From Niner to Now, Where the Truth Lives

by Betty Z.

It was 1995, and I had met a Greyhound. Up close and personal. And she was lovely. That chance encounter changed my life… and then changed it again.

I watched the documentaries of the era. You all know the ones I mean. The abuses, the horror stories, the media versions of Life In Racing that would tug at public heartstrings and open public wallets. I decided to “save a life” and bring home a “desperate” dog.

The nearest adoption group to me was overjoyed. “Yay! Here’s your information package, here’s your adoption application. We’re so glad you called.”

Niner landed in my care that summer. Stunningly beautiful, absolutely delightful. There was no desperation in her. I looked for it. It wasn’t there. She was charming and happy and just plain funny. The adoption people assured me that she had been a miserable dog at the track. “She’s happy now because she knows she never has to race again”. Um…. huh? How might she know that?

I didn’t know squat about racing. Maybe the dogs are psychic. Ok, I let it pass and got swept up in Meet and Greets, volunteering and letter writing. Why, after all, would these kind and loving people lie to me? They must know what they’re talking about, so I believed them. And as much as I didn’t know about racing.. I also didn’t know about adoption groups. Without meaning to, I had stumbled into the AR fort.

AR as in Anti Racing.

The following autumn, after I had adopted my second retiree, I found that there was another side to the story. I should have known that there was one, but the adoption people were not inclined to provide such wisdom, and where would I have discovered it anyway…. without a computer? Ah, my little window to the world. At first, I read the comments with suspicion. I had seen the documentaries, remember? And I had been forced to watch one on the day I adopted my Niner. You racing folks have some explaining to do.

And they did. They were patient and understanding. Yes, we know what you’ve seen, and we don’t blame you for believing it. It’s pretty convincing stuff. But listen…

And I did. They explained many many things to me, with logic and with facts. They described the outdated video footage (much of which had been filmed in foreign countries) and they agreed that there were still things that needed to be made better. “There are bad people. They are not the norm.” And they allowed me to form my own opinion.

*gasp* Really? But how do I do that? I have no first hand experience. Just your words and theirs, which are the absolute contradictions of one another. “Maybe you can find out for yourself.”

It took me a while to get there. I tucked all the words that everybody had said into the deep dark places in my mind, and set off to learn the truth. Because somebody was lying to me. Maybe I’m just an oddball, but I do hate to be lied to.

It’s been several years now since I took my first job in the racing biz, on Mary Butlers farm in Abilene, Kansas. In the very first moment, I knew who my liars were. Mary may not have been the most charming of employers (ok, she was a brute), but her dogs were meticulously tended. Her kennels were spotlessly clean. Her whelping stalls were even cleaner. The dogs were permitted to pounce us with wild abandon. No hand could be raised, no rake could be swung. Even swearing at them was a crime, punishable by… well, there was a pretty steady turnover of help on that farm. But the dogs were first. The Dogs Were First.

When I couldn’t stand Mary anymore (for personal reasons.. nothing to do with the dogs), I set out to find work at the track in Kansas City. I’d spent 11 months (and 3 days, but who’s counting?) learning how to take girlies down, how to keep a kennel clean, how to maintain a peaceful turnout, how to respect my dogs, and I went to The Woodlands with a hopeful heart. I found that, while I loved the farm work and watching the babies grow up, the competitive atmosphere of actually racing was much more to my liking. But surely, here would be the place that abuses would surface. After all, nobody had ever told me that the FARMS were nasty. It’s racing that damages these doggie hearts.

Jim Martin is a mountain of a man. He hired me sight unseen, and scared me to death. “You must be Betty!!!” he bellowed. Even if I wasn’t, I’d have agreed to it. The man terrified me. Until I saw him with his dogs. Somehow, he could cram his entire self into an upper crate to cuddle one of his girlies. And then another, and another. And I could hear the gentle chuckles in his voice as he chatted and cooed. Couldn’t hear the words… they were not for me. They were for his dogs. Only for his dogs. We were a good match, Jim and I. He was all about his girlies, I was all about my boys. Between us, we covered the genders with all the love in our hearts.

I’ve been around some since then. The Woodlands closed and cast me adrift, and I chose to chase my chosen profession .. where ever it might take me. To The Valley, to Gulf Park, to The Vic. From there to Jax and Wheeling and finally (currently) at Southland. Through it all, I have seen quite a lot, and I’ll admit that some of it has been unpleasant. But the bad stuff was never about dogs in peril. Ever. Was I just lucky somehow?

Not likely. I’m not a lucky person anyway and the percentages simply forbid that much “luck” for anybody. Simple logic describes that if I couldn’t stumble on Greyhound abuse with that many venues on my resume, it’s probably a very rare occurance.

Grey2K will have you believe that we, as a group and across the board, go gleefully into the sport so we can kill dogs. We don’t. We go into this with the greatest respect for the breed and its specific needs. We value him as an athlete first, as a genetic miracle second, and cater to his every requirement while he is in our care. Does he pay our bills? Yes he does. Is this exploitation? No. Why the hell not???

Because that would suggest that we have no feelings at all for the dogs. Each one as an individual, all of them as a breed. Without this very visible proof of their ability, we’d be unable to go about breedings that will maintain (at the very least) and improve (which is what animals even do in the wild) the genetics of the breed we love. Proof in pudding, as it were.

I love my dogs. I love this breed. I love the race, and I will go to my grave defending those of us who do it right. Go fast, turn left.