The Poisoned Well

by Dennis McKeon

The purpose of this essay is to call attention to and to deconstruct some of the basic mythology that exists and is rampant on social media, concerning the greyhounds we know and love.

This mythology not only misrepresents the history and legacy of the greyhound, but also falsifies what is the norm in greyhound life and existence prior to adoption, sometimes going into erroneous and counter-intuitive detail about things such as diet, parasitology, temperament, care, socialization and the cause and effect of the greyhound’s life as a performing athlete.

This can lead to a myriad of misunderstanding among those who are breed novices or novice adopters, and can cause complications and misinterpretations of behaviors when greyhounds are in the challenging process of being habituated to an entirely new life in adoption.

For example, there is a commonly expressed observation that, frankly, simply flies in the face of everything we know to be true about the cause and effect of selective breeding to a specific function, upon a population of dogs .

Today’s greyhounds are bred to race–and for no other reason. While it is indeed “fun” for them to simply run, they are driven by nearly 100 years of selectivity and genetically ingrained demand to “lead the pack”, which is the object of racing. The only greyhounds who are used for breeding, are greyhounds who showed the most intense desire and drive to lead the pack, and to compete furiously for that privilege. While not every greyhound born and who later goes into adoption expresses that as a racer, most of them do, to the best of their ability, and as a matter of inheritance. Now that is a facet of most greyhounds that people who have been misled about the breed, might not be prepared to cope with should it manifest in some way, and particularly if the greyhound has no athletic outlet for that expression and desire.

The tendency, in light of the litany of misinformation that is readily available to the novice, is to disconnect the individual greyhound from the population of greyhounds— the population from where all greyhounds emerge, that is the wellspring of genetic diversity and breed adaptation, and which has been engendered and supported by function alone, and the monies it generates.

Unfortunately, the well of perception, regarding racing greyhounds, has been thoroughly poisoned. The toxic mythology, much of it negative and some of it downright hateful, which has been created about the Racing Greyhound, has become so ingrained within the public mind and the mainstream of pop-greyhound culture, that it must be tempting for a novice greyhound adopter to take some or even all of it, without a huge block of salt, as they should.

The core of misunderstanding stems from the simple inability of some people to grasp a very basic and logical concept. And that would be the idea that a population of working/sporting dogs, who are bred meticulously and with the highest degree of selectivity, can be perfectly happy, fulfilled and content doing exactly what it is that they have been bred to do for centuries, or an improvisation upon that function—which is what greyhound racing is to hunting and coursing. And when succeeding at that function is in a large part reliant upon the greyhounds’ optimal physical, mental and emotional well being, and where the humans who care for them are reliant upon that success for their own security and existence, we have achieved equilibrium.

It is simply not true that what we perceive as traditional “pet life” is necessarily the most appealing or satisfactory life for a young greyhound, at the peak of fitness, and driven by millennia of instinct that has been relentlessly honed, generation after generation, for centuries.

Moreover, I would suggest that suppression of such ingrained and genetic demand is not at all in the best interest of the vast and overwhelming majority of greyhounds, and would have significant physical and emotional consequences for the individual, were there no tightly regulated outlet for the immutable demands of DNA, heritable behaviors and collective consciousness, such as state regulated racing.

The periphery of pop greyhound mythology is populated by straw men, who are entirely averse to grasping the entirety of greyhound experience, nature and disposition.

Greyhounds, for example, “play” with their littermates, and their play consists of chasing things. This play can be chasing one another, chasing a fur attached to a rope, or a drag lure, or even chasing a lure attached to a whirlygig. Racing and competing with one another is the ultimate and definitive “play expression” of a breed that is driven by desire and design, to do that very thing.

So the inanimate pet toys we buy in the store might very well have no intrinsic appeal to a dog whose derivation of play pleasure comes from chasing down and capturing moving creatures or objects. So when we read of a retired pet owner who assumes that because her new pet has no interest in toys, therefore she must have been deprived of play and play activity, we can view the situation with some perspective and understanding.

As far as I know, there have been no studies done to suggest that the infamous and mythological maladies of “Stair Deprivation Syndrome” or “Glass Door Deficiency” are contagious, or pose any significant existential threat to the population of greyhounds, worldwide. We are often led to believe that since greyhounds are unfamiliar with these things, they are somehow deprived of a critical value during their lives as racers.

The very suggestions that racing greyhounds who live on breeding establishments or in kennels, not to mention adopted greyhounds, who happen to live in single story ranch style houses, or in homes with only wooden doors, are in any way suffering from being unfamiliar with stairs or large rectangles of glass, are probably two of the most revealing applications of unreason that I can think of, as it concerns the popular perception of greyhounds–who, incidentally, during their time as racing athletes, have probably never ridden in an automobile, been on a boat, or slept in a tree house, either.

Deconstructing the pop mythology of the greyhound is of paramount importance, and should be to anyone who wishes for the breed to be completely understood, appreciated and embraced for whom and what they actually are, not what our inner “Walt Disney” imagines they are, or should be.

This litany of nonsense and propaganda has caused inestimable problems for pet owners, who consistently, through no fault of their own, can fail to intuit perfectly normal greyhound behaviors as such, and who are then likely to infer that their dog was in some way abused or mistreated—when nothing of the sort was actually the case. The very idea that the greyhound might pine for his previous, well-structured, mentally and physically stimulating life, as a member of a racing colony of his peers and packmates, is beyond conception for many within the sphere of his retirement.

Regardless of which side of the divide we are on, the greyhounds we adopt are racing greyhounds, who have, in most cases, raced. Whether we approve of the business of racing greyhounds never crosses the greyhound’s mind. He is what he is, irrespective of business models, human narratives or moral constructs

In any event, it is always to the greyhound’s and the adopter’s advantage to be informed of what is the “cause and effect” of tightly focused and highly selective purpose-breeding, and what is the existential norm for the majority of greyhounds. Nothing any of us say here can mute the essential nature of the purpose-bred greyhound, or entirely clarify the sometimes difficult process of habituation to life as a pet for the dogs themselves.

But when that process is begun from the vantage point where we have entirely dismissed the possibility that a purpose-bred dog, within a colony of purpose bred dogs, cannot possibly have been perfectly content and fulfilled–that when his adjustment becomes problematic, or his behavior inscrutable, we presume it cannot possibly be because there is now a great void in his life, or because he might actually have preferred things as they were, then we may have distorted his reality in our own minds, to a degree where it can become exponential and holistic–and not to his short or long-term benefit–or to the adopter’s.

copyright, 2015