By Rebecca Simmons
In the tenth century, King Howel of Wales declared that the penalty for killing a greyhound was the same as that of killing a person—death. In the days of the Egyptians, greyhounds were valued by the pharaohs for their grace, beauty and mild temperament. But in the 21st century greyhounds in the racing world are prized for only one thing—speed. In 2003 alone, an estimated 7,500 to 20,000 greyhounds were euthanized simply because they couldn’t run fast enough.
It’s is an industry that exists solely for the entertainment of humans—at the cost of animal lives. “Greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane and should be outlawed nationwide,” says Carey Theil, president of GREY2K USA, a national anti-greyhound-racing group based in Massachusetts that has partnered with The HSUS and the ASPCA to form the National Greyhound Legislative Coalition.
Because greyhound racing has little to do with dogs and everything to do with money, scant regard is given to the humane treatment of the greyhounds. “This is an industry that places profits above the health and welfare of greyhounds,” says Theil. How else would you explain the culling of unwanted dogs, a general disregard toward animal injury, and the inhumane living conditions that the dogs endure?
Struggling to Survive
Greyhounds are at a disadvantage even before they are born. Tens of thousands of greyhounds are bred annually, many more than are needed to race, in an attempt to create the fastest dogs. The greyhounds are then “weeded out”—killed if they are at any time determined unable to become racetrack stars.
“From the time they are born, they are judged for their racing ability,” says Laura Bevan, director of the Southeast Regional Office of The HSUS. “As puppies they may be killed, or culled, if they don’t have potential to be good racers. After that, any injury or slow down of speed can mean death. The dogs are a commercial product, and once it is determined that they don’t have value as a racer at a track, their days are numbered.”
Throughout their racing career, the dogs routinely endure inhumane conditions and have little human contact. “Many greyhound farms are barely getting by financially, so the dogs are kept caged most of the time and fed low quality foods. Each dog is a major expense, which is why so many are killed when they are deemed unfit to race,” says Bevan.
In addition, greyhounds are very vulnerable to injury. According to Theil, thousands of racing dogs are injured each year nationwide. The most common miseries are bone fractures and soft tissue injuries. Less common afflictions include spinal injuries, seizures, and death from cardiac arrest.
A National Disgrace
Greyhound racing is not an isolated occurrence—tracks exist legally in almost every part of the nation, from New England to the Rockies. Currently 15 states operate greyhound tracks: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Florida tops the list with 16 tracks.
Luckily for greyhounds and animal lovers, greyhound racing is on the way out. “Over the last three years, we have defeated every major attempt to subsidize dog racing nationwide,” Theil says. What’s more, attendance at racetracks is dwindling and revenue has decreased significantly.
During the 1990s, the total amount wagered on greyhound racing fell a staggering 45%. As a result, many tracks have looked to make up lost revenue through slot machines, video lottery terminals, and other forms of gambling. Anti-greyhound-racing groups have undoubtedly helped force the industry into this slump. These groups exist for one simple reason: to stop greyhound racing.
A recent victory occurred on May 24, 2004, when Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell signed a law banning greyhound racing in the state. Since Pennsylvania doesn’t currently operate any tracks, this may seem insignificant in the fight against greyhound racing. But, according to Ellie Sciurba, president of Pennsylvania Citizens Against Greyhound Racing, the law is monumental because it is a proactive measure that allows the state to be “a role model, declaring that greyhound racing is not an acceptable form of human entertainment.”
The law also prevents Pennsylvania from becoming involved in greyhound racing in the future. Pennsylvania joins Idaho, Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, Vermont, Virginia and Washington as states that have banned live greyhound racing.
To the Rescue
As awareness of the plight of greyhounds grows, rescue groups have formed all over the country in an attempt to place unwanted greyhounds into loving homes. Greg Parr, who four years ago adopted Patch, a retired greyhound, describes him as “gentle and always happy.” “We met Patch at the home of the wonderful family that fostered him after he was brought to Maryland from the race track in Florida, and decided immediately that he should become part of our family,” says Parr.
As Parr can attest, greyhounds tend to be excellent companion animals, and their easygoing nature makes them ideal for families with children. “Greyhounds are truly wonderful dogs,” says Bevan. “They are generally gentle, graceful, beautiful animals.”
However, Bevan emphasizes that because of the way greyhounds are raised, guardians should realize that the dogs may require extra attention. “Some greyhounds have had little socialization before being offered for adoption, and can have trouble adjusting to the life as a companion animal,” she says. “And, because some dogs have been trained to race using live lures, some evaluation should be done to make sure they are safe around small animals such as cats. Overall though, they are incredibly wonderful dogs with a lot of love to give.”
Spreading the Word
Eliminating greyhound racing is possible through education, compassion, and action. Help keep the movement growing with a few simple actions of your own:
- Don’t patronize greyhound tracks or bet on dog racing.
- Educate your friends, family and co-workers about the realities of greyhound racing, and encourage them to boycott greyhound racing and betting.
- Consider volunteering your time or expertise to a local greyhound protection organization.
- If you live in one of the 15 states that operate greyhound racing tracks or one of th
e 42 states that has not yet banned greyhound racing, write to your state officials to express your opposition. Tell them that greyhounds belong in loving homes, not on race tracks.
- If you are interested in adopting a companion animal, consider contacting a greyhound rescue group.
Historically speaking, greyhounds are the most revered species of dog. Eliminating greyhound racing and the cruel practices that surround the sport will ensure that these beautiful dogs live out their lives in dignity, just like the ancient Egyptians envisioned.
Rebecca Simmons is the Outreach Communications Coordinator for the Companion Animals section of The HSUS.