of pity, for the purpose of coaxing the public to donate money to them, most of which goes to their salaries, and very little of which, if any at all, is spent on actual, hands-on greyhound welfare or rehoming.
He wrote…..Greyhound advocates point to a number of problems with the sport: racing dogs are sometimes kept in small crates for up to twenty hours a day, with few opportunities for exercise. They’re commonly fed grade 4-D meat, which comes from dead, dying, diseased, or disabled animals.
I wrote….There is no such thing as 4-D meat. There are no letter grades assigned to meat by the USDA at all. Meat is strictly graded with a pass-fail system. 4-D, meaning “dead, dying, diseased or disabled” is a creation of animal rights extremists.
The beef that most racing greyhounds are fed, consists entirely of viscera, with no by-products added. It may be sourced from non-productive, aging dairy cows, or foodstock breeding cows, who are no longer able to produce offspring, no longer prime quality specimens for supermarket display and sale, or from downed cows, who may have fallen to misadventure, injury or sickness. It is “not fit for human consumption”, but perfectly fine for carnivorous/omniverous animal consumption. Carnivores and omnivores, incidentally, in nature, are well known to seek out the old and infirm, or the sick and injured, upon which to prey, and to also feed on carrion.
This so-called 4D beef is precisely what commercial pet food companies use in their assorted products that we feed to our pets, and what zoos feed their rare and priceless carnivores. The popular BARF or “raw diet”, which many pet owners and breeders swear by and feed to their own dogs, is simply an improvisation upon the traditional, basic racing greyhound diet.
Breeders spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to breed, raise and train greyhounds to compete against one another for the monies they require to continue doing so. The idea that they would then undo that painstaking rearing and training process at the racing level, by feeding their greyhounds a diet that was harmful or in any way deficient, is, to be frank, patently absurd.
Greyhound racing professionals have had nearly 100 years to experiment with various diets and feeding protocols to achieve results that surpass their competitors in racing. Yet they all seem to agree that the basic diet of beef, vegetables, bones, kibble and water is the ideal. Years ago, many people in racing experimented with USDA inspected Horsemeat, perfectly fit for human consumption, as the staple food in their greyhounds’ diet. In the highly competitive greyhound racing marketplace, with hundreds of thousands of race results to use as feedback, it was found to be inferior to the so-called 4-D beef, and fell out of favor soon enough.
No racing greyhound spends 20 hours a day in a crate, unless they are ill or hurt, and under the veterinarian’s orders to be immobilized. From before the crack of dawn, sometimes until after midnight, greyhounds are being turned out to relieve themselves, to play and socialize with their kennel mates, and to exercise and train. They lead very busy lives.
They are walked, trotted, cantered and galloped on specially designated exercise plots, often called “sprint-paths”, and they are “schooled” on the track, in practice runs chasing the lure. Sometimes they even swim in between races to maintain their tone and form. They are groomed, bathed, whirlpooled, massaged, pedicured and otherwise fussed over, as would be any performing human athlete, by their coach or personal trainer. They expend enormous amounts of energy preparing to race and then racing.
Canines of all breeds and in the wild have been observed, ad infinitum, to sleep anywhere from 12-16 hours per day. Greyhounds are no different. They require their rest and sufficient downtime to recover from their abundant exertions and from the athletically induced stresses of training and then racing.
Like all canines, greyhounds are also “denners”. They instinctively seek out small, protected and secure places in which to rest. The crates used in racing kennels are just such places, where they can feel secure, yet still see and hear their kennel mates, and their handlers as well. They are not punitive devices, and they are well furnished with shredded paper or thick, soft carpeting for the greyhounds’ comfort. Anything that might cause their muscles to cramp or atrophy, would be counter-productive toward a successful racing career. And speaking of muscles, greyhounds have the highest muscle-to-bone ratio of any breed in the world. They don’t get and stay that way from leading lives of boredom and inactivity.
He wrote……They’re also often injured while racing; their own speed and power, coupled with the tight curves of the racetrack, can lead to broken bones, as well as lacerations and spinal injuries.
I wrote……INJURIES and RACING GREYHOUNDS
The toughest task in the world for anyone, 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 hundreds of 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 “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 compassion.
So, for the “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 “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 a 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 AVMA 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. 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 with racing greyhound injuries, Dr. Rob Gillette, a veterinarian and 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 basically 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, or that we and the dogs would be better off if racing were driven underground.
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, and the custodianship of that population, that they would even entertain such a disassembling and destructive notion, is tragic.
He wrote…..But the greatest problems stem from the racing industry’s negligent breeding practices. Thousands of Greyhounds are bred each year in the United States, but few go on to become successful racers. The rest are too small or too slow, lack the strong prey instinct that motivates them to chase after lures, or are injured while racing and forced to retire. (Even successful dogs only race until they’re about 5 years old.) Some dogs are sent back to breeding programs to stud, while others are handed over to organizations devoted to Greyhound rescue and adoption.
But too many are simply killed. In 2002, the remains of an estimated 3,000 greyhounds were found buried on the property of a former racetrack security guard named Robert Rhodes. Rhodes said that the Alabama racetrack had been paying him to dispose of unwanted dogs at the rate of about $10 per dog, and that he had been doing so for nearly forty years.
I wrote…..It costs about 12-15K dollars to breed, raise and train an average litter of greyhounds to the stage where they are ready to race. No one breeds racing greyhounds on a whim or for casual, thoughtless reasons. In this day and age of racing contraction, and ever-fewer racing opportunities, that is the road to financial ruination.
As something of a bloodline fanatic and pedigree researcher/ analyst, I am constantly in contact with breeders who wish to discuss the pros and cons of prospective matings. Much thought and consideration is put into nearly every mating done by nearly every breeder, as I can assure anyone, by simply showing them my personal volumes of emails from thoughtful breeders.
You can verify the number of greyhounds who actually make it to the track, via the NGA’s vital statistics, which include the yearly number of whelps versus the actual registrations. The number is between 85- 90%, year after year. Now some of these dogs do “wash out” early on, but they all get their shot. There are many levels of greyhound racing, much like we see in professional baseball, where there are “farm teams” of varying talent levels. The majority of racers also find their level of competitive viability.
In 2012, about half as many greyhounds were whelped in the USA and Canada, as were whelped as recently as 2006. Breedings are down dramatically, and many adoption groups are now having significant difficulty in obtaining retired racers for adoption. It seems that the demand for them now might actually equal or exceed the supply.
Robert Rhodes and the individuals who were implicated in having given him greyhounds, are about as representative of the vast majority of greyhound racing professionals, as Michael Vick is of the vast majority of pet owners.