Greyhounds’ natural speed and grace have been exploited for human benefit since the days of the ancient Egyptians. The dogs have been used for centuries in hunting and coursing events, but the advent of modern dog racing at the turn of the 20th century caused greyhound breeders and racetrack proprietors to think of this breed as a mere commodity. Greyhound racing continues to be big business, generating millions of dollars in revenue in the states that still allow it. Today, the cruelty of the industry is finally being exposed, and thanks to the resulting public outcry, there has been a decline in the number of spectators attending greyhound races. Unfortunately, these financial losses may be contributing to poor track conditions, which have caused a marked rise in animal injuries at some tracks.(1)
The Killing Field
In a horrific example of this industry’s cruelty, in 2002 the remains of approximately 3,000 greyhounds from Florida racetracks were discovered on the Alabama property of a former racetrack security guard who had been “retiring” unwanted greyhounds with a .22 rifle for more than 40 years.(2) The attorney for the accused, who faced up to 10 years in prison on felony cruelty-to-animals charges, said, “If there’s anybody to be indicted here, it’s the industry because this is what they’re doing to these animals. The misery begins the day they’re born. The misery ends when my client gets a hold of them and puts a bullet in their head.”(3)
The Alabama greyhound massacre made it more obvious than ever that racing greyhounds are treated as “running machines,” produced in quantities that require the disposal of surplus dogs and dogs who are injured, old, or deemed too slow or no longer profitable.
Winners and Losers
Thousands of greyhounds are killed each year as the declining dog-racing industry struggles to stay alive. Some puppies are killed in the name of “selective breeding” before they ever touch a racetrack. Dogs who do qualify to become racers typically live in cages and are kept muzzled by their trainers at all times. Many exhibit crate and muzzle sores and suffer from infestations of internal and external parasites. Although they are extremely sensitive to temperature because of their lack of body fat and thin coats, greyhounds are forced to race in extreme conditions—ranging from subzero temperatures to sweltering heat of more than 100°F.
Sickness and injuries—including broken legs, heatstroke, and heart attacks—claim the lives of many dogs before they are ever “retired.” Others—such as Randad, a dog in Alabama—are victims of track machinery. Randad was electrocuted when he jumped onto the lure rail and became entangled on the mechanical lure.(4) Another dog, Tune Me In, suffered for 30 minutes before being euthanized after he was badly cut by a mechanical lure at a Florida track.(5) During a three-year span, almost 500 greyhounds were injured while racing on Massachusetts tracks.(6) One Iowa track’s general manager defended greyhound casualties at his track by claiming that “top-notch dogs run harder and are more injury-prone.”(7)
Other dogs die during transport from one racetrack to another. It is common practice in the industry to carry up to 60 greyhounds in one truck, with two or three dogs per crate, and to line the floor of these “haulers” with ice rather than providing air conditioning.(8) The backs of these trucks reach temperatures in excess of 100°F on a summer day, deadly conditions for animals who cannot sweat in order to cool themselves. Several greyhounds died on a truck during a 100-mile trip between Naples and Miami.(9)
Conditions for the animals “at home” are often not much better. In 2005, 73 greyhounds died in a West Virginia kennel that went up in flames because of a faulty ceiling fan. Only five years earlier, more than 50 dogs died from heatstroke when an air conditioner malfunctioned in a kennel owned by the same man.(10) A Massachusetts man was charged with cruelty to animals after 10 greyhounds at his farm were found to be severely dehydrated and suffering from malnutrition.(11)
Most dogs who slow down and become unprofitable are either killed immediately or sold to research laboratories. In 2002, a former greyhound kennel owner and an assistant faced felony charges for selling more than 1,000 greyhounds for medical experiments. They claimed to be running a greyhound “adoption agency.”(12) Some unwanted dogs suffer further cruelty. In one case at Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park, a female greyhound was taken from her crate and placed in the middle of a crowded room on a wet floor. A man then shoved a metal wire into her rectum and attached an alligator clip onto her lip, and she was electrocuted. Witnesses said that it was not the first time that a race dog at the park had been killed in this manner.(13) The state of Idaho has since banned dog racing.
Midwestern farmers who use greyhounds to kill coyotes in the winter have begun to race the dogs during the summer, using dead coyote skins as lures “to keep their dogs in shape.”(14) In live-lure training, greyhounds are encouraged to chase and kill live rabbits who are hung from horizontal poles so that the dogs will also chase the inanimate lures used during actual races. Officially, the industry now frowns upon the once-sanctioned practice of using live rabbits, guinea pigs, and cats as bait for live-lure training, but this method continues to be used.
