The Roots of Anti-racing Activism

By Dennis McKeon

There have been few issues in the realm of public discussion that have engendered more misunderstanding, misinformation or more vitriolic speech, than whether or not Greyhound Racing should remain a lawful, state-regulated activity.

Anti-racing activists have used their media bully pulpit to publicize their point of view since the late 1970s, while media journalists have seldom, if ever, asked a penetrating question of them. The popular narrative of greyhound racing, as well as the lives of Racing Greyhounds, has been spun by those who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, and who have absolutely no experience working within greyhound racing, in any capacity whatsoever.

Now the greyhound racing community is just as responsible for the reams of misinformation that abound on the subject of greyhounds and greyhound racing, because, until only recently, they have been in virtual denial of the true agenda and the zealous extremism of these various anti-racing activist groups. They have never made a concerted effort to get their side of the story out there to the public.

So let’s all do a little exercise here, and see if we can’t figure out just what is the truth about Racing Greyhounds and greyhound racing…and who are the truth-tellers, and who are the prevaricators. Exploring the roots of anti-racing activism, this vignette is pretty much a microcosm of the entire controversy.

Q. Who began formalized adoption of retired racing greyhounds?

A. The racing community began formalized adoption of retired racers. The earliest adoption pioneers were Ed Keelan, general manager of the tracks at Seabrook and Plainfield, and various racing greyhound owners, breeders and trainers. The quote below is from a letter written by one of those adoption pioneers, racing greyhound owner and breeder, the late Joan Dillon, which appeared in the April 1981 edition of Turnout Magazine:

“It would be nice if more tracks would have an adoption agency for retired greyhounds…I see by a recent “Post Time” (newsletter article), that Seabrook now has such an agency”.
This track-operated adoption effort was actually begun sometime before 1981, when Joan’s letter was published.

In that same issue of Turnout Magazine, which was published by the Massachusetts breeders’ and kennel owners’ New England Greyhound Association, and edited by Greg Farley (the fiancee of a racing-greyhound owner, and a former sports scribe for the Boston Record-American), is an article by UK adoption pioneer, Gee Lebon. Gee was a regular, featured columnist in Turnout, which began publication in 1979. Her column always concerned encouragement and advice to adopters and potential adopters of retired greyhounds..So, while reading the various diatribes of the current anti-racing activist movement, one might have surmised that greyhound owners were dragged by the hair of their heads, kicking and screaming, into grudgingly supporting adoption, nothing could be further from the truth.

As a matter of fact, these early, grassroots, racing community efforts at formal adoption infrastructure and outreach were actually undermined by the anti-racing activists of the era. They were focused, at the time, on outlawing the use of live jackrabbits in the training of soon-to-be racers. The way they went about this, through their media allies, was to characterize the Racing Greyhound as having been “TRAINED TO KILL!!!!”, and as being an unsafe and unstable breed, given to mercurial and unpredictable outbursts of bloodlust—because they had been allowed to course after their natural prey, the verminous, crop-destroying jackrabbit.

It didn’t matter that most never got close enough to the jackrabbit to even lick their chops—it helped them get their point across–sadly, at the expense of thousands of could-have-been adoptions. Their boisterous campaign, not surprisingly, didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the greyhound’s potential adoptive audience. At the time, even the then-president of the seminal version of the now animal rights extremist group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), John Hoyt, had told Farley, in a 1983 interview for Turnout Magazine:. “I don’t think the humane movement would be quick to condemn the humane destruction of these Greyhounds, though we would certainly insist that it be done humanely.”
So when you hear from those who didn’t know a greyhound from a grapefruit at the time, about all the “bad things” that happened to greyhounds in bygone days, you should take it with a grain of salt. It was none other than anti-racing activists of the era who were responsible for portraying the Racing Greyhound in the most unflattering light possible, and for sabotaging the earliest efforts on the part of the greyhound racing community to acquaint the public of potential greyhound adopters with the breed.
Back in those days, the greyhound races everywhere were extremely well attended, and there was keen interest in the dogs—not only as racers, but as personalities and as potential pets. The much-ballyhooed jackrabbit controversy, as well as the early, popular anti-racing mythology that concerned the wearing of muzzles, slowly eroded some of the interest in the breed as possible family pets.
Greyhounds wear muzzles, as most now know, not because they are vicious and prone to biting, but because during play with one another, should one of them take exception to another’s “enthusiasm”, and then amp-up the volume of play, sometimes things can get a little too contentious. These are very competitive animals, once their blood is up. No need for that, hence the muzzles.
It’s not a hard concept for anyone, other than who choose demagoguery over greyhound welfare, to grasp. Some things never change