Why greyhounds seem to foster so many misconceptions is a mystery, but new ones seem to crop up with the frequency of urban myths. Some time ago a letter to the editor appeared in our local newspaper with an attack on the character of greyhound dogs and the training and practice of dog racing caused by the death of their cat at the hands of a greyhound on the loose. This angry tirade spawned a second spewing more inaccuracies about the nature of greyhounds and their training.
I don’t think either of them wrote their letters with deliberate malice. Friends often ask me if the dogs are mistreated or killed when the races are over. Animal rights groups have been spreading misleading information about the greyhound industry, and for the most part, greyhound owners have chosen to ignore it rather than validate it by responding to it. This, in my opinion, has been a serious error of judgement. Kind and well meaning individuals donate millions of money to animal rights groups and use these large chests to promote many causes including banning greyhound racing. By failing to counter these accusations as they arise, the greyhound people appear to be hiding a dirty secret.
HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble had a story on greyhound racing in 2004 that also highlighted misconceptions and its reporter Bernard Goldberg went to great lengths in this segment to further the animal activist’s cause. The story spoke of the cruelty of keeping greyhounds in small cages all day, except when they were taken out for a run. However, don’t all good dog trainers suggest that we keep our dogs in crate during the day when we’re not around and to eat and sleep? Pet dogs spend many more hours in a crate than racing greyhounds, as they are usually crated while the owner is at work. Greyhounds are allowed to stretch and relieve themselves several times a day and all the greyhounds I’ve ever met are fans of outing times. Many nights out have been interrupted to run back to the kennel at nine o’clock. Keep that in mind the next time you stop in for after-work happy hour instead of heading straight home for the Fido ride. The suggestion that greyhounds are kept imprisoned in small boxes all the time is completely false. Greyhound crates are large enough for larger dogs to move around and rest comfortably.
It may surprise most people to learn that one of the big adjustments a greyhound must make when beginning life as a pet is loneliness that sometimes manifests itself in separation anxiety behaviors. Greyhounds begin life as puppies with their mother and siblings cared for around the clock by their human keepers. They are then weaned and spend the next year of their lives growing and playing with their siblings in large pastures tended around the clock by their human keepers. By the year the puppies leave the paddock to the kennel and spend all day being trained, brushed, medicated and touched and handled all day divided by naps and playtimes with all the other dogs in the kennel several times a day. This continues when they transfer after high school to the racetrack. When the dog leaves the driveway to go to a pet home, he is often left alone all day while his owner is at work after being accused of having humans around him talking, grooming or petting him all the time. Many people mistakenly think that it is best to start with just one greyhound as they don’t want to bite too much, which is why he is also often in a household where he is the only dog after spending his entire existence with a large pack. friends. Dogs are naturally social anyway and that is why they make great pets. While I don’t advocate dogs taking over your life or taking on more than you can adequately handle, often two greyhounds are easier to keep and happier than one.
In the Real Sports article, the guy with the blacked-out face claimed that dogs were killed all the time when they didn’t make it to the track. He also said that dogs are just running machines to make money and that’s how greyhounds see them. I have to be careful how I write here because this makes me angry. Like any animal business, there are garbage bags trying to make a quick buck who don’t care about the welfare of the animals, hence the guy’s darkened face. These guys are now by far the minority, not the rule, and they don’t last long in business. To put it frankly, there is a great deal of back-breaking, dirty, hard work, long hours and heartbreak in the greyhound business and not much money to be made. The day at the kennel begins at six in the morning and ends with the final attendance at ten at night. In his recap, reporter Bernard Goldberg told Bryant that every greyhound owner was breeding hundreds of puppies in hopes of producing a $200,000.00 stakes winner. While this might have sounded smart to the reporters’ own ears, to a person who has been in the greyhound business for many years, it’s ridiculous. No one would put in years and years of hard work towards a goal like that, as it only happens once in a lifetime if you are very, very lucky. The simple fact is that most people who are in the greyhound business are in it because they love greyhounds. They love them as puppies and they love the old mother or the salty-nosed stud. This is evidenced by the fact that many greyhound farms have several pets running around the property and living in the house as pets.
