28 retired racing greyhounds enter rescue under the light of a solstice moon
Woodinville, Wash. — On the shortest night of the year, under a single light in a parking lot, 28 greyhounds arrive in a custom trailer after a long journey across the country from Florida racetracks.
The truck that brought them here June 21 hadn’t stopped since it left Abilene, Kan. For 27 hours they sat in fenced compartments, traveling sideways, two per cage like Noah’s Ark. No food, no potty breaks, no announcer coming over a loudspeaker pointing out roadside attractions.
Upon their arrival, their fear is palpable as they are plucked out of their kennels, names shouted into the dark night to volunteers eager to help. Some appear almost in shock. But their terror quickly dissolves in relief. Getting straight down to business, volunteers rush them to the potty yard. Chests heave, bladders empty. The look of disbelief and bewilderment in their eyes transforms to calm by more than 30 volunteers who have come out in the middle of the night to greet them
This is the work of Greyhound Pets, Inc., (GPI) which makes it possible for these former professional racers to have a shot at a forever home. Last year, GPI rehabilitated and found new homes in Western Washington for more than 150 dogs. This weekend, on Saturday July 24th, you can come out to help them at a Walkathon for the retired racing dogs.
Only seven states still allow greyhound racing–Iowa, Florida, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona and Texas–with Florida having the most tracks out of 21 nationwide. Washington state has never had a racetrack.
Greyhound racing hit its heyday in the 1970s and 80’s before declining because of a change in public opinion. According to the National Greyhound Association 27,142 dogs were registered to race in 2002. In 2013 that number had declined by almost two-thirds to 10,657. Opponents to the greyhound racing industry cite deaths, injuries and miserable living conditions as reasons to end dog racing.
Florida dog racing
Crystal Carroll, owner and trainer at the Janie Carroll Kennel in southern Florida, says the dogs arrive at the track when they are 16 months or older. Before that they are raised on puppy farms in Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. According to the NGA there are 300 greyhound breeding facilities and kennels in the United States. There pups stay in dog houses and run around on grass until they are 12 months old.
Then its off to “finishing schools” in Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and northern Florida where they train to race for two to five months. Trainers start them out running in small circles chasing stuffed animals. The dogs are muzzled and taught how to get in and out of their kennels. After they learn how to run “hard” they are moved to a competitive working track in one of the seven states that still allow racing.
At the track Carroll says the dogs are on a strict schedule, getting turned out of their stalls five times a day to relieve themselves.
Twice a week they race 550 yards (5/16th of a mile) in about 30 seconds. Every other day they are exercised in a 300 foot run.
Their diet is heavy in protein and calories consisting mostly of raw beef mixed with commercial dog food. Per day they get 1 pound of barley, 1 pound of macaroni, 3 pounds of rice, 1,000 milligrams of fish oil, 1000 mgs of vitamin C, 99 mg of potassium gluconate, iron-based tonic (blood builder) of liver, peptides, oranges, grapes, and electrolytes.
Administering steroids to the dogs is illegal and not common, Carroll explains.
By the time they are between 3 and 5 years old, the racetracks are done with them.
Greyhound Support Transport (GST) is a non-profit run by Carroll and her trainer Monica Smith Rigo. The GST facilitates moving the greyhounds from Florida to non-racing states where Carroll believes the dogs have a better chance of being adopted. According to its website, it costs around $200 per dog to transport them to the Northwest. Rigo previously worked at the Flagler Greyhound Track and Derby Lane’s Royal Racing, before working for Carroll.
The GST says it moved around 750 dogs last year from Florida racetracks to 30 adoption groups around the country. Carroll says she currently has around 165 dogs at her racetracks.
The group of dogs that arrived in Woodinville on June 21 left Miami on a 24-hour road trip to the National Greyhound Association in Abilene, Kan., where they spent 12 days resting before heading on their midnight run to Washington state.
The hauler operated by Jerry Wooten has 12 wire-fenced stalls that each holds two dogs. Slatted windows allow the dogs to peer out and get air. The drivers declined to be interviewed, but Moira Corrigan of Greyhound Pets Inc. says the drivers are among the best in the business. A relief driver is always at the ready, allowing them to make the trip nonstop. The hauler is fully air-conditioned and travels in the cool of the night whenever possible. Water and padding is available, but they don’t get any food.
At GPI in Woodinville, a new chapter begins for the retired racers. In addition to receiving dogs from Florida, GPI works with partner organizations from all over the world, taking in discarded greyhounds and adopting them out to the best of homes. Currently it has dogs up for adoption from the American Lurcher Project in the Midwest, Team Inch in South Korea and Flying Irish Greyhounds from Ireland.
When the dogs arrive, a swarm of volunteers is ready to meet their every need. They check the dogs’ weight, register tattoos and remove ticks and fleas. Each dog gets a basic veterinary checkup and a meal, and then beds down for the night. Two days later they get a bath, and in their squeaky clean coats they are ready for adoption. Between staff and volunteers, the 60 dogs there on this day are cared for around the clock.
Thinking about adopting?
GPI requires new owners to have a fenced-in yard and their absolute promise that the dogs will live indoors. “Greyhounds are sprinters, not long-distance runners,” says Corrigan, who describes these low-energy dogs as “40-mile-an-hour couch potatoes.”
Because the dogs have been bred and trained to chase, GPI requires new owners to have them on leash at all times when out of their yard. “They can see something move a half-mile away and can hit 40 mph in three strides,” Corrigan says. “A racing greyhound has never been around cars. A loose greyhound is an injured or dead greyhound.”
The average lifespan is 12 to 14 years. Generally, females weigh between 50 and 65 pounds and males between 65 and 80 pounds.
Their feet are tender, because the dogs have lived their entire lives to this point on sand or grass. Pavement is painful to them. New owners need to toughen the dogs’ feet gradually over several months.
Carroll, their trainer in Florida, says that a good 30-second run twice a week is sufficient to satisfy their sprinting needs.
Don’t let the muzzles fool you. The dogs are muzzled during transport only to protect their thin skin from scratches. Greyhounds are friendly and gentle, and have gotten a lot of human touch when they were younger.
Want to help the ‘hounds?
Volunteer: Twice a day, seven days a week, volunteers take the dogs out into the yards. If you’re interested please contact GPI.
Donate: The group’s biggest expense is medical care, but it can always use biscuits, beds and toys. To donate, go to their page at: greyhoundpetsinc.org
For more informationn
Greyhound Pets, Inc.: greyhoundpetsinc.org (nonprofit in Woodinville, Wash.)
Grey2K www.grey2kusa.org (advocacy group)