Towards a Safer Workplace

by Dennis McKeon

Recently, in Arizona, during a work argument, a greyhound trainer at the Tucson Greyhound Park was suspended for allegedly acting in an aggressive, threatening manner toward one of his co-workers–who happened to be a woman. The racing commission acted properly, and disciplined the alleged miscreant. I do not know whether that trainer will have to take anger management classes, or whether there was a history of discord between the two parties.

I do know, however, that no one should work under the threat of physical intimidation, violence, or imminent physical injury, and I trust the judgment of the commission in the matter, and abide by the commission’s decision.

The workplace is not for expressing your anger with another, especially in a physically threatening manner, especially if you are a man and the object of your discontent is a woman. Just chill. The dogs pick up on that sort of tension, and it’s not fun for them. Your primary job as a trainer, is to maintain as stress free, relaxed and pleasant a workplace as is humanly possible, to bring out the best in your greyhounds that is canine-ly possible. The dogs don’t give a darn whether the walls of the kennel need painting, or if the color scheme is dingy and dull. But your arguing, yelling, bitching and moaning affects them, and not in a good way. So please be professional, maintain proper decorum, and keep the dogs out of your personal quibbles and disputes.

I suppose I don’t have to mention that the Grey2k Workplace Safety Posse rode into Tucson, whoopin’ and hollerin’, keyboards and tongues a blazin’, apparently to make common cause with this female greyhound trainer (gasp!) who was allegedly threatened by her male co-worker. And for once, I found myself in complete agreement with something that appeared in the Grey2kUSA blog article on the matter:

“Regardless of how you feel about greyhound racing, we should all agree that employees have the right to work in a safe environment.”

So props to Grey2k for bringing the matter to light, and for actually taking the part of a greyhound trainer. I knew, eventually, they’d have to get something right. Murphy’s Law, no?

Having done a stint on the Safety Committee at my own place of employment, it is of paramount importance to all parties that people are educated about and observe appropriate safety protocols in all operations and activities, to avoid injury. Threatening your co-workers goes beyond the pale, needless to say.

Now here’s the rub you’ve all been waiting for. As if they were the Holy Roman College of Cardinals, some agitators and apparently 100 veterinarians, have recently issued an “edict” that not only greyhounds who might be of the Catholic persuasion, but all female racing greyhounds, should be forbidden access to birth control. Under penalty, I would imagine, of eternal damnation, and to never, ever again experience the sweet, greasy delicacy of a powdered doughnut.

I’ve been associated with the Greyhound for over 40 years. I’ve trained them, I’ve raised them, and I’ve kept them as pets. I’ve studied their bloodlines, and I’ve allowed them to be blood donors. During that time, administering estrus suppressants to the females has always been standard operating procedure for actively racing greyhounds. In my day, this was done with an ultra-light dosage, intra-muscular injection of testosterone, once monthly, or bi-weekly, depending on what the vet recommended. Some preferred to use pills. None of it was illegal. The reason you don’t want females coming into season in the racing kennel is simple—young male greyhounds, bred to be fiercely competitive, in peak physical condition, and bursting with athletic vigor, are just flat out horny. When a female does come into season in the racing kennel, it puts the males under tremendous, unbearable stress. It’s “Dogs For Dummies” stuff. The canine mating dance always involves martial competition—physical battles for dominance. That’s bad. But it’s is also perfectly natural, and usually unavoidable when females in heat are in close proximity.

Trust me, you never—ever–want to see or have to break up a full blown, greyhound “barroom brawl. It’s a small war, and every greyhound in the yard suddenly and shockingly becomes a warrior. Thirty or so males, either all ganging up on the first one who squeals, or all going after one another, helter-skelter, depending upon who is closest to whom, is a terrifying and dangerous situation. Dogs can be grievously injured in these donnybrooks, and even killed. And so can you. You have no idea of the power or ruthlessness of 30 or so enraged male greyhounds who are fighting for mating privileges, or their lives, as circumstances may dictate, until you’ve risked your own life and limb helping to restore order during one of these terrifying episodes. Trying to break one up is a uniquely harrowing, formidable and menacing experience. You’ll never forget it, if you are unfortunate enough to encounter one, and lucky enough to get out of it in one piece, with all the dogs in tact.

So the idea that 100(?) veterinarians have endorsed a legislative ban on administering female contraceptives—of the same sort anyone might get from them for their pets–to greyhounds within the boundaries of South Tucson, is appalling. It’s almost malpractice. In their apparent ignorance of the day to day existence of racing greyhounds, and the ergonomics and routine of the racing kennel, they’ve made a grievous mistake, one that could become a fatal mistake. In complete disregard of the basic nature and behaviors of canines, they have placed them in harm’s way. Essentially, they have endorsed what can only be described as complete sexual anarchy and chaos in the racing greyhound kennels of Tucson. They have placed every male greyhound within that jurisdiction in potentially grave danger. They have put every female greyhound at the risk of enduring an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. Male greyhounds, as anyone who has even the vaguest familiarity with their athletic aptitudes knows, can easily scale even a seven foot fence–and quite more easily when they’re on a booty call.

Most outrageously, this ill-advised ordinance has placed each and every kennel worker in potential great peril, and significantly compromised their “right to a safe workplace”, which Grey2k was so correctly concerned about only a few paragraphs ago.

The rule is an outrage, and presents a clear and present danger to the personal safety and the emotional state of each and every human and greyhound who works and lives at the Tucson complex.

For years we have heard the uninformed rhetoric of how, in an unadulterated supply and demand situation, greyhound breeders have “overbred” their dogs, as if there were no significant expense or backbreaking work involved. As if racing opportunity was infinite and easy to come by. Now, apparently, that prolificity was a myth, compromised by estrus suppressants. The truth is, of course, that there is no evidence whatsoever that the use of estrus suppressants within the female racing greyhound population has in any way created a long term or common dysfunction or syndromatic difficulty. Greyhounds tend to be quite regular with the onset of their seasons, very fertile, and they tend to have large, healthy letters, and relatively low premature death rates.

Whatever your feelings about greyhound racing, the vets who have endorsed this appalling ordinance, and the politicians who have actuated it, need to called on the carpet. Whether they were influenced by anti-racing agitators, or they themselves harbor such sentiments, is of no consequence or of any importance here. They have placed all of the greyhounds at Tucson, as well as their handlers, in an untenable and impracticable situation. Before any greyhounds are mauled, or worse, in grisly kennel eruptions, and before any of their caretakers are injured or maimed, this absurd and hazardous legislation needs to be reassessed and repealed.