I have often heard that greyhounds are fed poor quality manure with dangerous raw meat from dead animals that often starts to rot and that is why their teeth get damaged. The “slop” that greyhounds are fed is a mixture of quality red meat, meal and supplements with the exact balance of carbohydrates, protein and vitamins, designed to not only keep them lean, but fat in the animal world. they tend to be slow, and unhealthy as in humans, but also to keep the musculature healthy and with a lot of energy for the sprint. Greyhounds are the best canine athletes and therefore need nutrition to support their systems. The food they are fed costs 2-3 times what a pet dog eats. Greyhound racing is very competitive; in fact, I often liked to break into Hollywood as an actor. It would make very little sense to invest thousands of dollars in breeders, facilities, equipment, and time to save a few dollars on feed. The downside is that, like canned dog food, the food received by greyhounds tends to stick to the teeth and cause cavities. Proof of the quality of a greyhound’s diet is that they tend to live much longer than other dogs of their size.
Greyhounds are not neurotic and it is highly unlikely that an adopted greyhound has ever been physically abused. Greyhounds are very sensitive dogs and abusive treatment will always ruin them. They also seem to have amazing memories and mistakes they make while handling them, while usually forgiven, are rarely forgotten. All of an abusive handler’s dogs would fail and he or she would immediately be out of business. The abusive help from the kennel would find himself immediately kicked off the premises, probably with a good beating from the trainer for good measure. When an adopted dog displays neurotic behavior, it is usually due to the issues listed above. Although they are called Forty Miles an Hour Couch Potato, like all dogs, they need to get out and see the world. It is absolutely essential that dogs go for daily walks around the neighborhood. This is their whole world and they love to investigate it. A greyhound’s metabolism is like that of a cheetah. They lie down and relax to conserve energy for that explosive sprint. A couple of times a week to hit the dog park for a good off-leash run is plenty—be careful to keep an eye out for the fluffy little ones and the muzzle, just in case one walks in after you’ve unleashed your Ferrari. Greyhounds are perfectly capable of learning to remember, you just have to be careful never to let him off leash in open parks where he might run into traffic. This, as far as I’m concerned, is true of all dogs.
Yes, it is true that throughout the centuries greyhounds have been bred and trained for human greed and pleasure. Name a domesticated animal that has not. I for one am very glad that greyhounds are here and that the racing industry has made them, possibly by accident, the healthiest breed of dog when it comes to genetic disease. Hip dysplasia in greyhounds is, in the opinion of every breeder and racing trainer I’ve asked, (these guys have known and handled literally thousands of dogs) almost unheard of and in AKC show lines, according to the OFA database is still only at two percent. When tenths of a second separate the fantastic from the failures, a great bone structure is essential. Since usually only great racers are used for breeding, things like hearts, elbows, and hips have never been perpetuated in bloodlines. The deep, narrow chests seen in show greyhounds that contribute to the tendency to bloat should not be productive for running, as you don’t find that conformation in a runner. The bone cancer that appears to affect all large hound breeds is generally believed to stem from a previous lesion to the bone that is often undetected during growth.
There are some greyhound owners who still breed too many dogs. Taking the chance that an average female crossed with a great bull will come out a winner. These dinosaurs are being driven out of business by economic pressures. If only the best females are bred to the best males, the results will be fewer and better dogs and that means fewer dogs that need to be petted. The shotgun method of producing hundreds of pups to get a few good ones is no longer feasible. Very few healthy, adoptable greyhounds are euthanized now and we are working towards the day very soon when that number drops to zero. Owners, breeders and trainers will be responsible for the welfare of these wonderful animals in their care.
Everyone who receives the great gift of knowing and loving a greyhound knows that there is nothing like them. The day may come when the racetracks close and the flow of dogs for adoption stops. Then the thousands of people who have come to love greyhounds will have to buy their greyhounds as puppies and the price will be high and the demand huge. The puppy mills of Missouri and Oklahoma will smell easy money and then mother and father greyhound pups will no longer live in comfortable kennels with large, spacious paddocks to romp in and handlers armed daily with scoopers, nail clippers, soft brushes , Milkbones. and hugs, but they will be imprisoned in dirty, cramped cages with their own urine burning their unprotected elbows and haunches. Then the puppies will end up in overcrowded pet store cages waiting for someone to come and buy them with no background check, no mentoring, and not as a carefully thought out family member, but out of sympathy looking into those deep soulful eyes. Then the folks at PETA, HSUS, GREY2K and the rest can pat themselves on the back and know they’ve done their good deed.