Seriously folks, I get tired. Writing about the antics, misadventures and shenanigans of Carey Nation (Grey2k), rather than about the astounding feats of athleticism and speed displayed by the Racing Greyhound athletes who are now competing for the World Classic championship in Hollywood, FL, isn’t what I’d choose to do if I had my druthers.
Yet, here we go again. Recently, the blogger-in-chief of Grey2k embarrassingly demonstrated that he has no conception of the role of the Scientific Method in research, and even less understanding of Greyhound locomotion. He cited and commented on a self-described “subjective” and non-peer reviewed study of bone remodeling observed in the central tarsus bones of 12 New Zealand-based greyhounds—a statistically insignificant sampling, by the way. This supposedly means that because racing on oval tracks causes asymmetrical bone remodeling between the left and right “hock” and can cause micro-fractures (which can then become the precursors to more serious fractures) therefore, it must be written for all and sundry of Carey Nation:
“Catastrophic greyhound injuries are an entirely predictable result of this cruel industry. As long as dog racing continues, thousands of greyhounds will suffer broken legs and die on the track.”
So spaketh the blogger-in-chief. He might just as well have said “As long as greyhounds continue to run at all , in any venue, thousands of greyhounds will suffer broken hocks and die, whether they at the dog park running into trees or other animals, in a coursing meadow stepping in chuck holes or on rocks, or charging across the road after a squirrel.”
Aside from the melodrama, he neglects to mention that catastrophic injuries which are the result of any activity at all are often “entirely predictable”, and that is why we have things like insurance. The insurance company has no idea whether you will suffer a heart attack this year playing tennis. But they know quite precisely how many people of your age and sex will. That’s how they set their rates so that they can stay in business and turn a profit. So, tennis lovers beware—-you and your sport could be the subject of the blogger-in-chief’s next editorial. We won’t bother discussing your automobile/liability insurance … for now.
I don’t mean to trivialize a serious subject as the blogger-in-chief has — one that is paramount in the minds of Greyhound Racing professionals the world over and a major source of heartbreak and anxiety for all lovers of the Racing Greyhound breed. However, the cited study shed little new light on the matter of “broken hocks.” Nor did it use a control group of Greyhounds, such as straight-line coursing dogs, to investigate how bone remodeling may have occurred and differed between the two groups, and what that might mean. We may have learned something we didn’t already know had that been the case.
The fact of the matter is that each and every dog, whether they are a straight-line coursing greyhound or a track racing greyhound (or a Shih Tzu), is either “left-footed” or “right-footed”, preferring to run on either its left or right lead. The term “lead” is indicative of the sequence of footfalls in one complete phase of stride. The sequence of footfalls is different from left lead to right lead. For example, when a Greyhound turns left, as he does during a race on the track, he must be on his “left lead”. The left lead, whether starting from a standstill, coursing a straight line, or turning, places more of the loading stresses of thrust and the centrifugal forces of turning on the right rear. It is vice-versa when the greyhound is running on his right lead (and/or turning right).
If the “subjective” conclusions of the aforementioned study are to be taken at face value, then greyhounds who prefer to run on their left lead when starting or galloping on a straightaway will exhibit greater bone-remodeling on their right, even if they never set foot on an oval-shaped racetrack. And that makes perfect sense, as coursing greyhounds, whose main energies are spent coursing in a straight line, can and do suffer hock injuries and fractures, as do common, active pets.
The bottom line, which the blogger-in-chief also neglected to mention, is that in order to achieve “skeletal fitness” for any activity, the athlete must train at that precise activity, because bones strengthen and “remodel”, not unlike muscles, with targeted exercise.
The following, from a paper entitled “STRESS FRACTURES IN RACING GREYHOUNDS” by
Alessandro Piras DVM MRCVS ISVS
“An important conclusion based on these concepts is that skeletal fitness for a specific activity, cannot usually be achieved unless that activity is part of the training program. For example, training dogs by only galloping in a straight line or by swimming, is very unlikely to achieve skeletal fitness for racing anticlockwise on a circular track because both activities do not allow the specific skeletal adaptation to the
asymmetrical loads generated during the race around bends in a specific direction.”
So, unless we are just looking to evoke an emotional response from the public, or promoting the concept of track racing on a straight-line course, the broader study of racing injuries remains a work-in-progress and is best interpreted and explained by real experts, who actually know something about greyhounds. That broader study, it should be mentioned, has been of untold benefit to the general canine population in pioneering revolutionary and state of the art surgical techniques among other advances in veterinary science.
The question that all these negative aspersions cast toward greyhound racing always brings immediately to mind, but the one never answered, is “compared to what?”
Grey2k is fond of reciting the number of injuries sustained by greyhounds while racing, over a given period of time at a given racetrack. What they never do is to include the number of opportunities there were for the greyhounds to have sustained those injuries. For example, on a typical program of racing, there might be 15 individual racing events. There are 8 greyhounds in each of those events….therefore, 8×15=120 “opportunities to sustain an injury” of any type while racing—in only one night of racing activity. Each and every statistical analysis of the number of injuries versus the number of opportunities to sustain an injury, however slight, has shown that the RATE of injury is always just a mere fraction of one percent. That rate of injury, however, is never compared to the injury rates of other unique groups of working or sporting canines, nor to the general canine population.
Grey2k has managed to create in the public mind, a “Xanadu”, where no greyhounds are ever beset by illness, where they never suffer an injury, and where no risky behavior, however natural, is ever exhibited by any greyhound in any situation for any reason. This mythical Xanadu, however, is only for Greyhounds and their breeders, owners and trainers. All other canines and their people are not allowed to enter it.
With that GREYHOUNDS ONLY Xanadu in mind, we might note that a 2003 article by Consumer Reports, concerning the costs of pet ownership, included this:
“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.”
Lawrence Scanlan (of Horse Whisperer fame) writes, in his book “The Horse That God Built”…
“A University of Minnesota study, done in 1993, revealed that 840 Thoroughbreds were fatally injured on American racetracks the year before. One horse in every 22 races—3566 horses in all—-was so severely injured that he pulled up short of the finish line.”
Comparatively speaking, even compared to ordinary pets, racing greyhounds, in their tightly controlled racing environment, would seem to be relatively safe as houses. And that’s really the only issue that should have ever entered the public discourse. Are Racing Greyhounds in their racing environs at greater or lesser risk of injury than are other unique groups of canines or than the general canine population? If one cannot answer that question with factual, un-spun data, then one has no business trying to turn an entire working class of racing professionals into felons because of some mythical, unattainable Xanadu, with which they choose to rhetorically imprison only Racing Greyhounds and their caretakers.
On a personal note, having had the great good fortune to have known and trained thousands of racing greyhounds, I’ve splinted my share of fractured hocks, like every other good trainer has. Any one of those trainers can tell you, and I will do so here and now, that the biggest problem you usually face with a greyhound who has injured their hock, is to keep them from doing further damage to it. That is what they invariably attempt to do, immediately looking to horse around with their kennel mates, as if nothing extraordinary had ever happened, as soon as you’ve set the darn splint.