Ronald Floyd was prohibited from running dogs at Oregon tracks after he allowed six dogs to die of heatstroke inside a van, but he was not prohibited from breeding greyhounds. Investigators found a dead rabbit in his driveway following yet another greyhound death at his farm years later, which finally prompted the commission to pull his license to race, train, and board dogs.(15) The Arizona gaming commission suspended the license of a trainer who was caught attaching live rabbits to the “whirligig” that greyhounds chase around the track.(16) One Massachusetts breeder says that for six to eight months, she sends her 1-year-old greyhounds to Oklahoma, “where they learn to race by chasing jackrabbits.”(17)
Help and Hope
Greyhounds are usually gentle, quiet, and friendly, and some lucky dogs are placed in caring homes. Reputable adoption groups, funded by donations and staffed by volunteers, save as many retired greyhounds as they can. There are greyhound rescue groups in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Western Europe. The Greyhound Protection League organizes adoption programs throughout the United States and distributes information about the racing industry.
Although adoption helps, the only way to ultimately end greyhound abuse is to put an end to racing. The industry is slowly dying because of competition from casinos and a lack of interest from younger gamblers who are looking for games with faster action. At Wonderland Greyhound Park in Massachusetts, less than $10 million was wagered in 2004, compared to $195 million in 1990.(18) The Washington Post noted the dwindling numbers of breeders, bettors, and purses and concluded that “the sport has declined so sharply even its aficionados see no real hope for its revival.”(19)
Dog racing is illegal in 34 states but continues in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.(20) Even states that have banned dog racing may still permit off-track or satellite wagering and the breeding of racing dogs. In an attempt to revive dog racing, some state legislatures and lobbyists are rewriting gambling laws to allow the tracks to install slot machines and video lottery terminals. GREY2K USA is lobbying for legislation to put an end to greyhound racing.
What You Can Do
Help to educate racing supporters by leafleting at a local track. Even if your state has banned greyhound racing, it’s likely that it has breeding kennels that supply dogs to other states. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers explaining why it’s vital that we put an end to this cruel and useless sport.
1) “Injuries to Dogs Increase at Dairyland,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 15 May 2003.
2) “Ex-Pensacola Security Guard Admits Killing Greyhounds,” Associated Press, 22 May 2002.
3) Buddy Bracken, National Public Radio, 31 May 2002.
4) Benjamin Niolet, “Greyhound Death Spurs BRC Change,” The Birmingham News 29 Jun. 2000.
5) Charlie Whitehead and Becky Wakefield, “Greyhound Group Files Complaint Against Track After Dog Injured During Race,” Naples Daily News 10 Mar. 2000.
6) Scott Van Voorhis, “A Most Dangerous Game; Report Cites Racing-Dog Deaths,” The Boston Herald 20 Jul. 2005.
7) William Petroski, “Greyhounds Die at an Alarming Rate,” Des Moines Register 3 Nov. 2000.
8) Luisa Yanez, “Inquiry Launched in Death of Dogs—Greyhounds Likely Died From Heat,” The Miami Herald 13 Aug. 2002.
10) Jennifer Bundy, “Fan Malfunction Caused Fire That Killed 73 Greyhounds,” Associated Press, 18 Oct. 2005.
11) Michael Jones, “Charges to Be Sought in Greyhounds Case,” The Boston Globe 9 Feb. 2000.
12) “2 Charged in Deaths of Former Race Dogs,” Associated Press, 1 Jan. 2002.
13) J. Todd Foster, “Slow Greyhounds Electrocuted on ‘Hot Plate,’ Trainers Say,” The Spokesman Review 17 Sep. 1995.
14) Kristi Wright, “The Ancient Tradition of Racing Finds a Contemporary Counterpart on the Plains of Nebraska,” Omaha World-Herald 15 Oct. 2000.
15) Stuart Tomlinson, “Eagle Creek Man Loses License to Raise Greyhounds,” Portland Oregonian 27 Jun. 2002.
16) Mary Jo Pitzl, “Dog Breeder Gets 60-Day Suspension,” The Arizona Republic 15 Nov. 2002.
17) Judith Gaines, “Down to the Wire of Greyhound Racing …,” The Boston Globe Magazine 5 Nov. 2000.
18) Michael Kunzelman, “Gambling Boom Leaves Greyhound Racing in Its Dust,” Associated Press, 30 Jun. 2005.
19) Andrew Beyer, “Greyhound Racing: A Sport Gone to the Dogs,” The Washington Post 27 Feb. 2000.
20) American Greyhound Council, “Racing Today/Map,” Racing in the U.S. 2 Mar. 2006.